But here and there, some first-time technologies made their appearance. One big one: self-driving cars.
Google, of course, is at the forefront of this technology; it’s had a successful self-driving car experiment running for some time now. (Actually, it has 12 such cars now.) Google wasn’t at C.E.S.
A few others were, though. There’s something bubbling here.
Audi demonstrated a car that can park itself in a garage after dropping you off. (It was the garage of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, in this case.) And when you return, you can summon the car with a phone app; the car drives itself from its parking spot to you. That, however, is not so much a self-aware car as a self-aware garage; it requires that the garage itself be equipped with special laser guides. And the driving is very, very slow and controlled (as you would hope).
Audi is also working on a traffic-jam mode, in which you can take a nap, work or do some reading as the car handles the slow, patient, touch-and-go edging through crawling traffic.
Audi says it’s thinking long-term — years away — for these features to become real futures.
Lexus also held a news conference in which it showed a video of its advanced active safety research car. It’s more like Google’s project: a completely autonomous, self-driving car. Lexus says that the point is safety: that you must be behind the wheel at all times, and that years of lobbying, demonstrating and building trust lie ahead before these will be available to consumers.
Frankly, I think we’re on the right track. Few industries are as heavily regulated as automobiles, so I’m confident that these things will never see the light of day until their reliability has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Keep in mind that the competition for a self-driving car is a person-driven car — and that, these days, is something truly worth fearing.