You’ve probably heard that driverless cars are the future. That day may well come, but at CES 2016 (the world’s biggest tech show) the most exciting new car technology puts human drivers firmly at the wheel.
At the end of this article we’ll present you with a vision of the future smart car, based on what came out of CES 2016. First of all though, we’re going to look at the key themes from the show. Everywhere we turned, we saw some fantastic examples of manufacturers trying to make cars smarter, safer and greener.
Making cars smarter
Volvo took the opportunity at CES to announce news of a partnership with Microsoft designed to help drivers interact with their cars better. The Swedish carmaker revealed that drivers could now control many of their car’s features using the Volvo on Call mobile app, or with Microsoft’s Band 2 wearable.
Using voice commands in the same way that Michael Knight did with Kit, drivers will be able to control things like navigation, lighting, locking, heating or even a quick blast of the horn.
Meanwhile, BMW unveiled its iVision concept car.
BMW’s iVision features a jaw-dropping 21-inch ultra-wide monitor on its dashboard, in the driver’s line of sight. This smart display can control virtually all of the car’s functions, and the driver can interact with ‘AirTouch’, a gesture control system where commands can be executed with a simple swipe of the hand.
Making cars safer
BMW’s iVision also had its share of state-of-the-art safety features, with a camera system that improves visibility and eliminates blind spots. And it also does away with the need for side and rear-view mirrors. Instead, four cameras take images from all around the car, and turn them into a single video image that replaces the rear-view mirror.
And then there’s something HARMAN is touting as the next step in advanced safety; in-car pupil-based monitoring.
By measuring pupil dilation, the system evaluates whether the driver is tired, distracted or over-stimulated, and can then tell other safety features in the car to take action.
Making cars greener
The pure electric Chevy Bolt was a big hit at CES 2016.
Seamus Browne, editor for Australia & Asia at CNET, told us:
“I think the Chevy Bolt is the most exciting of the cars, beating Tesla to the punch for an affordable small electric car while maintaining good range.”
GM claims the Bolt will exceed 200 miles on a full charge, doubling the 100-mile range of most electric cars currently on the road. And by using a DC fast charger, it can be charged up to 80% in an hour. Inside the Bolt, there’s an Android Auto and Apple CarPlay ready infotainment system, waiting to be connected to your smartphone.
VW’s BUDD-e all-electric minivan also wowed the Las Vegas crowds.
Steve Fowler, editor-in-chief at Auto Express & Car buyer, revealed to us that it was the one thing that excited him most at CES 2016:
“… super cool, packed with tech, but most importantly a real signal of VW’s all-electric future.”
The BUDD-e harks back to the days of VW’s legendary ‘hippy’ camper van - packed with the latest smart tech, of course. This includes voice and gesture control, plus a funky infotainment dashboard that can connect to the driver’s smartphone and smart home.
BUDD-e has a top speed of 93 miles per hour, with front and rear motors giving it all-wheel-drive. Power-wise, VW claims that BUDD-e can be charged up to 80% of capacity in just 15 minutes, thanks to its large 101-kWh battery pack.
The smart car of the future – driven, not driverless
Based on what we’ve seen and heard at CES 2016, we’re not expecting the car world to go driverless any time soon.
Millions of car owners have an emotional connection with the cars they drive, and somehow we can’t imagine driverless cars getting that same loving feeling. In fact, will we even treat driverless cars as cars, or something quite different?
“Driverless cars aren’t cars – they’re cabs. Like Johnny Cab in Total Recall!” Steve Fowler.
Our smart car of the future
So, just what will the smart car of the future be like? If CES 2016 is anything to go by, we could be enjoying a completely different type of driving experience in just a few short years:
Greater mobile connectivity
Expect your future smart car to sync effortlessly with your smartphone and all your smart home devices (you’ll have lots of them. This is the future, after all).
You’ll be able to use voice commands to control your smartphone. So even when you’re driving you’ll be able to safely take calls, send and receive messages, and ask your virtual assistant urgent questions.
You’ll also be able to take control of your home from your car. Not only will you be able to turn on lights and heating, but you could run a bath, make some coffee, or let the family know you’re on the way.
Semi-autonomous driving means that your car will act independently and take control, to some degree.
“I'm most excited by the arrival of simple things like autonomous driving when in traffic. Being able to take the edge off stop-start driving will reduce anxiety and probably road rage!” Seamus Browne.
If you hit a traffic jam, your car will be able to take over the driving for you. While it crawls along at a snail’s pace, you can be doing something else. At CES 2016, Microsoft and HARMAN announced their plans to “bring the power of Office 365 into HARMAN’s connected car systems.” This type of technology could let you start working on spreadsheets and presentations, while sitting in traffic miles away from the office. If you really want to.
The car windscreen of today doesn’t tell us anything apart from what’s outside, and this isn’t good enough. In the future, your view will be enhanced by augmented reality.
Being able to see turn-by-turn navigation commands without taking your eyes off the road will make driving safer, and a visual indicator of the speed limit (and upcoming speed cameras) will be pretty handy too.
Electric cars are going to play a big part of the future. As their specifications improve, and the number of charging stations increase throughout the UK, they’re going to be big news.
When 200 miles on a single charge becomes the norm, and full charging takes less than an hour, expect to be converted.
We hope you’ve enjoyed taking a spin with us through CES 2016 and into the future. What did you think of our predictions? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Special thanks to CNET's Seamus Browne and Steve Fowler from Auto Express for taking the time to share their thoughts. You can check out Auto Express's full CES 2016 coverage here.