CES 2019: A Focus on Mobility
CES 2019, which just took place in Las Vegas, was again a major showcase for autotech, though it seemed it was slightly more down to earth this year. I noticed a broad range of autonomous shuttles complemented with an array of occupant understanding solutions and on-board services. This year again, AI was well-represented with increased focus on true user experience (UX) enhancement. As far as autonomous vehicles are concerned, there was less hype than last year, and more focus and shorter term solutions. More on these points later.
About 200k participants turned up to meet with over 4000 companies. These included about 1200 startups, including an impressive — though probably excessive — delegation of almost 400 French ones. The few OEMs that had a presence were Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, Hyundai/Kia, Nissan, plus an emerging one, Byton (image below). The key Tier 1 suppliers were present including Aptiv, Bosch, Continental, Denso, Faurecia, Magna, Mobis, Valeo, Veoneer, Visteon as well as ZF. In addition, an array of startups presented all sorts of hardware or software solutions, addressing mainly autonomous driving, connectivity as well as connected or onboard services.
Let’s dive into the major trends I observed.
Many Autonomous Shuttles with Creative Onboard Services
A year ago, I wrote in my 2018 CES review: "Toyota introduced e‐Palette, a self-driving (electric shuttle) concept which the OEM will start testing in the early 2020s … towards the launch of a mobility service business for either people or goods.” This year there were many e-Palette lookalikes.
Autonomous shuttles — real ones or concepts — were visible this year at many booths. Existing shuttles by EasyMile, Navya, Local Motors and May Mobility were displayed on their partner’s stands, who used them to showcase their tech. But there were also many concept shuttles. Bosch highlighted onboard services in its 4-seat “IoT shuttle,” using the side window as a huge display (image below). ZF showcased e-GO Mover, a shuttle it intends to start producing in 2019 with its partner e-GO Mobile; the first units will be deployed by transport operator Transdev in France and Germany.
Panasonic has two vehicles which share an autonomous electric underpinning; the SPACe_C can be adapted to carry people or goods, thanks to its partners who develop the upper unit. It will be part of a pilot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The SPACe_L is more of a robotaxi, which offers a living room experience. Kia presented 6 concept vehicles with various levels of autonomy. Each vehicle showcased different onboard technologies, including one that adapts the vehicle’s operating parameter to the type and mood of its passengers. Lastly, Toyota Boshu displayed an office-like shuttle.
These Level 4-autonomous, electric vehicles operate at low speed, i.e., 25-30 km/h depending on local legislation. They represent low-hanging fruits for AV tech. In its Jan 2019 paper on Seamless Mobility, McKinsey describes a possible future where these shuttles absorb 25% of passenger-kilometers by 2030, where cities implement ambitious multi-modal strategies (image below). They are also a great test bed for an array of services such as passenger-based adaptive comfort parameters, full connectivity with passengers’ individual digital worlds, infotainment or targeted advertising.
AEV Robotics presented an interesting modular autonomous electric skateboard. In an approach that is reminiscent of the coach building business of the 1930s, this skateboard can be mated with various upper structures through partnerships with bodybuilders.
More Pragmatism on the Autonomous Vehicles Front
This year, no one boasted any bold messages such as “level 4 autonomy for the general public by 2021.” Over the past months, key players have recognized the task at hand was more complicated than anticipated. Companies at all levels of the supply chain are partnering to tackle the problem, e.g., Honda and GM, Magna and Lyft, and possibly Ford and Volkswagen soon. The focus has moved to having access to the best tech possible (not necessarily as a differentiated solution) while limiting spending and identifying early deployment opportunities. None of the OEMs made any big announcements related to AVs.
On the compute side, Nvidia and Intel/Mobileye seemed to continue on the AV collision course I highlighted last year, though their journeys are quite different. Nvidia communicated mainly on its “Level 2+” solution, an SAE L2 autonomy augmented with driver monitoring and scene representation, as well as on its software and simulation capabilities. On the other side, Intel/Mobileye promoted EyeQ4, a compute platform with integrated camera fusion capabilities and the ability to host third party AV software for prediction, path planning and actuation. Qualcomm promoted its Snapdragon chipset to address various ADAS solutions.
Fewer companies showcased Lidars this year. I will only highlight three which extend their product ranges to better address specific use cases. Velodyne introduced VelaDome, a Lidar with half-spherical perception and a 100 m range targeting the vehicle’s side view, as well as material handling or drones (image above). The company also showed its solid state product, Velarray, which now offers a 200 m range (at 10% reflectivity). Ouster continues to extend its own offering and presented a 64-channel spinning Lidar. It uses the same basic components as its other products, therefore enabling the company to continue challenging Velodyne on price. Lastly, Pioneer presented a range of MEMS-based short, medium and long range Lidars, though their best range does not seem as of yet to put them on par with the best players. First samples are planned in 2020.
Improved UX, increasingly AI-Assisted
Much of the automotive focus at CES centered on the enhancing passenger UX/UI, using technologies ranging from AI, connectivity, computer vision or smart materials.
Bigger and more numerous screens were apparent on the few vehicles showcased. Remember, Tesla first showed the way in 2012 with its 17” central screen. The new CLA Mercedes introduced at CES uses two 7-inch displays side by side in combination with the company’s new UX platform, MBUX (image below). First introduced at CES 2018, MBUX now uses AI to customize the experience and adapt to the user. It also recognizes natural-language and gesture commands. Emerging OEM Byton exposed the electric SUV M-Byte (start of production end 2019) and sedan K-Byte (2020) with their pillar-to-pillar display positioned on top of the instrument panel (interior supplied by Faurecia). Audi presented e-Tron, its first purpose built EV. It will be the first ever production vehicle using cameras as side view mirrors combined with displays embedded in the doors. As stated above, autonomous shuttle concepts also showed a clear intent to use side windows as displays.
AI-based assistants are increasingly making their way inside vehicles. Amazon Alexa seems to lead in vehicle deployment, competing with Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and newly introduced Samsung Bixby. Some of the benefits include the control of various vehicle functions as well as your smart home, in an effort to make the car an integral part of your digital world.
AI is will also be intensively used to understand what is going on inside a vehicle, including recognizing passengers, characterizing them (age, sex, race), understanding their emotions, position and actions as well as identifying objects left behind. The startup Eyeris is at the forefront of this technology (full disclosure: I am an advisor). These features will enhance the onboard experience, enabling increased safety, interior customization as well as targeted messages. Faurecia, Panasonic, and Kia also showcased such features at CES.
There were also interesting demonstrators addressing the cabin itself. Faurecia presented its cockpit of the future: a morphing instrument panel, passenger-specific immersive sound experiences, rotating seats and smart materials. Among other innovations, Valeo showcased its Smart Cocoon, a system offering localized thermal comfort bubbles adapted to each passenger according to their physiological characteristics as measured by biosensors and infrared cameras. Valeo also presented a route-optimizing solution based on real time air quality measurement. Magna showcased an interior mockup with animated, flexible seat arrangement depending on how the vehicle is used (image below). One scenario includes side-facing seating positions, which still requires technical and regulatory validation.
New smart materials and touch solutions were presented that will enhance the user interface inside the cabin. They include pressure sensitive solutions that can be embedded under leather, wood or metal (see UltraSense), conductive ink which can be printed on any material (see VFP) or 3D touch and heated materials (see Canatu).
Two more things …
There was a very interesting hydrogen-powered bike presented with its own H2 charging station. The French companies behind this clean mobility solution, Ergosup and Pragma Industries, have already sold about a hundred of this premium bike (price of $8k will drop) which offers 150 km of autonomy. The station costs between $10k (H2 storage and charging) and $65k (with on-site H2 generation). The company targets mobility operators and fleets.
German supplier Continental presented a dog-like four-legged robot that could carry packages from autonomous, last-mile delivery vehicles to a customer's doorstep, climbing stairs if needed (image below).
Finally, a note for my French-speaking readers: I recommend you read Olivier Ezartty’s excellent annual report. The preliminary version is available here, pending the complete version at the end of January.
All the best to the new EV players! We need competition to foster electric mobility.
Managing Director, Orsay Consulting
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