CES 2016: Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming, Love ‘em or Hate ‘em

December 30, 2015 by PatrickM

From start to finish, all tech eyes will be on the 2016 Consumer Technology Association's convention in Las Vegas from January 6 through 9. Here's what we can expect to see.

In tech? Pay attention to CES 2016.

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.”

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    JonnyS December 30, 2015

    Personally I thought the “diesel gate” was very clever. (However unfortunately illegal)

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    cpp1 January 08, 2016

    Who wants to ride in a car that’s driven by a computer? When was the last time your computer at work crashed? When was the last time your supposedly reliable Linux computer crashed? When was the last time your apple or android phone crashed? Get the point? What happens when the computer crashes one a tractor-trailer and the vehicle and load it’s pulling careen into other cars? Who’s liable for that? Is it the manufacturer of the tech or the company that owns the truck? These are all not easy questions to answer, and I don’t see fully autonomous cars implanted for decades, if ever, without a human with a driver’s license to supervise the computer, like on an airplane. Do you know how many times the “advanced automation” in an airplane has failed and the pilots are forced to take over? The claim that “sooner rather than later” fully autonomous vehicles will take over the road is uninformed, to put it nicely. Sure, automation will happen in road vehicles, but not where you don’t need to supervise the computer and take over if need be…not at least for decades is that tech truly available. All I have to do is point to airplanes…they’ve had automation implanted and in current use that can takeoff, fly, and land the airplane for decades. Yet, pilots still have jobs and they still are required to be capable of flying the airplane manually…getting the licenses and necessary certifications. Tell me why this is? If you ask me, this is a bunch of liberal hype by people who are rooting for the likes of the people who share your private data with the government (Google) and hide profits overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes (Apple and probably Google and probably…). These are not altruistic companies that the media often plays them out to be, and this article is no exception.

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      ps8388 January 08, 2016
      I see your point, and I do agree that there are many questions yet unanswered. But, computers already do a lot all around us that in the past humans used to do. Many of the products we use everyday are manufactured by automated machines. Now, of course machines are not perfect and they do require manual intervention from time to time. We already have completely automated train systems which do not require any driver present. For planes, we still require the pilot for taking-off and landing the plane. Now of course there will be times when the automated car malfunctions causing an accident, but the chances of that are much much lower than a human driver causing an accident. Computers are much better at repetitive work than humans. As for the insurance issue, we will see a gradual shift of responsibility from the car insurance people buy today to the car manufacturers purchasing insurance in case of a automated car accident.
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