Maverick Life

THE FUTURE OF MOTORING

The Sony car and five electric concept cars unveiled at Consumer Electronics Show 22

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX. Image: Mercedes-Benz / Supplied

The range of electric vehicles revealed at CES 2022 gives a peek into the near future of electric cars as semi-autonomous multimedia entertainment lounges on wheels.

“A Tesla is a car the same way an iPhone is a phone. Yes, the iPhone could do everything a phone could do. But calling it ‘just a telephone’ is completely missing the big picture.” So goes a November 2021 tweet from the comedic tech account @WholeMarsBlog. While there were no major reveals from Tesla at the most recent edition of the highly influential annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2022), held in the first week of January 2022, the electric concept vehicles on show undoubtedly echo the sentiment of the aforementioned tweet.

These vehicles go far beyond transportation from point A to B. Forget looking out the window and enjoying the scenery on long drives, the future promises cars that are multi-screen multimedia entertainment suites on wheels. Reducing screen-time is about to get a whole lot harder, at least for the commuters in countries that might see versions of the technology in such cars on their streets in the next few years.

Sony Vision S2 SUV

Two years ago at CES 2020, Sony revealed its Vision S concept sedan, and over the past two years, has been testing it on the road. This time around at CES 2022, Sony demonstrated how serious they are about getting into the electric car business by not only unveiling the new Vision S2 SUV, but also announcing the second quarter 2022 launch of Sony Mobility Inc., the company that will “accelerate” Sony’s entry into the electric vehicle market.

Highlights

Among the Vision S2’s highlighted features during the presentation, are its 40 sensors, “installed inside and outside the vehicle to continuously monitor safety while driving. The sensors provide precise driving assistance, such as advanced cruise control, self-parking and auto-lane change functions, that corresponds to Level 2+ driver assistance.”

Level 2+ driver assistance is right in the middle of the six levels of vehicle autonomy, which are measured from Level 0 to Level 5, with zero being a vehicle with no autonomous features, and five being fully autonomous. 

Admittedly, some of the features might not sound particularly new, as a number of mid-range cars, and certainly, the bulk of new high-end cars on the road, have similar-sounding features. However, familiar technology like lane-following, lane-centring assistance, and adaptive cruise control, belong on the Level 1 rung of vehicle autonomy. Level 2 refers to partial driving autonomy. This means the car can take over steering, acceleration, braking, and even change lanes, but the driver has to stay vigilant and supervise the technology at all times, and in most cases, keep their hands on the steering wheel.

According to Sony, their “system constantly monitors its surroundings and provides the driver with easy-to-understand suggestions on when it is safe to change lanes. All the driver has to do is to turn on the indicator and the lane change is done automatically.”

Sony Vision S2 SUV. Image: Sony / Supplied
Sony Vision S2 SUV. Image: Sony / Supplied
Sony Vision S2 SUV. Image: Sony / Supplied

The vehicle also features in-cabin monitoring to check the condition of vehicle occupants. “Facial expressions and gestures are used to determine the driver’s level of concentration and fatigue, and alerts are issued when necessary. In addition, the lip-reading system, which is currently undergoing research and development in conjunction along with the driver monitoring camera, reliably captures the driver’s speech intentions even in noisy situations, reflecting them into the content display and navigation system operation. In addition to safety and comfort, the system also aims to adjust the temperature inside the vehicle by inferring the condition of the occupants based on behaviour read from the ToF sensor.” The promised comfort feature doesn’t stop there. For example, Sony says that if a sleeping person is detected, the car will automatically control the temperature around that seat only, thus providing comfort appropriate for the situation.

With a panoramic screen across the width of the dashboard and two additional backscreens, as well as a 5G cloud network connection, Sony promises the Vision S2 will make it possible to view video content such as movies or to play Playstation video games.

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Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX

When it comes to electric vehicles, one of the oft-mentioned concerns is range anxiety. With the Vision EQXX concept, Mercedes-Benz faces that challenge head-on, giving hope that in the years to come, it won’t be as big a concern.

Highlights

The Vision EQXX promises a range of more than 1,000 kilometres on a single charge. There is no clear promise as to how much of the car in its current form will go into the production model. In fact, according to the company, the car is a “technology blueprint for series production”. That said, we can dream that one day 1,000+ km range electric cars will be commonplace, and even South Africans can drive across the country with minimal range anxiety. The car also has solar cells on the roof, which can produce a promised 25 kilometres of extra range for long-distance journeys, on a single day with ideal conditions.

While Mercedes-Benz has provided limited technical details about the new car, much like other concept cars, the interior features a wide multimedia screen, one of the widest at some 47.5 inches of 8k resolution. According to Gordon Wagener, Mercedes-Benz’s Chief Design Officer, they’ve used a game engine to give the car an “AI-based digital soul that takes care of you all the time.” The company has yet to reveal details on how this will work.

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX. Image: Mercedes-Benz / Supplied
Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX interior. Image: Mercedes-Benz / Supplied

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Chrysler Airflow

In case you still had any doubt about the ubiquity of in-car multimedia screen-based entertainment, Chrysler’s Airflow Concept, which has arguably one of the most regular looking exteriors among the concept cars on show, also places multimedia connectivity at the centre of their concept car, which has a range of up to 643 kilometers.

Highlights

The car has five screens, three in front and two for the backseat passengers. According to the company, “screens throughout the Airflow interior can be personalised, simplified, and grouped based on individuals and interests. Information on the screens can be shared with all passengers by swiping. Each screen is a personalised space to access the digital world via connected entertainment, apps and downloads. Each seat also features a built-in camera, enabling occupants to participate in a group video conference call from the comfort of the Airflow cabin.” The connectivity also takes remote or on-the-go working into consideration, allowing passengers to connect to their digital work environments.

The Airflow concept also features Level 3 vehicle autonomy, which according to the US Department of Transport’s website, means that the “automated driving system (ADS) on the vehicle can itself perform all aspects of the driving task under some circumstances. In those circumstances, the human driver must be ready to take back control at any time when the ADS requests the human driver to do so.”

Unlike Level 2, Level 3 cars have better environmental detection, meaning they can make decisions on the road such overtaking a slow-moving car. While the driver should be alert should they need to take over, they wouldn’t need to necessarily supervise the car, meaning one could carry on doing other things while the car drives itself.

Chrysler Airflow. Image: Chrysler / Supplied
Chrysler Airflow interior. Image: Chrysler / Supplied
Chrysler Airflow interior. Image: Chrysler / Supplied
Each screen in the Chrysler Airflow Concept is a personalized space to access the digital world via connected entertainment, apps and downloads. Image: Chrysler / Supplied

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BMW iX M60 featuring iX Flow E-ink

Unlike many of the cars featured at CES, which were concept cars, BMW presented the BMW iX M60, basically the M60 version of their currently available iX model. Billed as “the most powerful and fastest electric car ever produced by the BMW Group”, the new model goes on sale in mid-2022. But this being CES, a mere car reveal wouldn’t do, so BMW added a couple of headline-catching twists.

Highlights

The fully electric M60 promises a range of up to 563 kilometres, 0-100 km/h acceleration in 3.8 seconds, 1,100 torque, and other numbers we expect will get petrolheads excited, at least those who are ready to ditch carbon emissions for an electric future. But these days, when advances in electric mobility are giving cars more power than most drivers need, the numbers alone don’t make headlines. So BMW presented the car alongside a new technology that will be available in future models of the car, the BMW iX Flow.

Using technology similar to the e-ink in Kindle readers, the iX Flow concept allows owners to change the exterior colour of the car instantly. For now, the colour ranges from white to black and shades of grey in between. According to BMW, this could make the car more efficient, such as changing the colour to white in summer to reduce the amount of heat absorbed by the body of the car and changing over to black in winter to absorb more heat. Future applications of the technology include the possibility to have the car exterior flash different colours, to help a driver find it in a parking lot.

Meanwhile, inside the car, the 2023 version promises a curved 31-inch widescreen monitor with an 8k screen for viewing movies, in addition to the familiar functions. Alongside the existing BMW’s existing MyModes user interface feature, the iX M60 will get the Digital Art Mode, created together with Chinese multimedia artist, Cao Fei, who has created a work called Quantum Garden, to be displayed on the screen as well as affect lighting, sound and the colour scheme in the car. “ The Digital Art Mode gives the BMW driver the chance to experience the ever-changing digital landscapes of a multifaceted universe in a screen world, where abstract poetry and sensory pixels intersect. Its network of open-ended spectra are connecting our hearts to the call of goodwill from the depths of the universe,” says Fei.

In the era of NFT art, this could open a new opportunity for BMW to market a collection of digital art directly to drivers. “For the first time, we are bringing digital art into the car as an integral element of the driving experience, using innovative technology to make mobility an individual, highly exclusive, and emotionally powerful experience,” says BMW’s Senior Vice President of Electronics, Christoph Grote.

BMW iX M60. Image: BMW / Supplied
BMW iX M60. Image: BMW / Supplied

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One for the dreamers: Cadillac Innerspace

Some of the cars on this list seem far easier to translate into production cars within the next few years. The BMW iX is already on the roads, and its M60 model will soon go on sale, for example. Even the EQXX and the Airflow seem as though they could inspire toned-down production models within a couple of years. Not so for the Cadillac Innerspace, which looks and sounds more like a vision of a very distant future. As per the heading and blurb on BBC Topgear’s article on the car: “The Cadillac InnerSpace ticks all the bonkers concept car boxes. Electric? Of course. Autonomous? Naturally. Never gonna happen? You bet!”

Highlights (pretty much the whole thing)

Featuring what looks like a futuristic two-seater sofa and the biggest screen yet, the InnerSpace is a fully autonomous Level 5 vehicle. According to the official press release, “AI-driven biometric input and interfaces, accessible via a large, immersive and panoramic SMD LED display, allow passengers to select from Augmented Reality Engagement, Entertainment and Wellness Recovery themes for their drive.”

The interior on its own would be eye-catching enough, but Cadillac takes it up a notch in the design of the doors and the roof. To get into the car, it’s not only the doors that open; the car roof also lifts up high as though the car is about to take flight. Bonkers!

Cadillac expands its vision of personal autonomous future mobility with the InnerSpace concept — a dramatic, two-passenger electric and autonomous luxury vehicle. Image: Cadillac / Supplied
Image: Cadillac / Supplied
Image: Cadillac / Supplied

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Bonus — Chevrolet Silverado

The Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F150 are two of the US’s favourite bakkies or pick-up trucks as they prefer to call them. With the 2024 Silverado concept unveiled at CES 2022, Chevrolet made a big statement on how they see the pick-up trucks of their electric future.

Highlights

Chevrolet Silverado. Image: Chevrolet / Supplied
Chevrolet Silverado. Image: Chevrolet / Supplied
Chevrolet Silverado. Image: Chevrolet / Supplied

Chevrolet promises some 4,500 kilograms of towing capacity and 9,000 kilograms on future models. Although it is not yet clear what level of autonomy the vehicle will have, according to the official press release, the car’s hands-free “Super Cruise driver assistance technology uses Global Positioning System (GPS) sensing, GPS-enhanced data, a high-precision map and network of cameras to maintain automatic control of vehicle steering on compatible roads. The GPS uses real-time corrections and map data to determine the vehicle’s location while the Lane Sensing Camera detects the marked lanes on the road to help the vehicle automatically steer and maintain lane position.”

The system also tracks the driver’s head position and movement, and when needed, it can alert the driver to steer the car manually. DM/ML

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