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CES 2015: Connected cars steal the show

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For a technology news journalist, there are few free moments during the week of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Here are some of the highlights from days one and two of the annual tech show, which drew upwards of 150,000 people and featured 3,600 exhibitors.

“This 2015 CES is one for the record books,” Consumer Electronics Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro told the crowd the morning of Jan. 6. “Our world is changing, and CES is where you’re seeing the future.”

The year of the connected car

Automakers dominated this year’s show. A telling fact was Ford Motors CEO and President Mark Fields shared a keynote with Consumer Electronics Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro. It was the first time a Ford executive delivered a keynote at CES.

Rather than show off a new connected car, though, Ford opted to talk about upgrades to Sync 3. The automaker is making the search for parking a heck of a lot easier by showing drivers open parking spots in real time through a shared data program. Another feature will inform users if they’re parked illegally and make recommendations for the nearest open space.

“Our priority is not in making marketing claims or being in a race for the first autonomous car on the road,” Fields said. “Rather, we want to be the first enabler of big smart data.”

Meanwhile, Audi was much flashier — summoning its Prologue Concept hybrid car on stage with an LG smartwatch made specifically for the German automaker. The model’s entire interior is operable through Android Auto and an Audi tablet. Audi has been generating buzz since the beginning of the week after it sent an A7 Sportback from San Francisco to Las Vegas on a two-day, 550-mile trip.

Mercedes-Benz was even more ostentatious with its futuristic-looking F015 Luxury in Motion concept car, which looked like it was straight from a science fiction movie. Unlike other self-driving cars, the F015 has a steering wheel so drivers can reclaim control.

“Cars will turn into mobile homes in the very best sense of the word,” said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

Gesture-based systems are also key features for eliminating driver distraction. BMW showed off new touch-screen and gesture controls for its iDrive interface, while Volkswagen demoed a gesture-based system through its Golf R Touch concept car.

Last but not least, Toyota unveiled its new hydrogen fuel cell car, the Mirai, which is the first widely available model of its kind. It goes for $50,000 and will be available in October. The Mirai can drive 300 miles on a single charge and refuels in three to five minutes. Banking on hydrogen cells as the next big source of fuel, Toyota will release 5,680 of its patents, which will be royalty-free until 2020. Additionally, the company has invested $200 million in charging stations across the United States.

“Hydrogen will be the primary fuel for the next 100 years,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president for automotive operations at Toyota. “We’re eliminating corporate boundaries to speed the metabolism of development.”

Increasingly digitized lives, big data

Greater connectivity was another major trend this year, with the Internet of Things devices sector growing significantly. Most notably, Samsung promised that 90 percent of all devices it creates, including televisions and mobile devices, will be Internet-enabled by 2017.

Companies small and large displayed Internet-connected devices in every category, from Sony’s Life Space UX concept that incorporates lights, speakers and projectors for your smart home to Wondermento’s Wonderwoof, a GPS and health tracker for your dog.

The key is getting these devices to talk to one another to streamline users’ lives.

“The Internet of Things needs to be an IoT for you, but every family and every person has different needs,” said BK Yoon, president and CEO of Samsung. “To meet all these needs, we need a huge developer community.”

Samsung is making its platform entirely open, so developers will be able to build upon the suite of connected devices. The breadth of big data generated from greater connectivity will lead to smarter recommendations and more intuitive systems.

“Today we do a great job at looking in the past,” he said. “In future, we will become much more predictive.”

Other interesting announcements

  • Samsung announced Milk VR, a video-streaming platform for people who own their headsets, and a chef collection tablet and app, designed by Michelin-rated chefs such as Daniel Boulud.
  • Intel showed off an incredible computer called Curie that’s the size of a button. The low-power hardware module can turn ordinary clothes into wearables. It will be available in the second half of 2015. Also, the brand’s RealSense technology taught a drone to fly itself.
  • Bosch is developing augmented reality windshields, showing information such as speed and a song’s title on the radio.
  • Dish Network’s Sling TV, a subscription-based service, will allow cord cutters to stream television without paying for cable, bringing the company into the ranks of Netflix and Hulu.
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