From start to finish, all tech eyes will be on CES 2016 in Las Vegas from January 6 through 9. Putting the spotlight on everything from drones to Gary Shapiro’s own book club, the annual tech fest will include, ironically, a keynote from Dr. Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen Passenger Cars, owner of the most disastrous consumer scam of 2016.
Of course, Diess can’t be blamed for the “diesel gate” debacle: two engineers have already been pinpointed, so being at CES 2016 is a good way to start repairing the damage and come out kicking and screaming into a year that will be rife with automotive innovation.
Most exciting of these is the ongoing development of V2X using IEEE 802.11p-based interfaces for automotive-to-infrastructure communications, and the use of Wi-Fi for in-car video streaming and connectivity to the home.
Volkswagen's Herbert Diess speaks at CES.
V2X will enable the first tepid steps toward autonomous vehicles by providing contextually relevant information, such as potholes, light changes, and first responder vehicle alerts.
Plenty has been written about automotive innovation, and we’re only scratching the surface with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), heads-up displays, location services and infotainment. While many will argue against autonomous vehicles, they’re fighting the inevitable: they will happen sooner rather than later. I could provide the numerous predictions from analysts, but just look at the logic.
From a cost perspective, having autonomous truck fleets is just cheaper, and they don’t tire, complain, or require health benefits. Uber drivers watch out.
From a consumer perspective, driving just gets in the way of texting, talking, video streaming, eating, arguing, romance and all the other more interesting things to do in a vehicle besides watching the car in front of you.
From a demographics point of view, aging baby boomers still want their independence, and if a self-driving car can help provide that, it’s a winner. And everyone is safer. Google’s autonomous vehicles have yet to be cited for anything other than going too slowly.
Volkswagen's all-electric bus is one in the range of forward-thinking cars.
Granted, the feeling of control is “nice,” and maybe a “must” for many, so maybe a dual-mode vehicle will emerge. Either way, the upside is too great to impugn the arrival of autonomous vehicles. On a rainy day going to work in heavy traffic, the romance of driving, depicted in commercials and clung to by independent spirits, seems very far away.
Keeping your wheels on the ground
While it’s easy to get carried away by the pizzazz of vehicular innovation, it’s important to keep a close eye on what’s really happening for us, the engineering masses. One way to do that is to look at high-end cars and see what they’re incorporating. But you have to keep in mind that those technologies were baked into the design at least 18 months or more before the car even emerged in prototype. It’s almost always “old” technology by the time you see it: that’s just a function of the design cycle and safety requirements.
Another way to keep track is to look at companies like u-blox, which is focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) using short-range wireless, cellular and satellite GPS/GNSS. It’s working hard on V2X and its 2015 revenues were up 33.1% over 2014, with 15.3% EBITDA margins. So it’s doing something right.
u-blox’s introduction of the THEO-P1 series of V2X transceiver modules is a good indication of the innovation happening around car connectivity to infrastructure and toward fully autonomous vehicles.
Its strength comes in a modular approach to wireless design, to get you off the ground quickly, regardless of geographically varying regulations.
While we may not see u-blox’s latest work for a year or two, it gives you a good idea of where things are going. Of course, getting designed into a vehicle requires close ties with Tier 1 providers such as Delphi or Bosch, so establishing a relationship with them will be a good idea if you have a design idea.
Lots more on CES to come, including the ins and outs and ups and downs of wearables from 2015 to 2016, and interesting display options. Hint: 4K UHDTV is now “old hat.”