Commentary: CES 2016

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV - Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet/General Motors
The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV – Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet/General Motors

I did not go to school for Computer Science or other tech majors.

Nor do I completely understand the inner-workings of technological devices. This is despite the fact that I had been around people who worked in a technological capacity for the past two decades.

Nor do I possess a lot of tech goodies. I suck at video games, have not worn a watch in many years and rely on only a laptop and a smartphone to do my work and play.

However, there is a keen interest in vehicle technology. I always use a Bluetooth connection for my phone when I drive. I try to use the infotainment system for navigation, music and broadcast playback. Telematics interest me in terms of concierge services and actual operations.

When it comes to an attempt at covering the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I simply tune off.

Does that make me sound like a bad journalist?

This is a problem. I am aware of it. Perhaps it is because I have some interests pertaining to the automotive industry, but concentrating on internal combustion systems, end user technological applications and how it all translates onto a real live product for the road.

Though this year's CES has produced some products that are ready for road use – or are concepts with intent on actual production – it just seems that I am not as interested as I should be. I am glad that General Motors has taken the step towards a production Chevrolet Bolt and Volkswagen is toying with a electric van called the Budd-E. Yet, I have not completely embraced the idea of total vehicular electrification as a practical propulsion alternative for everyone. I still have doubts about this.

As an aside, it would not surprise you that there is sort of a family connection to CES. I recall my brother Matt working a few CES shows – especially when it was in Chicago during the summer. He was with a software firm at the time, starting his journey as a technical writer. I am not sure if he attend these shows anymore. If he does, I believe he would encounter the growth of automotive technology now permeating the January show in Las Vegas.

At this point, my interest should be piqued. Sadly, it has not. For those on the ground at CES, there is an interest in how vehicular electrification, autonomous driving and next generation telematics and infotainment will expand the automobile further from its internal combustion roots. From afar in a bunker in the Twin Cities, where temperatures have been above average so far this winter, a lot of things that have been discussed in Las Vegas this week have gone completely over my head.

Yet, there are some things that I am not ready to fully embrace. For example: autonomous driving. When the automobile was first realized in the 1880s, it required an operator to be able to make it work. It should always be this way. To eliminate vehicular engagement is to remove the operator out of the equation. This defeats the purpose of driving. It also removes the element of defensive driving when the unpredictable occurs. In all, you lose the concept of driving by eliminating control of a vehicle.

In some ways, this technology could be useful if the driver is still engaged. If we can allow some degree of autonomy, such as adaptive cruise control with forward collision distancing, we can still keep the driver engaged in the driver's seat. Lane keep assist is another technology that also maintains engagement with the driver, while ensuring that the vehicle is kept legally within a chosen lane over time.

This leads to the issue with telematics and infotainment. We often discuss what needs to be done in regards to keeping drivers engaged on the road. Road incidents involving driver distraction are increasing. What needs to happen is to find a balance to maintain a limit on the want of in-vehicle communication with driver engagement and focus on the road. The challenge should be to install ways to put limits on “distractions”on the vehicle side, rather than just on the device end.

We could also talk about driver responsibility. I fear we are losing the way to make drivers responsible for their actions on the road – everything from grabbing a phone to talk to drinking a large cup of coffee while driving. Perhaps a vehicle-side control should be developed to both ensure full control by the driver on the road and to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving.

Yes, I am asking a lot here. I know the technology to develop such controls exist. Just have to find a way. Perhaps, that should be shown at the next CES?

This is to say that on some level I do care about the increase of the automobile industry's presence at CES. It certainly might not be my beat, but I acknowledge that I might be seeing a lot of what is being discussed in Las Vegas will be experienced by the rest of us soon enough. This is not an ignorant blogger/writer/journalist talking here. Rather someone who is comfortable riding in his own lane by feeding from other interests involving the automobile.

So, please wake me up when the news start filtering from the North American International Auto Show next week?

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