NOT that the automobile is losing its traditional role as a wheeled contraption that takes people from one place to the other. These days it is merely taking on an added role, and that is as a mobile extension serving the digital lifestyle of consumers who constantly need to connect—or at least, tweet. The result, then, is that cars are getting more high-tech in terms of features on top of propulsion systems. Not surprisingly, carmakers have descended upon the annual orgiastic tech fest that is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas, Nevada, and which draws the planet’s techies in droves. Here are some of the show’s car-centric developments:
Toyota to launch ‘car of future’ in 2015
TOYOTA at CES bared it plans to launch a fuel-cell car in the US next year, declaring the hydrogen vehicle with zero emissions as “the car of the future.”
Toyota Motor Sales Vice President Bob Carter said the initial market will be California, together with an initiative to establish hydrogen refueling stations in key regions of the state.
“In 2015, we will bring this car to market,” Carter said in the announcement at CES.
The vehicle, yet to be named, would be a “zero-emission, electric-drive, midsize, four-door sedan.”
“Functionally, this is a regular car,” Carter added.
The streamlined design is to maximize oxygen intake for the fuel-cell process. It will be able to travel 480 kilometers on a single fueling, which would take three to five minutes. While carmakers have long touted the advantages of fuel cells, high production costs and a lack of fuel stations have held back the technology.
Carter said, however, that Toyota had been getting results from its major investments and added that “we believe we can bring it in at a very reasonable price for a lot of people.”
Government initiatives in California were making progress in getting hydrogen fueling stations in needed areas, he added.
“The issue of infrastructure is not so much about how many, but rather location, location, location. Fuel cells will be in our future sooner than many people believe, and in much greater numbers than anyone expected.”
Toyota unveiled a prototype last year at the Tokyo auto show, but at CES offered more details for its plans for the US market.
Carter said that Toyota and California officials plan to add 20 new fuel stations by 2015 to the 10 existing ones. The goal is to have about 100 in the state, and to have a station within a six-minute drive of an owner’s home or business.
“This infrastructure thing is going to happen,” Carter said. “I believe this vehicle will be the car of the future.”
It is expected to launch in Japan at about the same time.
Honda is also expected to roll out a fuel-cell car in the US market in 2015, and other carmakers are working on the technology, which emits only water vapor as exhaust. Honda already has a fuel-cell car, the FCX Clarity, available on a small scale in a limited number of markets. AFP
First Formula E car electrifies at tech fest
THE first Formula E car—part of an upcoming motor racing competition to put electric vehicles on the map—made its dazzling debut last week on the sidelines of the CES.
The sleek Spark-Renault SRT-01E, capable of speeds above 225kph, will compete in the first Formula E Championship that begins in Beijing in September, part of 10 races sponsored by the FIA, the global governing body for motor racing.
“The Formula E is the future of the automobile, I think this will change the perception of electric vehicles,” said Paul Jacobs, chief executive of Qualcomm, one of the corporate sponsors.
Formula E will have 10 teams, each with two drivers.
Lucas di Grassi showed off the vehicle at a parking lot, demonstrating to spectators and media the capabilities of the fully electric machine.
“It’s a different feeling from anything else,” di Grassi said, adding that “you have to be more precise. . . but it is more efficient.”
Formula E chief Alejandro Agag said he hopes the championship will stimulate investment in electric vehicles and change their image.
“Formula E is a championship with a mission,” he said. “Electric cars have been perceived as slow. ”
Jacobs said the investment from Qualcomm is part of the company’s mission in getting more “connected devices” and improving technology in many sectors. AFP
The General Motors division said at CES it would deploy fourth generation (4G) Internet connections on several models to help motorists who want to stay connected with the growing number of apps for automobiles. Chevy will allow the 4G connections with Long Term Evolution (LTE) in a partnership with AT&T.
“Chevrolet is expected to implement the broadest deployment of 4G LTE in the automotive industry,” said Alan Batey, senior vice president of Global Chevrolet, who added that the move is “indicative of our broad commitment to deliver more value and convenience through smart technology applications.”
The high-speed connections will allow for a Wi-Fi hotspot that allows passengers in a vehicle to use tablets or other devices, or to watch videos via the Internet in vehicles which have screens. The 4G cars will for now only be sold in the US and Canada, according to the Chevrolet announcement at CES.
“This technology is not just for the rich and famous,” Batey said at a news conference. “You’re going to be connected everywhere.”
Initially 10 vehicle models will get the 4G connections by mid-2014 but more will be added, he said.
The auto sector’s presence is growing at CES with a large number of carmakers and related technology firms showing their wares at the huge electronics expo.
The service links with GM’s OnStar service to apps and services that require a high-speed cellular or data connection. Current AT&T customers will be able to add their vehicle to a shared data plan or purchase a standalone option.
Chevrolet said its AppShop includes programs for data, music, news, weather, travel information and more. Some of the current apps include iHeartRadio, Priceline.com, The Weather Channel, NPR, Slacker Radio and Cityseeker. AFP
‘Autonomous car’ gets own electronic valet to park itself
THERE is no one inside the Range Rover in a Las Vegas parking lot. But it still guides its way to a parking place, after what looks like some hesitation.
The self-parking is directed by an app which controls the vehicle, detects an available space and maneuvers into it.
The “automated parking valet” created by the French equipment maker Valeo is among the technology innovations for the sector on display at the CES.
While the idea of a fully autonomous car is a dream for some, this is a step which promises to alleviate at least some of the tedium facing motorists. The system allows drivers to leave their car at the entrance of a parking lot and let it find a space to park itself. Drivers activate the feature from their smart phone, and can also use it to summon the car to pick them up.
“It’s like a brain,” said Guillaume Devauchelle, a Valeo vice president presenting the prototype system at the huge electronics expo. “It acts step by step, with a certain latitude, to be able to adapt to the situation. If it is put in the same position for a second time, it won’t react the same way.”
The system does not require garages or parking lots to have special equipment, the executive said. It relies on the kinds of sensors some cars already use, with some extra electronics.
Devauchelle said the system may require a camera to recognize and avoid spaces designated for the handicapped or unusual features in a garage. He added the system was designed to be as simple as possible so that it would not be only for luxury vehicles.
“We would like to make this available to the largest number of people,” Devauchelle said.
Even as carmakers work on self-driving vehicles, a number of improvements can be made along the way, Devauchelle noted, indicating the parking valet is not simply a matter of convenience. It can help avoid the kinds of accidents frequent in parking areas and allow elderly people who find it difficult to make parking maneuvers to use their cars more often.
“As you age, turning your head becomes harder, so parallel parking is very difficult,” the Valeo executive said. “Parking maneuvers, in our estimation, are the most difficult for motorists.”
Valeo said three million cars already have its semi-automatic system, which can perform parallel-parking but require the driver to remain at the wheel.
Devauchelle said the automated parking valet is adapted well for rental car fleets but added that regulations about driver requirements “from the horse and buggy era” need to be reviewed.