CES 2020 Automotive: The Future Looks Like a Box
CES week has been true to the themes set forth by Steve Koenig on Sunday, and having spent most of Wednesday in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center—the automotive pavilion—I can say that Koenig was right: the electric vehicle has reached an inflection point. And along with electric propulsion came autonomous operation.
Electric vehicles were everywhere in the North Hall, taking the place of prominence with many for the major players in the automotive space. But what stood out to me was the two schools of design with respect to emerging autonomous electric vehicles. They were either shoeboxes on wheels or sleek, ultra-stylish, and super-hip vehicles.
Utility vehicles were everywhere on the show floor, ranging from high-capacity people-mover styles to the example application on display at the OSRAM booth: an autonomous vehicle that serves as a mobile parcel locker for packages delivered by shipping companies (e.g., UPS, or DHL, or Amazon).
There were a multitude of takes on the rolling shoe box throughout the show.
Even the Toyota Woven City project depends on such autonomous vehicles for slow-moving, utilitarian, local transport within the city plan. Other companies showing these rolling boxes included Cerence and Fiat Chrysler, among others. But then, things changed.
When it came to transporting people in personal transport, however, the vehicles showed much less restraint. Toyota, for example, showcased two concept vehicles: again, one looked surprisingly shoebox, and the other was a more sleek, aerodynamic ride. But it’s the Honda autonomous driving concept car that, arguably, best captures the freedom of design afforded personal autonomous vehicles.
This concept throws out most of the traditions in automotive design coachwork and delivers a compellingly simple convertible vehicle that—according to the video demonstrations—allows for easy transition between human-driven and autonomous-driven modes. Just one look at the wheels, and it is clear that this vehicle is not a gasoline-driven conveyance.
Of course, autonomous EVs were not restricted just to the roadways. Bell Helicopter was back this year with their electric quad-copter commuter vehicle. And Hyundai had a six-bladed autonomous drone for carrying human cargo as well. The Hyundai concept also just happened to be badged as an Uber vehicle.
After some thought, it became clear to me that taking a grand license with the traditions of automotive design at this inflection point is a good thing. As gasoline-powered, human-steered automobiles share the road with electric, autonomous vehicles, it is helpful for the human drivers to be able to easily distinguish vehicles apart from each other.
Koenig seems correct in asserting that there we’re at an inflection point toward electric propulsion in-vehicle technology. This point was driven home as I spoke to representatives from ANSYS—a physical/mechanical modeling simulation software company—in their booth in the middle of the automotive hall, which is not a traditional place to exhibit for a design simulation software company.
Expect to see more coverage of the automotive sector from I-Connect007 as the year progresses.