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PART 2: Automotive Electronics takes center stage at CES2014
LAS VEGAS , NV - “Let me assure you, fully automated driving will happen” Werner Struth, Robert Bosch LLC.  “We’re bringing hydrogen fueled vehicles to the market in 2015” Bob Carter, Toyota.  “Cars have become mobile technology platforms” Rupert Stadler, Audi AG.  Just three quotes from major players in the car industry addressing packed audiences at today’s press day for CES2014.

One would normally expect the likes of Intel, Sharp, Samsung and Huawei to take the spotlight at the world’s largest consumer electronics show, or perhaps some new company bringing a creative invention to the market, but it seems today the car was front and center, providing innovation, connectivity and real solutions that offer real improvement to the user experience.

Rest assured those other companies did have some pretty cool stuff on offer and we’ll come to that in the coming days…

So, in the automotive space it’s not all revolution, but there was a sense of real excitement around the press events held to day by Bosch, Audi & Toyota, and many turned out in the car park of the Mandalay Bay Convention to se the launch of the Formula E racing car.

First up was Chairman of Robert Bosch LLC, Werner Struth.  Automotive represents about US$40 Billion to Bosch and they are not short of inventive solutions to make the driving experience more connected, more pleasant, more environmentally friendly and, of course, safer.  Werner confidently talked about the future of fully automated driverless cars with, in his view, the level of automation slowly increasing.  In 2014 freeway driving in congested traffic will be available, controlling distances and lane positioning.  More technology at higher speeds will follow.  More sensors, more actuators and more processing power will all lead to the incremental improvement of the experience.

As well as this he talked about natural voice input that uses normal sentences, rather than a string of commands, allowing communication and control, while products like mySPIN allow for greater connectivity with the ubiquitous smartphones or tablets.

Start-stop engine systems already save energy, as much as 15%.  An smartphone app that assists with parking already exists, and other aps are being developed specific to use in the car.  Bosch is also a pioneer in connected diagnostics, allowing your dealer or mechanic to remotely diagnose potential issues or monitor service requirements.

In Werner’s view these innovations all lead to cars being better, safer, cleaner and more economical, but of course they have to be reliable too and that reliability has to be well beyond that of other consumer electronics.  An issue echoed by Audi’s Rupert Stadler later in the day.

Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Toyota offered a glimpse into the future, with the launch of their prototype FCV Hydrogen Electric Vehicle, coming to the market in 2015.  In simple terms hydrogen and oxygen combine to create electricity and water, and perhaps most importantly nothing else, literally nothing, so genuine zero emissions can be achieved.

This kind of launch is impressive given the challenges of bringing a financially viable model to the market as well as preparing infrastructure to refuel the vehicles once they are on the road.

The vehicle itself can travel more than 300 miles on a single fueling, can get from standstill to 60mph in less than 10 seconds and has a top speed of over 100mph.  The car isn’t unpleasant to look at but is clearly designed to suck in as much oxygen as possible at the front end.  Function over form perhaps…

Toyota’s vertical integration is perhaps key to making the product viable and driving its cost down.  Control of materials, design and manufacture are all needed to make the numbers work and produce a vehicle that can compete with normally fueled cars.

As Bob mentioned infrastructure is essential and a logistic modeling study showed that if every car in California was hydrogen powered the whole system could be supported with just 15% of the existing locations supplying hydrogen.

Bob’s confidence in the roll out of this strategy in California is due in no small part to the state have committing $200 Million to funding fueling stations.

Last up this evening in the Chelsea Theatre of the Cosmopolitan was a keynote from AUDI AG, Chairman of the Bard of Management, Rupert Stadler, ably assisted by ‘Big Bang’ star Kunal Nayyar.  The key product from Rupert was Audi’s piloted drive.  Kunal was happy to join actors like Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, David Hasselhof in Nightrider and even Lindsay Lohan in Herbie Fully Loaded as the user or even owner of a piloted car.  After all it was a natural progression from the chauffeured cars of the past and is actually what the word automobile means, self-moving!

Rupert talked about four eras in automotive development: the first being the development of cars and the desire to make them go as fast as possibly, the second being the desire to tame them and make them reliable and available, the third was all about incremental improvement around safety, economy and reliability and finally the forth is now, a major change and the redefining of mobility through innovation and electronics. 

Rupert described the car as the most advanced mobile computer.  He talked about the partnerships with technology companies like Nvidia, Google & AT&T to develop new paradigms.  He showed examples of virtual customizable cockpits, cars that use radar, cameras, navigation and ultrasonic and process 2.5 billion inputs per second.  And he talked about the importance of flexible modular manufacturing systems to enable the speed of development and change.  German Engineering meets Silicon Valley is how Rupert describes the future for Audi and for automotive electronics.

The automotive industry is doubtless different from the consumer electronics market, but they both have much to learn from each other and much to offer each other.  The combination of automotive and electronic is powerful and will provide some exciting developments going forward.  Their design cycles may be massively different as are their reliability requirements and this will provide the supply chains with new challenges, but all challenges that will be met and will provide more business for the electronics manufacturing industry.

More tomorrow when the show doors finally open…

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