Automotive Electronics Take Center Stage at CES 2014


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“Let me assure you, fully automated driving will happen.” -- Werner Struth, Robert Bosch LLC“We’re bringing hydrogen fueled vehicles to the market in 2015.” -- Bob Carter, Toyota“Cars have become mobile technology platforms.” -- Rupert Stadler, Audi AGJust three quotes from major players in the car industry addressing packed audiences at today’s press day for CES 2014.

One would normally expect the likes of Intel, Sharp, Samsung, and Huawei to take the spotlight at the world’s largest consumer electronics show or perhaps some new company bringing a creative invention to the market, but it seems today the car was front and center, providing innovation, connectivity, and real solutions that offer real improvement to the user experience.

Rest assured those other companies did have some pretty cool stuff on offer and we’ll come to that in the coming days…

In the automotive space it’s not all revolution, but there was a sense of real excitement around the press events held to day by Bosch, Audi, and Toyota, and many turned out in the car park of the Mandalay Bay Convention to see the launch of the Formula E racing car.

First up was chairman of Robert Bosch LLC, Werner Struth.  Automotive represents about US $40 billion to Bosch and they are not short of inventive solutions to make the driving experience more connected, more pleasant, more environmentally friendly and, of course, safer. Struth confidently talked about the future of fully automated driverless cars with, in his view, the level of automation slowly increasing--in 2014 freeway driving in congested traffic will be assisted by technology controlling distances and lane positioning. More technology at higher speeds will follow. More sensors, more actuators, and more processing power will all lead to the incremental improvement of the experience.

Struth also talked about natural voice input that uses normal sentences, rather than a string of commands, allowing communication and control, while products like mySPIN allow for greater connectivity with the ubiquitous smartphones or tablets.

Start-stop engine systems already save energy, as much as 15%. A smartphone app that assists with parking already exists and other apps are being developed specifically for in-car use. Bosch is also a pioneer in connected diagnostics, allowing your dealer or mechanic to remotely diagnose potential issues or monitor service requirements.

In Struth's view, these innovations all lead to cars being better, safer, cleaner, and more economical, but, of course, they have to be reliable too and that reliability has to be well beyond that of other consumer electronics. An issue echoed by Audi’s Rupert Stadler later in the day.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of Toyota, offered a glimpse into the future, with the launch of their prototype FCV Hydrogen Electric Vehicle, coming to the market in 2015. In simple terms, hydrogen and oxygen combine to create electricity and water, and perhaps--most importantly--nothing else so genuine zero emissions can be achieved.

This kind of launch is impressive given the challenges of bringing a financially-viable model to the market as well as preparing infrastructure to refuel the vehicles once they are on the road.

The vehicle itself can travel more than 300 miles on a single fueling, can go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds and has a top speed of over 100 mph. The car isn’t unpleasant to look at, but is clearly designed to suck in as much oxygen as possible at the front end.  Function over form perhaps…

Toyota’s vertical integration is perhaps key to making the product viable and driving its cost down. Control of materials, design, and manufacture are all needed to make the numbers work and produce a vehicle that can compete with normally-fueled cars.

As Carter mentioned, infrastructure is essential and a logistic modeling study showed that if every car in California was hydrogen powered the whole system could be supported with just 15% of the existing locations supplying hydrogen.

Carter’s confidence in the roll out of this strategy in California is due in no small part to the state have committing $200 million to funding fueling stations.

Last up for the night in the Chelsea Theatre of the Cosmopolitan was a keynote from AUDI AG, Chairman of the Bard of Management Rupert Stadler, ably assisted by The Big Bang Theory star Kunal Nayyar. The key product was Audi’s piloted drive. Nayyar was happy to join actors like Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider, and even Lindsay Lohan in Herbie: Fully Loaded as the user or owner of a piloted care. After all, it was a natural progression from the chauffeured cars of the past and is actually what the word automobile means: Self-moving!

Stadler talked about four eras in automotive development: The first being the development of cars and the desire to make them go as fast as possible; the second being the desire to tame them and make them reliable and available; the third was all about incremental improvement around safety, economy, and reliability; and, finally, the forth is a major change and the redefining of mobility through innovation and electronics. 

Stadler described the car as an advanced mobile computer. He talked about the partnerships with technology companies like Nvidia, Google, and AT&T to develop new paradigms. He showed examples of virtual customizable cockpits, cars that use radar, cameras, navigation and ultrasonic and process 2.5 billion inputs per second. And he talked about the importance of flexible modular manufacturing systems to enable the speed of development and change. German engineering meets Silicon Valley is how Stadler describes the future for Audi and for automotive electronics.

The automotive industry is doubtless different from the consumer electronics market, but they both have much to learn from each other and much to offer each other. The combination of automobiles and electronics is powerful and will provide exciting developments going forward. Design cycles may be massively different as are their reliability requirements and this will provide supply chains with new challenges, but all are challenges that will be met and will provide more business for the entire electronics manufacturing industry.

More tomorrow when the show doors finally open…

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