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Flying cars, autonomy and infotainment — future of automotive industry revealed at CES 2021

Dr Terence Broderick

By Dr Terence Broderick

Patent Attorney

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the apex of the calendar in the technology industry and it’s fast becoming a key event for automotive too. Last year, we reported on the most exciting car technologies from CES 2020 and while 2021’s event was held virtually, it only built on that momentum, unveiling the future direction of the auto industry through infotainment, autonomous and aerial innovations.

Infotainment systems

Infotainment technology is growing in importance and was one of the most exciting parts of CES 2021. Mercedes used this year’s exhibition to showcase its next generation MBUX infotainment system (called Hyperscreen) and BMW its next generation iDrive. Perhaps less grand but no less significant, infotainment denizens Pioneer unveiled a modular head unit which can be retrofitted to cars that lack an integrated infotainment system.

These interfaces have many desirable features for the modern vehicle, such as large screens and high levels of configurability. However, another emerging theme is the reduced focus on buttons and in favour of touch-sensitive screens and new types of interfaces that use haptic technologies.

Indeed, the focus on large screens means that display technology is now increasingly significant in the design of infotainment systems. Specifically, the Hyperscreen is designed to make the display unit appear to float on the instrument panel using ambient lighting. Additionally, the use of OLED technology makes the screens clear regardless of lighting conditions and the angle of view. This means that content can be displayed more clearly, which is hugely important as vehicles become ever more passenger focused as we move towards increased levels of autonomy.

Autonomy

While autonomous vehicles (AVs) are by no means ‘just around the corner’, CES looks way beyond the immediate future and this year innovators unveiled some fascinating AV technologies.

Intel-owned Mobileye spoke about a LIDAR system on a chip that could accelerate autonomy, with Intel claiming it will bring AVs to everybody. It’s said to bring safety-critical performance at least three orders of magnitude safer than a human driver. Given that safety is one of the key obstacles to the wider proliferation of AVs, this could be a big step forward.

In other developments, Caterpillar showed off a 285-ton mining dump truck that runs autonomously. This is enough to strike fear into many, but the truth is that these vehicles lend themselves to autonomy more than conventional road vehicles do. As such vehicles do much of their work within confined environments, the risk can be controlled to a greater extent.

Flying vehicles

Looking even further into the future, General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler and Hyundai have all indicated they are working on passenger drones. It really does seem that personal mobility is set to go vertical as well as horizontal and while technical details are currently limited, this is a very interesting development. With the likes of Uber (which is working with Hyundai) and Boeing investing in flying vehicle development, perhaps we could see a breakthrough sooner than we might expect.

Looking forward — what do these trends mean?

Each of these technologies is focused on the experience of the individuals inside a vehicle. Even flying vehicles offer a vision of a world in which traffic jams are far less of a problem.

When we looked at CES 2020, the highlights we identified included virtual visor technology, 3D dashboard technology, dual e-sim connectivity, the transparent bonnet and the speakerless sound system. Each of these could be said to be more about the user experience than the performance of the vehicle and the technologies showcased at CES 2021 seem to be along the same lines.

The physical performance of a car is still important and the development of powertrain technology is testament to that. However, the increased use of mobility as a service (MaaS) and Transport as a service (TaaS) indicates that vehicles are set to become more like on-demand tools which take us from A to B rather than possessions, at least for those living in busy urban environments. Therefore, it’s the interior of the vehicle where we’re likely to see the most innovation and patent activity.

It’s difficult to predict what technologies will be popular at CES 2022 but it seems sensible to expect more of the same, perhaps with increasing attention on automotive cybersecurity and safety technologies. Cybersecurity is racing up the automotive industry’s agenda as we move towards increased proliferation of AVs and 2022 is the year when a raft of new safety technologies will become mandatory on new cars inside the EU.

If you’re developing automotive technologies and are considering protecting your IP, get in touch with our dedicated team at automotive@udl.co.uk.

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