Editor’s note: Tech 50+ Editor-At-Large John R. Quain is also a long time automotive writer for the New York Times, so when he talks cars, we listen. Here’s the second part of his take on all things automotive at CES 2018:
Most Beautiful High-Tech Electric Car: Fisker EMotion
He’s back! After wowing car reviewers with the original Fisker Karma (which ended up in Chinese hands after some battery and financial problems), Henrik Fisker has returned with an even sexier EV, the EMotion. The all-wheel-drive vehicle is a stunner equipped with all the gear necessary to go fully autonomous (including Quanergy’s solid-state LiDAR sensors, at just $1,250 for a set of five), plus it has special low rolling resistance tires, carbon fibre throughout, a top speed of 160 mph, and duly impressive acceleration. “There’s not much point, though, in going beyond 3 seconds (0 to 60 mph) because it’s so hard on the car,” demurred Fisker in a car-side chat. While the new Fisker EMotion is undeniably beautiful, it’s what may be under the skin when it debuts that’s really attractive: a solid state battery that promises roughly 2.5 times the density of current lithium-ion battery technology. That could propel this sedan for 400 miles on a single charge.
Best Car Tech Development: Phantom Auto
Even when the autonomous car future arrives, it will not be perfect. Engineers, designers, and automakers all acknowledge that while serious accidents may be avoided, there will still be situations in which a self-driving car will become, well, stuck. The question is how to deal with those situations. Since passengers may not have the skills to take over driving tasks, some sort of remote control will be required. Phantom Auto may have the answer. The startup has demonstrated how a remote operator using all the sensor information from an autonomous vehicle – including live video feeds – can drive a car around any potential obstacle, and from hundreds of miles away. The impressive feat is even more impressive given that Phantom can do this over a standard cellular connection. So far, it is the only company to accomplish this. Eventually, Phantom wants to become the OnStar of the autonomous age.
Best Connected Car Accessory: Raven
In a market crowded with dongles that plug into the OBD II port of older cars, Raven is a standout because it solves some of the shortcomings of current car monitoring devices. It includes its own persistent cellular data connection so you always know where the car is (and you don’t have to rely on a connected smartphone). It also has a Snapdragon 650 system on a chip to handle the processing, including video from two cameras (one forward-facing and one facing inside so you can see what’s happening in and around your vehicle). And Raven has a bright, colorful display that’s designed to sit on top of the dashboard. Think of it as a GoPro, navigation, geofencing, security, diagnostics, and driver monitoring system all rolled into one – for $299 – plus a service plan from $8 to $32 a month with the top plan including live streaming & cloud storage.
Best Car Vision Tech: AdaSky
While many experimental self-driving cars were stranded in the heavy rains that besieged Las Vegas during the opening day of CES, one sensor technology handled the weather with ease: AdaSky’s far infrared (FIR) system. Designed to complement the perception systems of semi- and fully autonomous cars, FIR thermal imaging cameras have previously been used in night vision systems. The advantage of FIR is that unlike light distance and ranging (LiDAR) sensors, it is unperturbed by bad weather. During my test demonstration drive, the streets of the city were filling up with water, but the AdaSky system could clearly see people and objects 300 feet ahead, even picking out pedestrians that were virtually invisible to the naked eye. At one point the AdaSky image highlighted a man dressed in white standing alongside a white panel van. The system can even detect the lane demarcation bumps (called Botts’ dots) in a deluge, something video cameras have trouble doing even in broad daylight.
Best Traffic Tech: Bosch Climo
Bosch has some impressive car technology, from a self-parking valet system to a complete in-car platform with a haptic touchpad and button-less voice recognition. But it was a little grey box that debuted at CES that may have the most impact on city traffic. Bosch’s Climo is about the size of a backpack yet it packs air quality monitoring technology previously requiring refrigerator-sized devices. The Climo can track common particulate, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and pollen levels. Weather resistant, it can be attached to street or traffic light poles to continuously check the air and send the results wirelessly (or via a city’s wired infrastructure) back to cloud-based analytical software. Is a new traffic pattern for HOV lanes working? Are EV initiatives effective? Municipalities will be able to tell using Climos dotted around town. The monitors, whose filters only have to be serviced once a year, can even be used to change traffic light patterns to eliminate congestion and reduce pollution.