2019 CES: Quiet year for green-car and self-driving news

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus

As always, the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show held this week in Las Vegas was massive.

Hundreds of thousands of attendees, workers, and support staff converged at multiple venues to show off their latest wares, meet with clients, partners, and the media and try to break through the news clutter.

For automotive news, however, this year’s CES was considerably quieter than past years have been. Discussions of fuel efficiency and new technologies for lower-emission transportation were largely absent, and no entirely new vehicles debuted—although the show did see an updated Mercedes-Benz and, finally, the longer-range Nissan Leaf Plus electric car.

As for self-driving technology, a major theme of previous years, announcements were considerably more muted and qualified.

At CES, this year’s discussions about future autonomy focused on more accurate and lower-cost sensor technologies and the use of artificial intelligence to provide greater safety benefits through greater deployment of assistive technologies.

Gone were the previous years’ promises of Level 4 autonomy (full self driving in specific conditions), and promises of fully autonomous driving arriving any time now were downplayed, if they were present at all.

What follows are just a few of the announcements and trends from CES 2019 we considered notable.

Audi virtual reality platform, 2019 CES

AUDI: The German luxury brand wants to transform the ride experience for back seat passengers, and at CES, it demonstrated its latest virtual-reality platform to achieve that, developed by its subsidiary Audi Electronics Ventures.

It also announced the formation of a new startup company called Holoride that will commercialize the technology via an open platform that lets other parties create content for it.

Through the VR technology, backseat riders can immerse themselves in different universes that work together with the car and its infotainment systems and interior.

In Las Vegas, Audi showed off an experience called “Marvel’s Avengers: Rocket’s Rescue Run,” in which riders are dispatched via rocket into outer space, along with characters from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies.

The chance of motion sickness, always a concern with such systems, is significantly reduced because the system coordinates its visual experiences with the car’s motions.

Byton M-Byte production interior

BYTON: The electric-car startup didn’t debut any new vehicles—though it had its M-Byte and K-Byte luxury SUV concepts on display.

It did, however, show renderings and details for the final dashboard and interior that will appear in the production version of the M-Byte when it rolls off the assembly lines.

The revisions include a steering-wheel touchscreen moved up enough to allow a driver’s airbag to be fitted in the steering-wheel hub, and a central touchpad display so front-seat passengers could access the infotainment system.

Whether they’ll be comfortable doing so with their left hands in LHD markets remains to be seen.

Hyundai Elevate concept

HYUNDAI: Perhaps the most distinctive and social-media-friendly concept car at CES came from Korea.

The Hyundai Elevate “walking car” concept combines electric power with the capability of robotics to rethink where cars can travel.

Wheels on extendable robotic legs give users options: drive, walk, even climb over the most treacherous terrain. In the end, the Elevate resembled nothing so much as a fantasy straight out of a “Star Wars” movie.

It’s not likely to hit production, and it’s on the fringes of what might even be considered a car, but it sure did get a lot of coverage.

Hyundai also previewed future holographic augmented-reality display technology that turns an entire windshield into a display, shown in a Genesis G80 luxury sedan.

Benefits range from showing a driver which turns to take on your selected route to information about nearby restaurants and tourist attractions.

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