CES 2014: Google, Mercedes, Audi, Ford and More Light Up Las Vegas

By Matthew Askari | January 09, 2014
Las Vegas is a strange place, and during CES, the global movers and shakers of this world descend upon the Nevada desert to make it even more bizarre; Once a haven for the types of people who could make a living prancing with tigers, or engaging in seedy behavior—such as gorging oneself to near combustion in an all you can eat buffet—Vegas now mercifully makes room for 150,000 techies annually who share an immense interest and enthusiasm in the future of consumer electronics. The elite minds from tech titans such as Google, mingle with executives and engineers from luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz, and everyone is focused on the future, on what’s next. So what exactly is next? We're on the ground floor:

Google Wants Peace in the Auto East

The auto industry is big business, and the attention to and relevance of in-car connectivity and infotainment is a booming field ripe with possibility. The problem remains however, that smartphone and tablet technology is light years ahead of systems available in cars, and as a result, people are using those devices instead. But with a billion Google Android users in the world—and many automakers already using some Google services such as Google Maps and search—who better to bridge the technological gap? Google is engaging in what is being called an Open Automotive Alliance. The tech giant is teaming up with chipmaker Nvidia, and automakers such as GM, Audi, Honda, and others. As one Google executive told me at an industry dinner here, "it's now on them. We don't know which automaker will step up. We don't know where it could go. This is totally open source, and we're here to do business." What's sure to result, is more advanced infotainment systems, and seamless integration with familiar technologies. How it all exactly will occur, is yet to be determined.

Mercedes-Benz Wants it to be Clear, Daimler Will Lead the Industry's Tech Revolution

Some automaker's treated CES like an auto show; Ford had rally car driver Ken Block on hand to sign autographs, and the Blue Oval brought the much anticipated 2015 Ford Mustang—the official car of CES—to proudly display. Mercedes also had a 2014 E-Class on hand, as well as the sensous S-Class Coupe Concept, but also this: A couple dozen tee-shirt clad, Sunnyvale, CA based engineers and developers from its research laboratory, on hand to explain everything Mercedes-Benz is working on. Wearables are all the rage at CES, and a smartwatch from Pebble gives us a glimpse into a very possible future. The Pebble Steel watch can connect you to popular applications—much like you would use on your smartphone—and that could soon include giving you access to your Mercedes-Benz remotely. Think you might have forgotten to lock your door? You can do that from your couch, restaurant, office, wherever you might be, with a tap on your watch. If you've forgotten where your car is in a parking lot, the watch can guide you to your vehicle. You can even heat up or cool down your car remotely, so it's comfortable and ready to go when you are.
Mercedes will also launch a vehicle homepage later this year, which gives you access to an absurd amount of analytics and statistics, all of which can be accessed from your iPad or tablet. You can view every trip you've ever taken, with the route displayed on Google Maps. Want to know how many people are in your car on average? Or if you need to get gas on your way to the office? How often your car is in third gear? How much time you spend a month in traffic? The vehicle homepage taps in to your car and connects you to it from anywhere. And this isn't far off conceptual technology we're talking about, Mercedes says it will be a reality in Mercedes-Benz vehicles this year. And there's more; The Stuttgart automaker is partnering with Nest, to allow owners to tap into their climate controls at home, all from the vehicle dashboard. As you leave the office, you can set the heat to 70 degrees at home, and the navigation on your C-Class will tell Nest when you're expected to arrive at your "nest," adjusting the thermostat accordingly. Stuff you might see in a futuristic movie, coming to a reality near you.

Next-Gen Audi TT Previewed, Concept Uses Laser Tech

Audi was also in attendance and attracted no small amount of attention with the Audi Sport Quattro Laserlight Concept, which takes the same 700 horspower hybrid that Audi showed off in Frankfurt, and adds new wheels, red paint, and what could be the future of automotive lighting. Using both laser technology and LED lights, the Laserlight Concept can illuminate twice as far as LED lights alone. And the Ingolstadt automaker also used CES to show off a new dash that will come on the next-gen Audi TT. What's new? Just about everything. The area traditionally used to display your speed and other gauges will now feature a high-resolution, 12.3-inch screen with two customizable modes, including a 3D-style map. A quick glance and we think it looks pretty good. Audi has also done away with traditional climate controls, in favor of dials right on each turbine-inspired vent. You can adjust the temperature and fan.

Kia Knows You Like Lady Gaga

Kia'a Uvo infotainment system (we hear Blake Griffin's voice too) will get added functionality this year, allowing owners to download apps, a trend we're seeing everywhere. A Kia representative said the Korean automaker was focusing on social integration for its infotainment as well. Specifically, "if you happen to like Lady Gaga's Facebook page, and are synced to the car, it will recommend songs from lady Gaga's new album." And taking a page out of the luxury segment, Kia vehicles will soon have eye detection technology that can warn you if you’re drowsy, or if you take your eyes off the road to send a text message, for example. The Korean market will get the technology first, likely later this year, followed by the U.S. in a couple years.

Mazda Shows Future Connectivity Concept

Last year was a breakthrough year for Mazda, as it launched two impressive vehicles, including the 2014 Mazda3, one of my five favorite cars of the year. I particularly liked Mazda's improved infotainment system, and here at CES, Mazda is showing a "concept" of a next-gen infotainment system. It adds practical features like the ability to sync to your calendar, check weather forecasts, and even listen to a "this day in history" audio guide that can give you a few conversation starters before a big meeting, or at least make traffic a little less tedious. It uses Mazda's latest Kodo design language, and we can easily picture it in Mazda vehicles in the near future.