5 cool things at CES


LAS VEGAS — Long known for its sizzle, CES contained plenty of substance this year.

From the tech-friendly city envisioned by Toyota to specific near-term products that support better driver-assist systems, there was no shortage of ambition at the annual gadget showcase-turned-auto show.

The wares included items that have flown below the radar of the headlines emerging from Las Vegas. Here’s a look at some of the cool things and notable developments from CES that you may have missed but nonetheless may sway developments in the transportation realm in the decade ahead.

In October, a report from AAA detailed the dismal performance of modern-day automated emergency braking systems. In a nutshell, they do a lousy job of preventing collisions with pedestrians, particularly at night.

What might improve safety? At least potentially, adding thermal imaging cameras to the sensor suites. They have a knack for complementing the weaknesses of traditional cameras, namely by peering through foggy weather and handling sudden transitions from light conditions to dark and vice versa.

Israeli tech company AdaSky is making both in-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure thermal cameras that are gaining traction and interest in the marketplace.

“Last year at CES, the question I got was ‘Why should we add thermal,’ ” said Yakov Shaharabani, CEO of AdaSky. “This year, the question is, ‘Tell me about your performance and cost.’ ”

FLIR, another provider of thermal cameras, inked a deal with supplier Veoneer earlier this year to provide thermal cameras to an unnamed purveyor of Level 4 self-driving systems. Expect this to be the start of a broader trend.

Forget some of the more far-off flying taxi concepts showcased at CES. The most interesting thing actually in the air in Las Vegas was the latest-generation Goodyear Blimp. And the best way to avoid the chaos around the convention center was to float above it.

Goodyear brought the California-based Wingfoot Three airship to Vegas to call attention to the company’s big news: the creation of a $100 million venture-capital fund that will focus on investments in mobility. Those investments will range from the expected — new tire materials — to areas such as future transportation infrastructure, next-generation public mobility, and electric and autonomous vehicles.

Initial investments are expected to begin within weeks.

Keeping with the aviation theme here. No, the global supplier isn’t joining the flying-taxi crowd. But Aptiv, which runs one of its five global autonomous vehicle pilot projects in Las Vegas, now has a first-of-its kind partnership with McCarran International Airport.

The airport will provide access to Aptiv’s AVs to pick up and drop off a select group of passengers, enabling the company to collect data and operational insights for future commercial deployments. These rides aren’t yet available to the public, but the company has set its sights on making a Level 4 autonomous driving platform production ready in 2022.

The cooperation is important because it bucks a trend of increasing friction between airports and ride-hailing networks. Places such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston make it more difficult for customers to catch a ride because of increased curb demand and congestion. Aptiv and McCarran might show the way forward for working together.

The most assertive demonstration of self-driving systems at CES belonged to Russian self-driving tech company Yandex. The company removed human safety drivers from the driver’s seat and placed them in the front passenger seat of their Prius V wagons.

Traveling along some of the busiest arteries in this car-centric city, the Yandex vehicles had zero trouble negotiating double left-hand turns, anticipating the intentions of pedestrians lingering in crosswalks and transitioning from public roads into private parking lots.

This was a notable demonstration because it serves as a sneak preview of the service the company has been contracted to provide in Detroit during the summer iteration of the North American International Auto Show. One enhancement slated for Detroit — riders will hail the vehicles from an app.

The practicality inherent in minivans may be an odd fit with a technology showcase predicated on next-generation style.

But the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid produced by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is quietly becoming the workhorse of autonomous fleets. The latest company to adopt FCA’s family hauler as its autonomous platform is Chinese startup AutoX, which says a specially designed Pacifica will be used as the centerpiece of its robotaxi plans in Asia.

Elsewhere, Aptiv has added Pacificas to its r&d fleet in Las Vegas, Aurora has sketched long-range plans to use Pacificas per its partnership with FCA, and, of course, Waymo has added hundreds of the vehicles to its burgeoning self-driving fleet.

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