It was just a few short years ago that Audi showed up to CES with a small booth highlighting their infotainment HMI advances. This year, it seemed like the auto industry defended en masse on CES from BMW i3s lapping the area to Audi's massive booth. In addition, Qualcomm and GoPro had multiple cars in their booths. The focus was on four main themes: autonomous driving, alternative fuels, connectivity and lighting.
Both Audi and BMW were giving rides in their autonomous A7 and 2 Series respectively. BMW programmed their system to drift the car to show how precisely it can be controlled.
In the alternative fuel category, BMW was allowing people to get rides in their new i3, Ford showed off a C-Max with a solar roof, Qualcomm showed off their sponsorship of Formula E electric racing which has been recruiting Formula 1 drivers away from petrol racing, and Toyota brought the FCV hydrogen powered car it says will go on sale in California next year.
In the connectivity department, Mercedes showed off their partnership with PEBBLE and BMW got together with Samsung to control and monitor the vehicle remotely from smart watches.
In comparison, the lighting theme seems a bit frivolous, but the last 20 years have seen amazing advances in lighting. Remember how all cars had either round or square standard headlights in the 80's? Digital modeling of light waves in the late 90's ushered in a generation of design iteration. Halogen in the early 2000's made lights brighter farther. LEDs in the last few years have pushed another round of design variation and branding through light. This year Audi debuted "laser lights" in their Sport Quattro Concept, a 700hp hybrid powered hot hatch.The laser lights beam twice as far at almost three times the brightness as LED high beams. Plus you get to say your car has frickin' lasers... worth it.
As cars increasingly become hubs for all kinds of technology, it seems that CES will become an ever more important show for automakers.
Audi Sport Quattro concept with laser lights