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CES: Audi keynote full of sound, little fury

Audi chairman Rupert Stadler delivers a keynote at CES 2011 with plenty to look at, but no new announcements.

Rupert Stadler
Audi's Rupert Stadler takes the stage for his Thursday morning keynote address at CES. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Audi chairman Rupert Stadler delivered a keynote address at CES on Thursday morning, marking the company's first major presence at the consumer electronics event. But although he had plenty of flashy things to show, there were no new concrete announcements.

Actor James Cromwell took the stage first to talk about his role in the movie "I, Robot" and whether the autonomous cars portrayed were pure science fiction or something we could expect to see in our lifetimes.

After Cromwell's short speech, CEA head Robert Shapiro and Rupert Stadler drove onto the stage in the Audi e-tron Spyder, one of a series of electric concept cars Audi has shown off at various auto shows. Shapiro introduced Stadler.

Stadler spent a little time talking about Audi's cabin tech, and pointed out that, even more so than mobile or home electronics, the most exciting area of consumer electronics expansion is in the car. Talking about how Audi has integrated Google Earth with the new Audi A8, he came out with the pithy phrase that "Audi is making the Internet mobile in the automobile."

Rupert Stadler
Audi's Rupert Stadler greets Nvidia's Jensen Huang. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

And talking about how Audi has built up its reputation for performance while putting computing power in its car, he said that "Audi is redefining what it means to be a really fast computer."

With footage of Audi's autonomous TT tackling Pike's Peak, Stadler talked about the company's efforts in car safety systems, such as lane departure warning and collision sensing systems. He went on to show an image of the full color head-up display (HUD) in the Audi A7, and showed a future concept of a laser augmented HUD that would appear to project information, such as navigation, onto the road ahead.

The keynote really picked up when Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang drove onto the stage in an Audi A8L, the top-of-the-line Audi luxury flagship. He talked up Nvidia's Tegra processor and its suitability for many applications, including cars. Stadler and Huang talked about how Audi and Nvidia are working together to integrate the new processor into future cars.

Huang showed a demo version of a digital instrument cluster, which would be powered by the Tegra chip. This instrument cluster used a 3D design, and Huang said it ran at 60 frames per second. The digital speedometer shown in the display simulated the look of glass in its rendering, and Huang pointed out it could also simulate wood or metal looks, depending on what the automaker desired.

As a final point, Stadler said that Audi is working with developers to integrate apps with its cars, probably in a way similar to the Google Earth feature in the A8.