Staying connected to your car, house, friends and even strangers. That was the core theme of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Held in the same space as SEMA, it rivals the tuner show for scale and lifestyle-questioning choices. Here are our edited highlights of what was on offer.
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This is the future of car tech
Rather than spoil the full debut of the new C-Class in Detroit next week, Merc got into the spirit of the CES by debuting an augmented reality app that allows you to have a virtual look in and around the latest 3 Series competitor.
If you scan the code above using your iPad - the only device it works on currently - you will be taken to a Mercedes web page and then the Apple App Store. You’ll need to download the app and print off a printed image of the car - also available from the MB site. Then you just fire up the app, point it at the printed image and let the faszination begin.
Digital DriveStyle App
In among Mercedes’ other bite-sized app offerings was one called Digital DriveStyle. This clever bit of code works with your phone and something called ‘Drive Kit Plus’ in the car to help you avoid everything from traffic to tragedy.
Not only does this car-to-car info system notify you when something is up on your chosen route, it also allows you to notify others of hazards where you are. Presumably things like beige Allegros being driven by old dears the wrong way down motorway off-ramps, and Audi’s one inch from your rear bumper even though you’re both doing 90mph. On the autobahn, obviously.
Predictive User Experience
A little creepier than the DriveStyle app, Merc’s predictive prototype watches everything you do and where you go - and how you go - in the car and learns it. Do something more than once and it’s a habit that’s logged and stored.
Designed so that your Merc will become your ‘automotive companion’, the system currently studies 34 different use parameters, from the number of occupants, weather conditions, time of day, etc and generates a range of options for the driver. Things like ‘tet the kids from school’, ‘go to the supermarket’ or ‘back to the sweatshop’.
The driver then just picks whichever one they want and the car optimises the route, taking everything into consideration other than your feelings. Merc says the final version of this system will monitor 120 parameters, so standby for your car to act as your shrink as well as your navigator and driver before long.
As a stepping stone towards the full-blown ‘time to take your meds, sir’ version of the predictive system, MB has partnered with two Silicon Valley tech companies to bridge the gap between our cars and the rest of our lives.
Using the Digital DriveStyle app as the engine, the Pebble smart watch is basically a smaller version of the phone app you wear on your wrist. Because it’s linked to the car’s telematics via your phone it can tell you pretty much everything you don’t want to know about your car and its health. It also lets you know when someone is calling and, yes, it tells the time, too.
The Nest integration is a little simpler. This is a normal thermostat, designed by the guy who penned the first iPod, but one that has been hit with the design magic wand. So instead of it being an angular cheap plastic box filled with fiddly microswitches, it’s a pleasingly round object with a very clear and simple screen.
But its real party piece is that it programs itself, learning when and how much you turn on the heat in your house, then doing it for you. With the Mercedes collaboration, the idea is that the car will speak to the Nest and let it know when you are coming home. So you’ll never be able to sneak up on it, and your house will be always be pre-warmed when you arrive. Whether you like it or not.
2015 Corvette Stingray Performance Data Recorder
Chevrolet vaulted straight to the front of the tech queue with its announcement that later this year all Corvette Stingrays - TG’s Not A Muscle Car of the Year - will be available with a Performance Data Recorder. And this is not just any data recorder, it’s better, more detailed than anything that’s ever been available from a manufacturer before. This is not just a gimmick, it’s a proper telemetry system.
Developed by Cosworth, the storied British motorsports that has been working with the factory Corvette racing team for years, the system starts with a hi-def camera and microphone mounted behind the rear view mirror. These are factory fitted, so there are no wires sticking out anywhere. The camera and mic feed into a data recorder fitted with its own super-accurate GPS receiver and a dedicated link to the Stingray’s sizeable brain.
The system can record up to three overlay options on the video. Track Mode shows everything from speed and rpm to g-force. Sport Mode shows slightly less detail. Performance Mode records all speed metrics like 0-60mph and lap times. And for when you just want to take a video of the road or track you are on and nothing else, there’s Touring Mode, which just records the video and screams and nothing else.
All the vehicle and video info is then stored on an SD card, and the replays can be either watched on the eight-inch nav screen when the car is in park, or on your computer. If you want to get serious with the data, you can with the Cosworth Toolbox app. This overlays laps on a satellite map, and compares selected laps in fine detail, logging everything from corner traces to braking input to help you see where you are going too slow and too fast.
At the moment, the system is factory installed only and can’t be retrofitted to earlier or other cars. But Cosworth has indicated that it is looking to offer an aftermarket version at some point in the future that could work with GoPro cameras.
Mustang Pinball Machine
Ford gave the new Mustang its public debut at CES, accompanied by news that the Blue Oval has signed a deal with Stern Pinball to create a Mustang pinball machine to celebrate 50 years of the world famous pony car.
Details are still a bit thin, but we do know that the game will feature the voice of TG US presenter and racer Tanner Foust, the artwork has been produced by the same guy who designed the Ford GT, Camilo Pardo, and that there will be music from all five decades. So it sounds like it’s going to have all the right bits in all the right places.
Pricing and availability have yet to be announced but Stern machines range from around $2k for a home version to around $8k for the full arcade limited edition number.
French drone-maker and in-car technology company Parrot unveiled two new wheeled toys at CES: the MiniDrone and the deranged Jumping Sumo.
The MiniDrone is a scaled down version of the classic four-blade drone - but with a set of wheels added so it can roll as well as fly. Like almost everything else at CES it is controlled via a Bluetooth smartphone app and has a range of around 150ft.
The Jumping Sumo is an altogether more disruptive bit of kit. Made of crash resistant plastic with a separate motor powering each of the oversized wheels, it also has the ability to jump several feet into the air like a scalded cat.
It’s controlled by app that links to the front mounted camera, so you can send it screaming off on missions within its 150ft range. What those missions are, other than scaring the bejeezus out of your dog and cat, are left to you to decide. But it does have a grabbing hand, so it has some function, too.