If you needed reminding how close the worlds of cars and electronics have become, a trip to Las Vegas earlier this month would’ve done the trick. Alongside the new TVs, laptops, smartphones and other household tech on display at the Consumer Technology Association’s annual trade show, CES stood an array of innovations from the likes of BMW, Honda, Toyota and many other automotive manufacturers. In all, the show featured 135 vehicle technology exhibitors covering 200,000 square feet of Las Vegas’ Exhibition Centre, hotels and parking lots.
CES gave us a few glimpses into the future of motoring – and it’s a future in which artificial intelligence will feature heavily. Nissan and BMW both announced their cars will soon come with Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, allowing drivers to talk to their cars and get news, reminders and other information in response. Ford is linking up with Amazon, so you’ll be able to ask Alexa to play music, close the garage door or get directions while you’re driving, or even start the engine before you leave the house. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Daimler have chosen Google Assistant to be their on-board personal assistant.
Some manufacturers have gone a step further and developed their own AI. In Toyota’s eye-catching Concept-i model, the world was introduced to Yui – an advanced AI that will ‘use light, sound and even touch to communicate critical information’, and will even be able to ‘measure emotion’. Honda’s NeuV concept car brought us Hana – the Honda Automated Network Assistant. It’s an AI designed to learn from your behaviour and, like Yui, detect your mood so that it can recommend anything from new music to better routes.
Of course, it won’t be that long before cars aren’t just assisting with the driving, but taking it over altogether. Chrysler showed off its Portal concept car – an electric, autonomous people carrier. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn used his keynote address to announce that the new Leaf will feature autonomous technology, and will begin testing on the streets of London next month. And BMW was showcasing its own driverless capabilities in the new 5 Series. BMW plans to begin testing a fleet of autonomous vehicles on the road in the second half of 2017.
In a reminder that the future doesn’t belong exclusively to the big, established carmakers, a number of newer, smaller firms also gave us a hint of what’s to come. Californian start-up Faraday Future unveiled its first production car, the FF 91. It’s a fully-electric sports car that Faraday Future claims can go from zero to 60 in just 2.4 seconds, which would make it the second fastest production car ever built.
All in all, CES presented a dizzying array of innovative, futuristic cars. What we don’t know, of course, is how closely these ambitions will be realised on the roads – or when, exactly. But the prototypes, concept cars and demonstrations do show the directions manufacturers have decided to go: towards artificial intelligence, autonomy and electric power. It’ll be exciting to see those plans unfold over the next few years.