CES 2020: These car tech innovations will change your life

Our automotive future is about to get a lot better thanks to high-tech trends including biometrics, AI, solar power and more.

Chris Paukert Former executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015. Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Chris Paukert
6 min read
Bosch Virtual Visor
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Bosch Virtual Visor

The future's so bright, you gotta wear shades. Or maybe you don't...


CES 2020 is a wonderful yet bewildering place, jam-packed with available-right-now tech and never-will-be moonshots in equal measure. It's hard to find -- let alone make sense of -- the automobiles, technology and services that will impact you, the consumer.

We're here to help. Going beyond Roadshow's favorite bits of mobility tech and the best cars and concepts, here are some of the key technological themes and breakthroughs at CES 2020 that our editors believe will reshape the future of mobility -- both in the near term and the distant future.

Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR is Pandora on four wheels

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No, nothing like the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR is going to be parked in your driveway during this new decade. But some of the key tech inside this striking, Avatar-inspired showcar is likely to figure into your automotive future sooner than you think: biometrics. This new concept car not only detects your pulse (confirming it with nudge on your seatback) while also detecting your breathing, it does away with a steering wheel and instead recognizes the driver with a multifunctional control element activated with one's palm. 

Long before full autonomy becomes a reality, cars are going to be ever-closer monitoring drivers and occupants for many reasons, including making sure they're paying attention to the act of driving, optimizing safety systems in the event of a crash and to tailor infotainment experiences to individual passengers. Biometrics will be an important new way to help accomplish these goals.

Sony's Vision-S concept packs a number of new technologies

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Sony getting into cars in a big way

Sony is certainly no stranger to the automobile -- it's been working on in-car audio and various other nooks and crannies in the motoring world for many years. But it's never signaled quite a splash as it did at CES, with the jaw-slackening debut of what looks to be a fully baked electric car

At the moment, Sony says it has no plans to actually offer this car -- a sleek-looking four-door designed with supplier powerhouse Magna -- for sale to consumers. Instead, consider this unnamed vehicle to be a rolling showcase for its Vision-S connected car platform. The package includes no fewer than 33 sensors arrayed inside and outside the vehicle, plus the mother of all infotainment systems. The dashboard is dominated by no fewer than six screens, and there's Sony's 360 Reality Audio system for the sound from the streaming movie and game feeds to wash over passengers. 

When a company with the size, history and expertise of Sony decides it wants to worm its way into the cars of tomorrow, you can bet it's going to impact the automotive landscape.

Tali smart motorcycle helmet could be the brain bucket of the future

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Smart helmets

Even if you're not a motorcyclist, you stand to benefit from the advent of smart helmets. Why? They will make the roadways safer for all motorists, and even pedestrians. In the case of Tali Connected's new helmet, that includes high-visibility features like built-in turn signals and taillights. 

In addition to trick lighting, Tali's helmet will sync with a smartphone app via Bluetooth to enable not only expected features like telephony and music, but also navigation directions and even accident/fall detection and automatic emergency service notification. 

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Velodyne's Velabit lidar sensor is tiny and shatters the $100 price barrier.


Cheap lidar

Never mind what Tesla's Elon Musk says, nearly all automakers and industry experts agree that lidar is the cornerstone of our self-driving future. Laser radar will work in concert with other sensors, including cameras, ultrasonic and long-range radar to help the cars and trucks of tomorrow 'see' their way around. The key will be getting the cost of these sensors down to a point where all cars -- not just high-end models -- can have them onboard. 

Velodyne has just introduced its Velabit lidar at CES, and not only is it tiny -- smaller than a deck of playing cards -- it shatters the price barrier, costing $100 per sensor. Just last year, rival Luminar made waves by promising to offer lidar sensors for under $1,000. The Velodyne and Luminar sensors may not share exactly the same specs, but the rapid price drop year over year is a ready illustration of how much progress is being made in this area.

While we still wouldn't bet on your next car offering hands-off Level 4 autonomy, major strides like this in cost and miniaturization should help pull that horizon in closer.

Fisker Ocean waves hello and shows off its studly form

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Solar-powered cars

Now, the idea of integrating solar panels into a vehicle's roof has been around for quite a long time, and thus far, the impact of the technology has been pretty minimal. These days, you can soak in the sunshine juice in a Toyota Prius or a Karma Revero, but their returns on investment are pretty minimal. But thanks to improvements in both efficiency and cost reductions, you can expect a lot more of this sunlight-capturing tech in the coming years, especially as cars load up on more and more power-sapping sensors for increasing levels of automation and even more creature comforts. 

We're not honestly suggesting that your next car is going to rely solely on sun power. Not even close. But solar is finally starting to make meaningful inroads as a supplementary power source for new vehicles. And that trend isn't just accelerating on expensive cars, either -- Hyundai will shortly offer the technology on its brand-new Sonata. The Korean automaker claims its new roof array will generate enough juice to provide around 800 miles of additional range per year in its forthcoming Sonata Hybrid model. That's significant. 

It's not immediately clear how much power the upcoming Fisker Ocean SUV will derive from the sun, but a full-length solar roof panel will be in the cards when the EV comes to market. The new model, which also makes its debut at CES 2020, is expected to enter production late next year, with early examples going on sale in Q1 2022. Pricing? $37,499 for starters, neatly undercutting the Tesla Model 3 (at least for the moment). Factor in the federal tax credit, and that price drops to a positively palatable $29,999 before options.

Watch this: Fisker Ocean electric SUV will be cheaper Tesla Model 3 at $37,499
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The ultra-slippery Lightyear One EV will rely heavily on solar power.


Some companies are even more ambitious than that. The slipstream Lightyear One presented at CES 2020 promises to deliver some 7.5 miles of range per hour of charge time. That means that if you left your car outside during a sunny eight-hour workday, you could theoretically recover some 60 miles of charging, likely more than your commute home. 

Even if the $170,000 Lightyear One never truly gets off the ground, we're betting you're going to see a lot more cars augmented by solar power in the coming years.

Pay for gas, tolls and food with just your car

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Cars as mobile payment systems

All of the technologies and products above are promising, but maybe you need some life-changing automotive tech right now. Visa and SiriusXM may just have the cure for what ails you: in-dash ordering and automated payment for things you use every day. Food. Gas. Tolls. Parking. All from your driver's seat using either your car's infotainment display or voice commands. 

We've seen systems from General Motors and others where you can order your morning coffee, but some functions require also interacting with your phone directly, making them less convenient. In the case of GM's Marketplace, they also require that you own one of the company's vehicles. 

With the SiriusXM/Visa tech, your car just has to have a 4G-LTE data connection and SiriusXM's connected services, both of which you may already have. Now, in order to make the most of this, the two companies are working feverishly to sign up participating vendors and services en masse to ensure that your corner gas station and most-frequently used toll road are ready to accept your mobile payment. That's likely to take some time, especially if you live outside of major metropolitan areas, but given the ubiquity of Visa and SiriusXM, this convenient service may become part of your daily routine quicker than you think.

Bosch Virtual Visor promises to solve a glaring danger for motorists

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Smart visors

With a lot of the offerings at CES, it sometimes feels like you need a PhD to understand these new pieces of technology. Not just how they work, but how they might benefit you and your motoring life. Bosch's Virtual Visor is refreshingly easy to understand: It improves on the nearly century-old sun visor by offering up to 90% more visibility. How? By employing a transparent LCD visor that can be intelligently blacked-out section by section to only block those areas where the sun is impeding the driver's visibility. It does so with powerful software and a simple driver-facing camera.

While this tech is likely at least a few years from finding its way into passenger cars and commercial trucks, because it's being developed by one of the auto industry's largest suppliers, it's likely to show up quickly on a wide variety of makes and models. And hey, even if your next car, truck or SUV doesn't come with it, if the vehicles you're sharing the road with have the technology, you're less likely to get in an accident because they've been blinded by glare.

Watch this: This futuristic AI-powered LCD sun visor could put an end to squinting

All the cool car stuff at CES 2020

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