At CES 2014, the cars drive you

The biggest high-tech automotive trend on display at CES 2014 was self-driving cars, not just in concept, but in real-world demonstrations.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
3 min read
Wayne Cunningham/CNET
Audi Piloted Driving demonstration
With Audi's traffic assist concept, the driver takes his hands off the wheel and his feet off the pedals when traffic moves under 40 mph. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- At last year's CES, the topic of driverless cars came up from Audi and Lexus, but it was largely talk. Just one year later, we are seeing real-world demonstrations of the technology. New platforms for app integration in cars were also on display, as was an exciting new trend, letting drivers get information and control some car functions with a smartwatch.

Audi and BMW, along with automotive suppliers Bosch and Valeo, demonstrated some driverless car technologies. Rather than a fully enabled autonomous vehicle that can drive across town by itself, these demonstrations focused on next-generation features that would take over some driving tasks.

For BMW, Valeo, and Bosch, it was automated parking. In the Valeo demo, a car was able to drive itself down a line of cars, find a parking space, and back into it. This type of feature could be implemented in a car soon.

Audi also demonstrated automated parking, but took things a step further with a traffic assist feature, where the car could take over the driving in highway traffic moving at under 40 mph. These technologies show how automakers will implement self-driving cars feature by feature, rather than releasing a fully autonomous car all at once.

The components to make up these self-driving features not only include radar, laser, and cameras, but also a processor in the car that can interpret sensor information and construct a three-dimensional environment. Software would tell the car how to react to objects and threats within that environment.

Nvidia's announcement of its Tegra K1 processor at CES 2014, with an extraordinary 192 cores, is one piece of hardware that could enable the future autonomous car. In fact, Audi announced it would use the K1 chip in production cars in the near future.

Truly mobile apps
The connected car is an ongoing trend gaining new momentum; GM announced it would build a 4G/LTE connection into 10 of its models. Audi announced a similar data connection last year for its upcoming A3 model. In this area, AT&T was the big winner, as it took the stage with both companies to say it would be the data provider of choice for these high-bandwidth connections.

It seems a good bet that other automakers will follow suit with their own built-in 4G/LTE connections.

Making use of these data connections, automakers and suppliers showed off a number of app integration schemes. GM led the pack, showing off the App Shop feature in its MyLink system. App Shop will let Chevrolet owners download and install apps right into their cars' dashboards. GM will, of course, maintain control over which apps are approved for use in the car.

Mazda had OpenCar in its exhibit to demonstrate a concept app platform, while automotive suppliers Delphi, Harman, QNX, and Garmin all showed off concept infotainment systems for cars with app integration.

HTML5 appeared to be the programming language of choice for these platforms, making it easier for third-party developers to quickly come up with new apps to submit to automakers.

Wearable tech on the road
The newest trend we hadn't seen before involved integrating smartwatches with cars. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz showed how an owner could use a smartwatch to remotely unlock doors, check fuel level, honk the horn, and even send destinations to the car.

Smartwatches for the car will definitely be a trend to watch in the coming year.