Self-Driving Cars Find Their Way at CES

January 21, 2015  - By
Image: GPS World

This year’s CES featured the usual big TV screens, loudspeakers, wearables, 3D printers, drones and connected vehicles surrounded by 150,000 attendees over several Las Vegas meeting venues. What was interesting was the continued rise of autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles and platforms. Lost in all of the noise was a small, but important, location-based services enclave that consisted of GPS-enabled wearables and indoor positioning.

LAS VEGAS—A big chunk of the estimated 30 billion worldwide connected devices will be those linked to vehicles, say industry experts at the International Consumer Electronics Show here. Nearly all automakers had a presence at CES — all with a long-term connected vehicle strategy.

No matter how big and exhausting CES is, with long taxi lines and 150,000 attendees, there is good reason to come a day before the giant conference, as the Consumer Telematics Show and AT&T Developer’s Conference feature many industry executives and new developments. At the Consumer Telematics Show, speakers explained how and why connected vehicles are transitioning to autonomous capability.

The connected car industry has matured to the point where technology and market points are coming together, said Thilo Koslowski, Gartner vice president and practice leader, automotive vehicle ICT mobility, at CTS. “The opportunity of connected vehicles are becoming the center of mobile and [Internet of Things] innovations. It has come from, in 1997, a pure telematics safety and security device to vehicle integration, digital lifestyle convergence and Internet of cars,” he said. “At the end of the year, there will be 25 million connected vehicles in the world, but most in mature markets. That might not look like a lot, but only in five more years, I think that number is going to 150 million vehicles.”

In some cases, the newer outfitted vehicles will have only safety and security features, Koslowski said, but most will have two-way data communication, part of the 30 billion devices connected by 2020. He predicted last year that most automakers would have shifted general mobile applications to vehicle and customer-specific services.

Koslowski says the top connected car features that consumers have asked for include automated map updates, real-time weather and news, parking spot finder and driving assessment and coaching. “Consumers don’t want application downloads directly into the car. In addition, in-vehicle media purchases are not there yet, as are in-vehicle social networking updates,” he said. “I predicted in 2013 that 25 percent of the automakers would monetize mobile commerce transactions in their connected vehicle offerings such as parking, buying gas, etc.,” he said.

Self-Aware Vehicle Emergence

Imagine sleeping, or reading, in your car during the morning commute. It may be a reality, but major technical, cultural and legal issues need to be resolved before fully autonomous vehicles hit the road. “There is going to be trouble if [automakers] don’t get consumers involved early on. Or allow governments and insurance companies telling people when to hit the button (to drive),” Koslowski said. “You press the [drive yourself] button and you pay 30 percent more in insurance. About 39 percent of those we surveyed are interested in some sort of self-driving car — that doesn’t mean fully autonomous vehicles. But 61 percent say they are not ready.”

Koslowski says there is a lot of education that includes basic acceptance of the technology and trust that it really works. “There usually is a 30-second rule. The first 30 seconds is ‘holy moly, this thing drives itself’,” he said. “The second 30 seconds is ‘is this beneficial?’ There are real benefits such as reducing the cost of accidents, which amount to $900 per U.S. citizen.”

In terms of cyber security and privacy, Koslowski said it’s a big deal for autonomous vehicles. “A couple of breaches will be a big deal. Still, consumers are not that paranoid. They are willing to share information, especially if there is a monetary or societal function,” he said.

Cost is still big factor that will drive the adoption of autonomous vehicles. Koslowski says that consumers polled will only pay an additional $1,404 for autonomous capability. The cost of a test vehicle, right now, is about $85,000. “The good news is that number is coming down. It is shrinking to less than $6,595,” he said.

At the Transportation Research Board meeting a week after CES in Washington, Chris Urmson, who heads Google’s self-driving vehicle program, said the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket-looking gizmo on top of their car cost $70,000 alone.

Cost aside, by 2016, three automakers will have concrete plans for upcoming autonomous vehicle launches, Koslowski said. “This is happening a lot faster from a technology standpoint than experts thought it would,” he said.

Overall, Koslowski said that big IT companies need to step up to make autonomous vehicles work. “Governments are a little behind. The slowness of automotive companies also make them vulnerable to technology companies to step in and take over the industry,” he said.

Indoor Positioning and Other Location Markets at CES

Such companies as CSR were at CES and said the show was good for indoor location providers. “CES was good for us. We had good interest in our live demo of indoor location where customers were free to walk around testing the performance of our (solution). We also saw a lot of interest from the automotive market for an indoor/outdoor navigation (product), such as being able to find your way back to the car in a complex shopping mall and the best place to park for access to your indoor destination,” said Dave Huntingford, CSR’s director of product line for location.

In 2015, the company believes that one of the key drivers for indoor location will be the ubiquity of maps for public locations, Huntingford said. “The availability of indoor maps for malls, airports and retail chains will help drive indoor location awareness with consumers for both utility value (not getting lost) and retail marketing applications,” he said. “We also expect to see a variety of social networking applications supporting indoor location, reflecting the fact that we spend the vast majority of time indoors.”

Huntingford believes a key limitation of many indoor technologies is the requirement to have dedicated, or upgraded, infrastructure such as BT Smart beacons or updated Wi-Fi access points with new location capabilities, and a dedicated manual survey of the building to measure indoor Wi-Fi signatures.

At CES, Magellan rolled out its line of 5-inch RoadMate Auto GPS Devices with 3D buildings and landmarks. “The units retail from $169 to $229. “We are surprised at the interest our PNDs are having in the market, particularly with back-up video,” said William Strand, Magellan associate director, product marketing. “The dash camera is a small market, but catching on to block insurance fraud.”

In other CES news:

  • Audi pulled off a coup when it invited journalists to drive with its autonomous vehicle from San Francisco to Las Vegas.
  • Most location companies have wearables product lines that are making retail chains take notice.

Transportation Research Board Meeting Becoming Big Autonomous Show

WASHINGTON—The Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting here has grown to be one of the bigger autonomous vehicle meetings, with 12,000 mainly government execs and academics meeting.

About 300 people showed up for a panel headlined by Chris Urmson, who heads up Google’s autonomous vehicle program. All was well and good hearing about Google’s self-driving vehicle technology except TRB had 100 chairs for 300 attendees…a lot of people left. But that is the level of interest autonomous vehicle is having in the government and academic community.

“We are planning to find out how our car does with red lights flashing in front of it. The software will figure out, along with GPS and insertional and high-resolution maps,” Urmson said. “The world isn’t empty. Our vehicle has to know about the pick-up making a lane change, the bicyclist pedaling next to it.”

Urmson said there are no sensors on the market that power the car — Google makes them in-house.

In other TRB news, TomTom announced it is partnering with the I-95 Corridor Coalition. The company is using one of three main real-time traffic products in its portfolio, said Nick Cohn, TomTom senior business developer. “It is all about our TomTom Traffic Flow product, which provides speed information for individual road segments every minute, based on our mix of probe data sources,” he said. “This is one of three main real-time traffic products we have. TomTom Traffic provides one-minute updates of locations and delays of traffic jams and other traffic incidents. The third product is a set of APIs for providing, for example, travel times that can be displayed on variable message signs along roadways to inform drivers about delays.”

The government market is a steady business for TomTom, which has seen traffic management success mainly in European cities such as Berlin, Rome and London, Cohn said.


About the Author: Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.