The fact that cars are a huge part of CES every year isn't news. As PC vendors move off the show floor, auto makers move in. In many cases, the vehicles are concepts that won't reach your local showrooms, but they are a perfect indication of what is technologically possible.
In the last five years, self-driving cars went from science fiction to reality. Major auto makers are testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, as are Google, Tesla and Uber. If you haven't seen them yet, it might be because the LiDAR sensors that used to sit awkwardly atop these vehicles are now tiny, unassuming boxes. CES vendors are preparing for a future dominated by autonomous vehicles. The only question is how consumers and regulators will adapt.
The biggest splash at the show was undoubtedly the Faraday Future FF91. A year ago, the company announced plans to build the self-driving car of the future, a high-performance and fully autonomous Tesla rival. This year, it demoed a working model. To be clear, the demo was under very controlled conditions and the car is nowhere near ready for commercial release. Even so, it seems clear that the future of transportation will look something like the FF91.
Or at least, that is the ultimate goal. In the short-term, autonomous vehicles may not be as flashy. Mercedes and Ford both showed off commercial vehicle formats that could shuffle employees or goods around a corporate campus. The idea is that autonomous vehicles will be too costly for consumers at first, but will be perfect for businesses or even municipalities. A bus route will be a lot easier to map than the open road. Sexy cars or not, the transportation industry is set for a major transformation. Here are the vehicles in the vanguard.
At this year's CES, Ford showed off three of its latest innovations: drivers can now talk to their vehicles' SYNC hands-free system with Amazon Alexa integration, an autonomous Focus vehicle and one of its vehicles for Chariot, its ride-sharing service.
To get a sense of what these developments mean for the brand, and how Ford looks for and integrates ideas, I spoke with Ken Washington, Ford's vice president of research and advanced engineering at the company's CES booth.
We think of Ford as a mobility company and the vehicle as just a big consumer electronics device. By being here at CES, it's a way to advance our perspectives and learn and convey our point of views about technology's importance in enabling new ways of being mobile and enabling the car to be an even better consumer electronics device.
Exactly. A car has shifted from a relatively dumb device to being connected, smart and autonomous. And as a connected, smart and autonomous device that's fairly sophisticated with millions of lines of code and dozens of computing modules, it's only going to get more sophisticated with the ushering in of connectivity and autonomy to enable cars to do even more for us. We're very excited what the possibilities.
We're really excited about that. What better way to make people's lives better than enabling them to have a high-quality, safe ride service that will allow them to get time back but also have this ability to move from one point to another at a very attractive price point?
You've seen that shift already happening because you have driver-driven ride services that are now pretty common. But the business model for those is questionable. It's still relatively expensive to hail a Lyft or an Uber and even more expensive to use a taxi service. If you can take the driver out of the loop, it lowers the cost point to be competitive to personal vehicle ownership.
That doesn't mean personal ownership will go away, because you'll still have the option to buy a vehicle. But having this option of not driving if you're in an environment where there is a ride service is very compelling and exciting.
We're pretty expansive when we're looking at the startup community, because we see many great ideas coming out of startups. Part of the formula for being successful in partnering with Ford is on our shoulders. It's for us to be in the environment where the startups are and for us to be proactively engaged and participating with the startup community.
So we interact with startups and get to know them, learn what they're working on. We invite them to present their ideas for how they'd like to work with Ford and if we can find common ground and interest. Sometimes that leads us to develop a proof of concept where we try their technology out. That would be the best way for startups to interact with Ford -- for them to talk to us and help us get to know what their ideas are. We can then help you understand how your idea might integrate with the automotive and mobility ecosystem.