New car technology are in the driver's seat of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, as more than 125 auto technology firms are exhibiting innovations including self-driving cars, clean energy fuel cells and systems that connect with a driver's mobile phones.
Automotive exhibits at the 2014 CES, will have a 25 percent larger presence compared with the 2013 conference. The North American International Auto Show also follows the CES on Jan. 13, so automakers are using the consumer technology conference to unveil new gadgets.
"Cars have become mobile technology platforms," said Gary Shapiro, president of Consumer Electronics Association during a speech Monday, noting that car companies are rushing to develop smart car features.
Audi chief executive officer Rupert Stadler gave a keynote speech Monday envisioning a new age of automobiles he called "the mobility ecosystem," explaining how since 2010 his company has been working with urban architects, engineers and futurists to gain perspective on how that new ecosystsm might look for drivers.
"Twenty years from now, two-thirds of our planet's population will live in mega cities," Stadler said. "Will we see smart roads with integrated electronics to guide our way?"
In a step toward that future, Audi introduced its Sport Quattro LaserlightV8 hybrid concept car, which can drive 90 miles on a single gallon of gas and includes self-driving mode. Its laser headlights are three times stronger than standard LEDs, and can light the road for nearly one-third of a mile.
To help connect cars with mobile devices Google announced a partnership Monday called the Open Auto Alliance to supply its Android operating system on cars built by Honda, Hyundai, General Motors and Audi.
Clean energy cars premiered at the show included Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell sedan concept, which emits only water vapor and refuels in three to five minutes. The clean energy car still has serious automotive power: it has a 300 mile driving range and accelerates from zero-to-60 in 10 seconds.
Speaking of clean energy horsepower, Formula E demonstrated Monday a fully-electric race car, the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, which can reach speeds up to 150 mph. Qualcomm will also partner with Formula E to integrate its Snapdragon mobile systems into the cars, allowing WiFi and Bluetooth capability.
The innovations displayed by these companies still must face scrutiny from policymakers before the become a reality.
A hearing of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit in November also discussed how consumers may have to wait until 2020 to buy self-driving cars, allowing time for automakers to address liability and cyber security concerns, and allowing time for federal and state authorities adopt policies to allow self-driving cars on roads.
Privacy regulation may also be necessary for cars as they become more connected to mobile devices with geolocation features, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said Monday. Franken previously supported a location privacy law, and re-iterated his calls for that legislation citing a report published in December by the Government Accountability Office, which showed clearer privacy practices are needed for in-car navigation companies. The Location Privacy Protection Act, which Franken introduced, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2012 but was never voted on by the full Senate.
"It's just commonsense that all companies should get their customers' clear permission before they collect or share their location information," Franken said in a statement Monday.