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Byton electric concept car: All the details you need to know

When Byton unveiled its concept car at CES, it was light on details, so we talked to its drivetrain and electronics engineers to get all the facts.

Byton's presentation at CES for its first electric car didn't answer some key questions. In a follow-up session, Byton engineers gave a more detailed picture of the car, which the company plans to put into production in late 2019.

This electric car will pack in technologies that are likely be to crucial in the next decade. Not only will it have 5G connectivity, it will also be able to drive itself. 

Byton considers the car an SUV, a label which might apply in Europe and Asia, but may not stick in the US. The roofline is much lower than a typical American SUV, making it appear more like a wagon. However, the company plans a sedan version sometime after using the same platform.

Drivetrain

Byton concept car

Byton uses prismatic battery cells in its car's battery pack, with either 71 kilowatt-hours or a larger option of 95 kilowatt-hours.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

At its unveiling, Byton said it would offer the car with two battery sizes: 71 kilowatt-hours, good for 250 miles of range, and 95 kilowatt-hours, able to cover 325 miles. However, the car will also be offered in rear-wheel- or four-wheel-drive, making four potential combinations. 

The rear axle makes use of a 200 kilowatt motor, a component from Bosch that also integrates a reduction gearset and inverter into one compact unit. Four-wheel-drive versions will also have a 150 kilowatt motor at the front axle. That additional motor could give the car more range.

The battery pack, embedded in the chassis, consists of lithium-ion prismatic cells, a square form factor. Active cooling keeps the batteries at optimal temperatures and prevents thermal overruns. 

Byton powertrain engineer Kevin Konecky said that the car will use the CCS1 standard, also known as J1772 Combo, for fast charging in the US. China will use a different fast charging standard. Although the concept car did not have wireless charging, a system where you can park your car over a charging pad, Konecky said the company is looking into that.

Upgrades

Byton plans on using over-the-air upgrades to make sure software in the concept is up-to-date, much as Tesla does today. But more interesting, the company will upgrade some of hardware on existing cars. At launch, the Byton car, which doesn't yet have a model name, will come with three 4G modems for cellular data. As 5G infrastructure rolls out, Byton will upgrade those modems to 5G at its service centers.

To keep the car secure, Byton will implement what it calls a Smart Gateway, which will analyze all data traffic coming into the car to make sure any updates are digitally signed. In addition, Byton will run its own cloud, where it will store car information and driver profiles.

Cabin tech

One of the most extraordinary things about Byton's car is its cabin. A 49-inch curved LCD runs across the dashboard, showing what Byton calls the Shared Experience Display. Placed too far forward for touchscreen operation, Byton came up with a gesture control system. Cameras on the dashboard watch the space between driver and passenger, registering hand motions and using them to control what's on the screen.

Now Playing: Watch this: Tour the gesture-controlled Byton CES concept car
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Jeff Chung, Byton's vice president of engineering, said that, unlike BMW's gesture control, this system responds to more than just a few distinct hand motions. In its cursor mode, the cameras track the user's finger tip to control the onscreen cursor. In the concept, there are four main areas to access: Communication, navigation, entertainment and health.

The car can show video calls on its screen, a large view of navigation, access online playlists for music, and even communicate with a wearable on the driver, like a smartwatch, to get health information. The system even lets users pinch and zoom the navigation screen with gestures. Still in the development stage, Chung isn't sure that the system's cursor mode will be available while the car is being driven.

An 8-inch tablet on the steering wheel puts touchscreen controls at the driver's fingertips.

Byton

To help the driver focus on the road, an 8-inch touchscreen on the steering wheel offers fingertip-accessible controls, and shows route guidance for navigation. On the right side of the steering wheel sit buttons labeled PRND, the typical drive controls found in cars today. The steering wheel placement keeps them easily at hand. 

Complying with safety standards, an airbag inflates from below the screen in case of a collision.

At launch, Byton says it will include Level 3 self-driving capability, which means the car can drive itself in many situations, but a human driver will have to take control for some. However, the car will be technically capable of Level 4 self-driving, which means it can handle all driving tasks, a feature that Byton can make available once government regulations permit.

This self-driving capability explains much of the interior appointments. The large screen in front can be used by passengers for a video call or to watch movies. The front seats actually swivel 12 degrees towards the center of the car, giving rear seat passengers a better view of the screen, and making it easier for front and rear passengers to chat.

Byton's car looks like a tour de force of technology, but much of it comes from ideas that have been floating around the technosphere, shown off in various component concepts at recent CESes. It took plenty of engineering effort to build the car, and the will to break from a century of automotive legacy.