The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Las Vegas ended last week with a surprisingly strong focus on cars. Some might find it weird for so many cars to be exhibited at a consumer electronics show. The reality of the today’s hi-tech world is that the lines between all sorts of products are blurred. The dizzying speed technology is integrating consumer products has a created silicon based bridge between consumer items.
The cars at the hugely successful CES were seen as a dress rehearsal for the Detroit Auto Show known formally as the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), a two-week affair that is scheduled to end on the 24 of this month. In the coming days, we are going to be taking a look at some of the the stand-out cars. Be rest assured, it is going to be a thrilling.
So why did cars make such a big hit at the CES? Pinpointing a particular reason is not going to be easy. It easier to ascribe the ascendancy of cars in an electronics show to a myriad of factors. One factor is that Americans are buying cars again. And lots of it too. After surviving the 2008 crisis that almost crippled the American auto industry, the motor industry is now structured to take advantage of trends to make more profits. It is now like a lean, hungry, efficient hunting beast.
The strong car presence at the CES does not really mean that the CES and NAIAS are now the perfect collaborative fellows. What the modern hi-tech world has thrown up are instead a host of questions like, how would cars be owned in the future? Who would do the driving? Would international car hire companies like Uber take over the world’s auto industry? If Google finally puts the self-driving car for public purchase, would Apple, in the fine tradition of the rivalry between the two giants, make its own car? How about traditional auto makers like Ford? Would they end up being makers of cars for Apple and Google.
The year 2016 could be the year when the hi-tech industry represented by Silicon Valley finally converges with the automobile industry represented by Detroit. According to the Executive Director of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab and the SAIL-Toyota Center for AI Research, Steve Edglass,
“The car companies have all figured out that if all they’re good at is bending sheet metal and drive trains, which of course is the lion’s share of what it took to build a car for the last century.If that continues to be their core competency, they are going to be at the low margin bottom end of the food chain. They have figured out that in addition to bending sheet metal and building drive trains, they need to be really good at software and sensors and artificial intelligence. It’s a kind of convergence of information technology with the traditional automobile industry.”
“Silicon Valley may be one of the handful of places in the world that’s particularly good at innovation and computer science and artificial intelligence, but it’s not like Silicon Valley has a monopoly on smart engineers. As some of these cutting edge technologies become a little more mainstream, I think you’re going to see lots more software engineers and computer scientists in Detroit doing a lot of R&D there as well.” Says Steve Edglass on the inevitable merging of Detroit and Silicon Valley
These are really exciting times for the auto industry. Are these also the best of times? Only time would tell. But for now let’s all just enjoy the NAIAS and the surprises in store for us.