LAS VEGAS – CES has become tantamount to an annual World’s Fair, exposing and teasing inventions and innovations. The show has become a major showcase for new ideas and developments for mobility to the point of crushing participation by automakers at traditional auto shows.
The advent of the electric-vehicle era of mobility, set to advance and proliferate over the next decade, is colliding with the advancement of autonomous driving. The best minds at auto companies, suppliers and electronics/entertainment companies are at once bracing and salivating over a new era of disruptive innovation. Indeed, ideas that were once viewed as pie-in-the-sky are now viewed as possible and even likely.
As the Wards Auto/Wards Auto Intelligence team roamed CES 2023, here are some of our favorite ideas.
ZF Heat Belt
Anyone who has driven an electric vehicle in winter knows the sensation of driving while bundled up, feet cold, blowing on hands and cursing the decision to buy a battery-electric vehicle. That’s because batteries notoriously lose range below 30° F and range anxiety prompts us to switch off the heat.
ZF has come up with a common-sense idea that does not require a leap of high-cost technology: a heated seatbelt, accomplished by weaving wire heating elements into the seatbelt. ZF’s internal testing shows a 15% improvement on range if you measure it against running the central heater to maintain a comfortable cabin temperature. Drive with a hat (to keep heat in) and gloves, and driving a BEV in Michigan, or Iceland, in January, and you’ll curse a lot less while driving to work.
BMW Digital Emotional Experience
In what was more commercial cum Hollywood movie preview cum nostalgia fest than keynote speech, BMW unveiled the DEE prototype at CES. DEE, standing for Digital Emotional Experience, is a talking electric car that also changes color (via BMW’s E Ink technology) and also has four modes in its Mixed Reality Slider (mode 4 brings forth the highest-
The car, some of whose features will be seen in future i production models, BMW says, almost was overshadowed by the on-stage antics. Arnold Schwarzenegger not only starred in a filmed vignette as a sparring partner of DEE but made an in-person appearance that was somewhat a public service announcement on the perils of climate change, as well as a standup act (sample dialogue: “You’re talking to the guy that has starred in more science-fiction movies than anyone in the history. I mean think about it: Terminator, Predator, Total Recall, Terminator 2, Six Days…Twins.” DEE’s 32-color, 240-segment E Ink technology a big question mark. Why? It would be a big hit among criminals trying to elude police pursuit cars.
Amazon Car Ring
From the company that gave us the ubiquitous Ring Doorbell that records porch pirates stealing our Amazon packages, Amazon offers The Ring Car Cam, a dashboard-mounted dual-facing camera that can record both inside and outside your car, while you're driving or parked.
While the camera stores footage locally, it can also connect to your Wi-Fi network whenever you’
're parked nearby to upload images. LTE support to stay connected 24/7 allows a car owner to view a live feed in case someone else has the car. You can pre-order The Ring Car Cam now for $200, or wait to buy it when it's released in February for $250.
Ram Shadow Mode
The Ram 1500 Revolution BEV will hit the market well after the Ford Lightning and Chevy Silverado BEV. Besides expecting a 500-mile (805-km) range, the Revolution has a feature we love: Shadow Mode. When on a worksite, and it’s time to collect tools, hardware, etc. into the truck, Shadow Mode enables the truck to follow you on foot at a slow pace while you pack up the truck without having to get in and out of the truck. That’s a “smart” truck.
Ram Retracting Steering Wheel
The Ram concept also showcases another great idea: A steering wheel that folds into the instrument panel to give the driver more room when stuck in traffic or killing time at a job site. Retractable steering wheels have been talked about for years in Level-4 AVs but have been dismissed for that application. The idea makes more sense for low-speed Level-3 or 3+ driving when split-second hand-offs between human and machine are not required. And reliable sources tell us such retractable steering wheels are in the works.
Partnerships between automakers and tech companies are not new. Think Ford and Microsoft on Ford’s SYNC. Honda and Sony may have cracked the code (only testing will prove it) with the BEV sedan the companies will introduce under a new Afeela brand. The architecture of a BEV lends itself to the clear division of labor, with Sony Entertainment handling the electronics and infotainment and Honda worrying about the “car stuff” that will make it go down the road.
The name Afeela, the company says, “represents ‘feel’ which is at the center of the mobility experience.”. It goes on to say that the brand name “expresses an interactive relationship where people ‘feel’ mobility as an intelligent entity, and mobility ‘feels’ people and society using sensing and network IT technologies.”
The car is a minimalist, fastback design with wraparound light bars front and rear. Technology from Qualcomm is used for cockpit controls and assisted driving, and the sedan has more than 40 sensors. It’ll also emphasize entertainment, with seatback screens and high-end graphics processing.
The company intends to start taking pre-orders in the first half of 2025 and put the car on sale by the end of 2025. Deliveries are slated to commence in the spring of 2026 in North America. The only thing we don’t like is how long it’s taking to bring to market.
Faurecia Officially becomes Forvia
The French automotive supplier almost everyone struggled to pronounced officially announced it was changing its name to Forvia after acquiring lighting suppler Hella to become the world’s 7th largest automotive supplier. While doing so it announced more than a dozen new technologies, including headlights that can define a patch of light exactly the width of a vehicle for driving in tight situations such as construction.
The Biped is just the kind of idea we expect to see at CES. Maybe not worthy of a big press conference, but we like the intention to solve a problem.
The Biped is designed to help visually impaired people walk safely down a busy street as a supplement to the traditional white cane. The Biped hangs around a person's neck and has two long “arms” with sensors that drop to the chest area. The Biped uses some hardware and software from self-driving cars such as cameras and lidar sensors to scan a 170° field of view in front of the wearer, at ground and head level, day or night.
The point is to help self-driving cars better see blind pedestrians and blind people to better detect obstacles. Software replicates the way self-driving cars detect static and moving obstacles, but on a walking level instead of at highway speeds. Sidewalks typically have far less traffic than roads, so debris and objects are more likely to impede a blind walker than a car. Debris in the road gets picked up faster.
Head-Up Displays Back in the Spotlight
Head-up displays have been an option in upscale models for decades, but they typically have been limited to projecting only a little bit of information directly in front of the driver’s eyes. At CES we saw an explosion in improvements in this basically good idea to reduce driver distraction. BMW showed off a HUD on its “i Vision Dee” concept that projects most of the instrument cluster and conventional display information on the low edge of the windshield where the driver can see everything. Elsewhere at CES, suppliers were showing off new enabling technologies that could add improvements such as augmented reality and voice cues to HUDs at lower cost.
Cities, industrial parks, airports are all looking for the next generation of mobility that is emission-
Into the breach comes ZF with its driverless shuttle bus that can operate in traffic or, ideally, in designated lanes. The shuttle has a Level 4 autonomous technology stack that it plans to produce and operate via a partnership with mobility-
The shuttle can carry up to 22 passengers with seating room for 15, is powered by 50-100-kWh batteries and is designed to operate on fixed routes.
Fiat Metaverse Store
The Fiat Metaverse Store is the world’s first metaverse-powered interactive showroom, according to the Italian carmaker, which is part of Stellantis. The technology is the first of its kind to power an end-to-end sales experience in the metaverse featuring FIAT’s Product Genius – a real person – who is available to answer any customer question in real-time.
The Fiat Metaverse Store has been developed in collaboration with Touchcast and Microsoft, which designed the experience. The platform is built on the Microsoft Cloud and provides customers with access to the metaverse without requiring VR headsets, avatars or other specialty hardware. The result is a mash-up of digital and physical elements into an immersive experience.
The FIAT Metaverse Store transport the customer “inside” Fiat. Once inside, the Product Genius welcomes the customer for an exploration of the car in 360° views, address any questions about electric mobility, recharging or any other features and capabilities of the 500.