Auto Tech

CES 2014 will showcase the near future of driving

Among our expected automotive finds at CES for 2014, we'll see self-driving cars, alternative fuel vehicles, and connectivity in the cabin.

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept
Toyota will bring its latest Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept to CES, demonstrating its green car development. Timothy Hornyak/CNET

Auto shows make great places to see the cars coming to showrooms in the next year, but CES shows how we will be driving by 2020. Automakers and suppliers are participating in CES 2014 to show off their latest tech concepts, designed to make driving safer and easier than ever.

At CES 2013, both Lexus and Audi made important announcements about their efforts to develop autonomous vehicles. While those efforts have not come to dealers yet, Audi will be demonstrating its test vehicles at CES, showing how the future car will drop off its passengers, then go find a parking spot on its own. At CES 2013, Audi executives displayed the hardware that would make self-driving cars practical, including a sensor array much more compact than that seen on the tops of Google's autonomous cars. The company is working to integrate its sensor array into cars to enable self-driving capabilities.

Ford will also be on hand, demonstrating technology that will lead to autonomous vehicles. Its production vehicles already have such features as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, technologies called V2X, are two important building blocks to safer and autonomous vehicles. Ford will be demonstrating how V2X communication can alert a driver to another car's movement before it is even visible.

Mercedes-Benz promises to give demonstrations about autonomous driving in the real world, which can only refer to the Steering Assist system in its new S550 model. In slow traffic, this car comes as close as anything to actual autonomous driving in production.

2014 Mercedes-Benz S550
The new S-Class comes very close to self-driving in slow traffic. Josh Miller/CNET

Delphi, one of the largest automotive suppliers, has also been working on autonomous car technologies, so will be showing off a Tesla Model S with what it calls "Autopilot" technology. The company opened up a lab in Mountain View, Calif., in order to be closer to tech giants such as Google and Apple, not to mention all the other high-tech innovators in the so-called Silicon Valley. During a press event at the lab, it demonstrated sensor technology and computer programs that would combine to recognize people and objects around a car.

Toyota will also be at CES, but it appears to be taking a different tack. The company promises to show a number of electric vehicles, likely to include the Rav4 EV released earlier this year. But taking center stage will be the new Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept Toyota unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in November. These green technologies represent another way in which tech and the automotive sector go hand in hand.

Of immediately tangible interest are developments around the connected car, many of which we will see at CES 2014. Automakers are heavily invested in the effort to bring the kinds of services we have come to depend on from our smartphones safely into vehicle dashboards.

OnStar, the connected arm of GM, will be on hand with the new Chevrolet Corvette to demonstrate its latest data-driven features and how they integrate into the car. One hint we've gotten recently is that OnStar will be talking up what it calls App Shop, a feature to be built into cars letting owners select apps they find useful. Earlier in 2013, GM announced that OnStar would begin rolling out 4G connections in new models, enhancing app use in the car.

During the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, Audi announced it would include a 4G connection in its new A3 model. We expect to see demonstrations of that car's connected features.

Mazda will be on hand, most likely showing off the new Mazda3. This newest iteration of Mazda's compact car can be had with a head-up display system. In Mazda's booth will be new partner OpenCar, showing off a whole new open-standards platform for app integration and connectivity in automobiles.

Automotive supplier Visteon's exhibit is set to include futuristic dashboard displays relying on LCDs and projection technology, and even a concept cockpit that responds to the driver's gaze and head movements. On the connected-car front, Visteon will show off a new project it says includes autonomous driving features. Enticingly, Visteon teases that a major European automaker is involved with the project.