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A record number of automakers attended CES year, showing off everything from updated dashboards and self-driving cars to wearable tech and tablets for drivers and passengers alike.
In fact, with the number of automotive debuts at CES 2014, you'd be forgiven for thinking it’s turned into a car show.
This year, the biggest news from CES was about autonomous cars. They drove themselves into press conferences and around the Las Vegas Convention Center, using new chips and miniaturized hardware for impressive performance gains.
BMW's ActiveAssist will be going into road trials in 2015, but track tests show it can already tackle tough challenges—like recovering from a skid on an icy road—without the need for a driver. In fact, it's programmed so well that it probably drives better than most humans. Aspects of ActiveAssist could be used on production vehicles in the short term to help prevent collisions.
At its press conference, Audi showed off a tiny circuit board called zFAS that controls all autonomous car functions, from sensors to steering. Just last year, similar controllers would've filled the trunk of a sedan, but the zFAS is about the size of a small laptop computer. That size savings makes it easier to integrate autonomous tech without changing the overall design of a vehicle.
The Near Future
Fully autonomous vehicles are years away, but a lot of tech we saw is headed straight from the CES show floor to the showroom floor. For instance, Chevrolet and Audi both announced partnerships with AT&T to bring dedicated 4G LTE connections to many 2015 model year vehicles.
Many 2015 Chevy cars and trucks will also feature the Chevrolet AppShop, which lets drivers download audio, travel, and diagnostic apps specifically designed for in-car use.
We're also excited about Android's Open Automotive Alliance, which finds Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Kia “committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014.” Kia, for its part, already has an Android interface in the new Soul. Putting the popular operating system into cars promises that more software developers can focus their efforts on the automotive sector.
CES was where Audi unveiled the interior of the 2015 Audi TT, which will get the driver-focused Virtual Cockpit. Instead of a traditional gauge cluster, it puts a full-color LCD behind the steering wheel that can show everything from navigation to audio controls and info.
But debuts weren't just about the dashboard. Toyota brought the FCV, a hydrogen-powered concept that prefigures a consumer vehicle set to hit the U.S. market in 2015. It's a bold move from a major automaker, and proof that the dream of a mass-market hydrogen fuel cell car isn't dead.
Automakers at CES also offered new ways for drivers to interact with their vehicles, but some seem more like luxury than necessity.
Audi released a massive Android tablet for in-car use that left us lukewarm. We're not convinced that users will dump their own tablets for a dedicated device, even if it lets passengers control the vehicle's infotainment system.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz brought smartwatch integration with the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble, respectively. In each case, the automakers' smartwatch apps allow drivers to check on their cars from their wrists. Similarly, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis is the first vehicle to feature Google Glass integration. Drivers who own the wearable gadget can use it to unlock doors, summon service, and start the car.
Whether it's luxury gadgets or infotainment upgrades, one thing is clear: CES is becoming an increasingly important show for vehicle manufacturers. As cars grow more complex, we wouldn't be surprised if the automotive presence at International CES grows even more next year.