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Tech Out the Future of Cars

Driven to perfection, expect a lot more innovation under the hood of your next vehicle

By Marc Saltzman

hf_bella_MARCWhile “CES” is an abbreviation of the Consumer Electronics Show—for which I undertake an annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas to see upcoming gadgets and gear—the running joke at the recent convention was that CES now stands for the Car Electronics Show.

Many of the world’s biggest automakers have become a major part of this highly publicized conference, which serves as a glimpse into the future of technology. This year, they dominated much of the North Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as surrounding facilities.

And it didn’t seem to matter that this Sin City event falls on the heels of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was wall-to-wall vehicles, just a few paces away from the latest in televisions, audio equipment and wearable gizmos.

And so, here’s a look at some of the amazing automotive tech coming down the road, most of which debuted at CES.

It’s a mod world
Chrysler’s Portal concept offered a futuristic take on the family vehicle, focusing heavily on a reimagined car interior for millennials on the go. Featuring a sleek and spacious cabin with a modular design, you can add or remove seats with your changing needs—such as inserting a seat for a new baby or taking one out to fit extra luggage and a pair of skis. Because it operates on a track system, seats can also be repositioned inside the modern minivan, if need be.

While this concept car offers autonomous (self-driving) capabilities, you can also take the airplane-like steering wheel to pilot this electric car yourself. This “third space” between work and home, as Chrysler refers to it, moreover packs in facial and voice recognition, touch-sensitive screens, support for hand gestures and more.

hf-marc5There’s no word on when this vehicle could become a reality, but Chrysler says it’s more of a concept car that could benefit various models, rather than being tied to a specific one.

Speak to me
Ford used the CES to announce a partnership with Amazon to boost the most natural of controls: Your voice. By integrating Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant into SYNC 3-enabled Ford vehicles, you’ll be able to search for nearby destinations, access content (such as audiobooks, live sports scores and millions of music tracks), pay bills and even add items to Amazon shopping lists—all by simply talking. Or ask Alexa to access your smart-home devices on the road, such as controlling your home’s lighting, security systems, thermostat and garage doors.

This Alexa functionality will also work the other way around,hf-marc2 allowing you to access your car’s info from the comfort of your home, such as using your voice to start and stop your engine, lock or unlock doors and monitor vehicle readings such as the fuel level and battery range. Ford began rolling out Alexa’s home-to-car integration this summer (with the 2017 Ford Fusion Energi), while car-to-home functionality will likely be available by year end.

Touch much
Speaking of next-generation interfaces, BMW’s HoloActive Touch demo proved to be an impressive virtual touchscreen experience inside its BMW i Inside Future concept car. Showcased at BMW’s pavilion outside of the convention center, imagine free-floating buttons in the air, near the center console, that vibrate slightly underneath your fingertips when pressed; this tactile feedback confirms your selection.

hf-marc3Allowing drivers to access in-car features or BMW Connected services, HoloActive Touch fuses BMW’s Head-Up Display (aided by the clever use of reflections) with AirTouch gesture controls and other technologies to create this innovative and intuitive interface. The BMW i Inside Future isn’t a car planned for production anytime soon, but pulls the curtain back on what this premium German automaker is cooking up in interior design and futuristic interface concepts.

Safety first
With the new school year starting, more kids will be out and about as they head to class—on their bikes, feet or hopscotching down a sidewalk—and so Chevrolet wants to stop accidental but deadly “backover” incidents with a technology called “Surround Vision.”

Available in the all-new 2018 Equinox, Surround Vision provides a 360-degree bird’s-eye view around the vehicle, acting like multiple sets of eyes that help drivers quickly view their vehicle’s perimeter during low-speed maneuvers such as backing up or parking. The technology uses four cameras: the standard rear-vision camera, a forward-looking camera in the front grille and two side-looking cameras under each side mirror. In the US alone, there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries a year caused by backover crashes, with 40 per cent occurring in residential areas.

Electrifying ridehf-marc4
Mercedes-Benz has unveiled its new product brand for electric mobility: EQ. Short for “Electric Intelligence” (and derived from the company’s brand values of “emotion” and “inteligence”), EQ will be a comprehensive electric mobility ecosystem of products, services, technologies and innovations—ranging from electric vehicles to wall-boxes and charging services to home-energy storage units (similar to Tesla’s Powerwall).

The close-to-production concept vehicle “Concept EQ” made its debut at the 2017 CES, and is a sporty SUV all-wheel-drive coupé with two electric motors and a range of up to 500 km. Due out by the end of the decade, the vehicle’s interior is ultra-modern, with a fresh new concept for the next generation of eco-friendly vehicles.

Marc Saltzman is a recognized expert in computers, consumer electronics, video  gaming and internet trends. You can see him on CNN, CTV’s Canada AM, and on Cineplex movie theatre screens across Canada. Follow him on Twitter @marc_saltzman.

Photos: Chrysler. Ford. BMW. Mercedes-Benz. Tesla.