When the world's biggest tech brands show off their latest – and sometimes weird – innovations, they are often taking a gamble. Whether it's on public perception, or their very businesses, the gambles can be big; so what better place for CES than Las Vegas?
This year, EVs and associated technologies took centre stage with major carmakers and smaller innovators showing off what they've come up with. Even consumer electronics companies got in on the action... Here's a selection of some of the more significant exhibits this year.
Known more for it's entertainment equipment than its EVs, Sony surprised everyone by revealing what looks like a fully-fledged electric car at this year's CES. Under the guise of pursuing mobility with safety, reliability, comfort and entertainment, the 'VISION-S' concept is a fairly attractive-looking four-door saloon.
However, try not to think about it as a car so much as (BS alert) a conduit to demonstrate all manner of autonomous, AI and entertainment tech. Apart from anything, Sony gave us precisely zero details about the VISION-S's powertrain or battery – though we presume it'd have both. What it did give us was a run-down of the tech it's managed to squeeze in, including a 33 sensors which detect and recognise both people and objects inside and outside of the car, offering “highly advanced driving support”.
Inside, the VISION-S was all about an immersive passenger experience – so basically a home entertainment system with wheels and seats. There's '360-degree Reality Audio' with speakers built into each seat. Up-front there's a panoramic screen which acts as an interface, as well as being able to provide rich and diverse content. And if the driver gets distracted by a YouTube video of kittens fighting in a boxing ring, a host of safety technologies should see everyone right in the ensuing crash.
There's a bit of an arms race going on in the EV world at the moment and it all revolves around screen size. Now while Sony's VISION-S screen might be a large piece of field artillery, Chinese EV start-up, Byton, has gone nuclear with its M-Byte. The Tesla Model X rivalling M-Byte has a screen measuring a gargantuan 48 inches across. Yep. 48. Inches.
Called the 'Byton Stage', it dominates the interior and as well as displaying the normal stuff like speed, car status and navigation, it also does entertainment, weather, health, productivity, online shopping... probably Angry Birds. You can even watch TV, but not while driving. And it's cool, but we do find ourselves wondering 'why'? Though I guess the answer is probably 'why not'?
Unlike the VISION-S, the Byton M-Byte is an actual thing which is due to go on sale in China this year packing 402bhp and a 92kWh in top spec.
Another car that you might actually be able to buy at some point in time is the Fisker Ocean. This is CEO Henrik Fisker's second stab at running a successful car company after his original effort went under and is now Chinese-run as Karma. This time round, Fisker has gone for the tried-and-tested recipe of an all-electric SUV in the shape of the Ocean. Showcased at CES, the Ocean comes with a solar roof to take the strain off the battery for running ancillaries and in-car tech. Fisker also reckons it could add 1000 miles of range per year – for free!
In terms of performance and range, the Ocean has a target of 250+ miles from its 80kWh battery and in performance guise, can hit 60mph in 2.9 seconds. Sea creatures will also be happy, as various materials within the car are made of things like recycled netting, plastic bottles and even t-shirts, apparently inspired by a stroll along the beach by Mr Fisker himself. The interior is also vegan, should you choose to eat it. In fact, Fisker has gone big with its sustainability claims, suggesting the Ocean is “the world's most sustainable vehicle”.
Connectivity not only to things like smartphone and smart energy systems, but also to Fisker itself to help with servicing and maintenance should help give the brand an edge. It's expected to go on sale in the US towards the end of 2021.
Indulging in the contemporary sport of dropping vowels, Mercedes revealed its AVTR concept at CES. Inspired by the film AVATAR, the car is supposed to represent the interaction between human, machine and nature.
This interface is possibly best – and most intriguingly – represented by the biometric connection, whereby normal controls are eschewed for a touch pad which, when a driver's hand is placed on it, brings the vehicle to life. Once said individual removes their hand, interior projectors display a menu onto their palm, enabling them to choose between all manner of futuristic options.
The battery and materials used in construction are sustainable and recycled, completely free of rare-earth materials and independent of fossil resources. On the car's exterior, 33 bionic flaps are reminiscent of scales, responding to gestures and the local environment to give the car an animal-like appearance and movement. But of course, the AVTAR is pure concept, so don't expect any of this to come to a showroom soon. Or ever.
We mentioned ProLogium in our recent story about Bentley heading down the route of solid-state batteries for its first EV, and the company brought along its MAB battery pack to CES. Whilst there's a lot of potentially bamboozling technical detail behind the MAB, in layman's terms it has been created in such a way that it is compact, safe and stable enough for the rigours of EV application. It's also built in such a way that it is between 29 and 56.5 per cent more efficient to assemble than a traditional battery. Which is good.
As we mentioned in our previous story, Enovate is one of the brands that is trialling – and is potentially close to releasing – the MAB for the road. NIO and Aiways are also trialling the tech. Whilst a bit technical, this is definitely big and exciting news!
BMW's contribution to CES 2020 isn't necessarily the easiest to describe without getting too flowery, but we'll give it a shot. The main event was the i3 'Urban Suite' – a modded i3 where the only things left standard are the driver's seat and dashboard. Everything else has been redesigned so it apes a 'boutique hotel'. This is all about changing the way a driver or passengers interact with and within the car's interior, making it more of an experience than a means to an end. Things like new, comfortable and sustainable materials, foot rests and 'personal sound zones' help create the sense of 'suite' rather than just plain old 'cabin'.
Taking on the theme of personal, autonomous transport for the future was the BMW i Interaction EASE. A total concept, albeit one with a few smatterings of 5G tech that and interactive controls that will make their way onto the iNEXT, the EASE features futuristic and fanciful ideas such as navigation that follows a driver's gaze rather than physical inputs. Emphasis was on changing the way we think about interacting with a vehicle.
Something that definitely will make production in the next couple of years is the BMW X7 ZeroG Lounger – a veritable in-car armchair. Almost certainly destined for BMW's limousine models – including the X7, the ZeroG is a chair that can be reclined 40 or 60 degrees, with an integral belt to ensure this almost horizontal level of in-car relaxation is safe.
Hyundai brought along some of its future personal mobility solutions, including its S-A1 autonomous airborne vehicle. Audi's e-tron Sportback Quattro was there, whilst Toyota brought its LQ Concept. Chrysler Airflow Vision concept – yet another sitting room on wheels – rounded up proceedings.