Cool tech from Bose, hi-res headlights, and much more
This year CES, the trade show in the desert that some feel threatens Detroit’s North American auto show in terms of prestige and automotive news-making, suffered a daylong deluge that leaked through perpetually sunbaked convention-center roofs and forced booth closures and a major power outage (curiously, a day after the rain had stopped). Enjoy the Schadenfreude, NAIAS organizers. In between the chaos, your future-tech hound dog managed to sniff out quite a lot of cool tech, over and above perhaps my favorite announcement of all: That Ford’s Sync 3 will allow Waze interaction on the screen! Here’s the best of the rest.
The sound wizards at Bose always trot out the coolest concepts from their sandbox to show the manufacturers at CES, and they were kind enough to share three intriguing ones with Motor Trend, too. CarWear is a cool way to integrate the company’s range of popular Bluetooth-enabled noise-canceling headphones into a vehicle. Today’s vacationing family often finds itself privately listening to different content from multiple tablets and devices. What if each of these devices—which are already capable of connecting to multiple devices (so a phone call could interrupt a tablet video for example)—also connected to the car? Then Mom or Dad in the front row could press a button and pause everyone’s content to draw attention to a roadside attraction or poll the crowd about dining options. Everyone converses at normal volumes using the microphones integrated into the headsets. And individual seating positions can be selected, allowing a front-row and third-row van occupant to chat like motorcyclists using helmet cams without disturbing anyone else. The hardware needed for this concept could be built in or offered as an aftermarket plug-in device.
Volume Zones for Bose Performance Series is an idea where the front and rear of a vehicle can have a sound-level difference as great as 12 dB—ideal for when someone wants to have a private conversation in one row while the other row enjoys content loud enough to cover their chat. This is far more than a fader knob—it preserves the sensation of surround sound for each row, and making the music seem to come from the direction where someone doesn’t want to be heard is pretty crucial. The system demonstrated in a Volvo S90 featured 23 speakers, including four bass woofers—two in each front footwell and two in each rear door. That’s double the usual number because bass is so hard to isolate. The bass speakers in the quiet zone must do noise-cancelation duty to hush the ones in the loud zone. And no, I was unable to learn how a speaker can simultaneously play a tone while canceling that same tone.
ClearVoice is a long-overdue concept in which the Bose system that is playing content, navigation commands, and Bluetooth telephone calls manages to cancel all the known content from a phone call. This means that when you take a call, the radio broadcast can continue to play (perhaps at slightly lower volume) so passengers don’t miss that crucial play that was about to happen on a sports broadcast, and the driver can continue to receive nav prompts. Meanwhile, the party on the other end of the phone call hears nothing at all but your voice. The car’s (often) cloud-connected voice recognition system or Siri/Alexa/Google assistant also gets fed a “clean” voice signal for improved accuracy and no transcription of radio or nav chatter. This system features four microphones to record the driver’s voice with high accuracy, and it requires considerable computing power, but it could be implemented quickly.
Meanwhile, Israeli firm Noveto proposes personal listening without headphones. This system uses a face-recognition camera (like those used for Level 3 autonomous driver-readiness detection) to locate the listener’s ears. A highly focused beam of sound is then sent from the dash or seatbacks directly into each ear. The signal is so directional and accurate that it’s inaudible inches away, even at reasonable volumes. The sound quality didn’t quite match that of great headphones or a killer car audio system, but it keeps the driver’s ears open to hear emergency vehicles and the like, and it allows passengers to consume individual content without their ears getting sweaty. It also allows passengers to still carry on conversations with one another. The system is being developed for computer monitors, game consoles, and other home/office uses, too.
Texas Instruments introduced a new digital light processing (DLP) adaptive headlamp system that projects 1 million addressable pixels of light per headlamp onto the roadway ahead (80- to 100 is typical). Interestingly, the light source can be LED, laser, or something else intensely bright. Using digital micromirrors, each of these pixels illuminates 0.012 degree of the road ahead. They can be dimmed or darkened altogether, which makes all sorts of features possible when connected to onboard forward-facing cameras, nav systems, and the like. The lamps can precisely darken the area around an oncoming driver’s head (or the windshield or the entire car), project nav direction arrows onto the pavement, draw new lane-marker lines in tight construction areas, or even signal pedestrians that you’ll wait for them by projecting a cross walk onto the ground in front. Adjusting headlamp patterns to account for heavy loads or when driving in a foreign country using the “other side” of the road is equally possible. No pricing was estimated for this concept.
Not to be outdone, lighting rival Osram showed off its Eviyos concept, which promises much of the same functionality at a much lower price point. It uses a single LED chip per headlamp; each chip is subdivided into 1,024 addressable subsegments that work like Texas Instruments’ pixels. Each of these pixels shines with a maximum of 3 lumens, and the resolution of the nav arrows and crosswalk lines, the beam pattern cutoff, and so forth were not as crisp as TI’s, but if the price brings it to C-Classes instead of S-Classes, good for Osram. Of course, you might as well know that our federal regulations don’t yet fully permit the coolest of these features. Perhaps one day if our government budgets itself more than three weeks in advance, agencies such as NHTSA will be able to do this work.
Swedish tech company Semcon is teaming with Volvo Bil, a retail subsidiary of Volvo Car Sweden, to investigate the possibility of automating the numerous off-highway movements of a new car between the factory and the customer—around the factory grounds, the logistics lots, dealer property, etc. A pilot program starts this month. Semcon has been involved in development of autonomous/driverless vehicles such as autonomous snowplows and lawnmowers.
ZF demonstrated a capacitive touch steering wheel that doubles as a user interface. Its 11 capacitive sensors accurately detect when the driver is holding the wheel, and they also permit tap and slide operation of a unique user interface. An interactive screen is positioned at the center of the wheel with typical menu functions located at its corners and sides. Double tap the wheel at a corresponding position to activate the menu in that corner of the screen. Then maybe with the temperature or fan control dial showing on the screen, tap the wheel and slide your hand clockwise or counterclockwise to raise or lower the temp or fan speed. Tap the top of the steering column for horn. That’s also the area the airbag now deploys from because the center of the steering wheel is all screen. An LED light strip illuminates the inner ring of the steering wheel rim. Blue lights indicate autonomous mode, white lights connote manual driving, yellow lights indicate turn signaling, and red lights provide driver warning.
Valeo’s XtraVue concept leverages vehicle-to-vehicle communication to share one vehicle’s forward-facing camera view with those behind. The following vehicle uses forward-scanning lidar to verify that the car ahead is most likely the one it’s receiving a signal from (GPS coordinate sharing in these vehicle-to-vehicle transmissions lacks accuracy), then its 360-degree surround-view photo-stitching capabilities are put to work integrating the forward car’s image with its own camera images to “phantom” the car ahead.
One night I escaped the CES Auto Show in the convention center’s North Hall for a roundup of cool nonautomotive stuff. Cosmo Connected’s helmet light is a magnet-mount USB-rechargeable Bluetooth-connected lighting unit that mounts to the back of the rider’s helmet. It automatically illuminates at night, brightens when the bike slows, and signals a turn when prompted by the rider’s phone-based nav or manually via an app on a handlebar-mounted phone. It also detects when an accident has happened and immediately rings the rider’s phone. If there’s no answer, it texts an emergency contact and prompts them to call the phone twice. If no answer, EMS is contacted with GPS coordinates and medical info on file. Cost is $59 USD for the light.
A similar concept, the Coros Omni smart helmet, also features Bluetooth connectivity and a light, though the light only provides night illumination, not braking or turn signals. It does, however, use an interesting “speaker” system that excites the rider’s cheekbones to transmit sound, leaving the ears open to hear traffic, emergency vehicles, etc. The sound quality was surprisingly good. This one will also detect a wreck and summon help. The helmet is totally waterproof, weighs 340 grams, and costs $199 USD.
The Velco Wink Bar is described as the world’s first connected handlebar, featuring Bluetooth phone pairing, onboard GPS, and GSM phone connection. It also offers LED forward lighting and lights on top of the bar that flash to indicate which way the phone-based nav wants the rider to turn. The right handle grip contains the rechargeable battery, which can easily be brought inside for recharging. It even includes an anti-theft alarm that texts the owner if the bike is moved without prior authorization via the Bluetooth connection or an RF ID “ignition key” present.