We just got out of the second keynote for the day, General Motors. This is the first time in show history that an auto manufacturer has given a keynote speech at CES, so by most standards this was a pretty big deal with the CES community. In fact this year has a whole hall dedicated to automotive electronics, the Las Vegas Convention Center north hall, so that should give you an idea of the prevalence of cars at this year’s CES.
The speaker of the afternoon was GM’s CEO Richard Wagoner Jr, who drove on to the stage in a Volt to start things off. The first subject he covered was the most directly related to the Consumer Electronics industry, GM’s OnStar system, which is an integration of several CE devices/technologies (GPS, cell phones, navigation, etc). Wagoner talked about how GM feels it has changed the auto industry, and how the short cycle time in developing OnStar has influenced their development cycles for cars. The gist of the message was that GM sees its future as relying (perhaps uncomfortably) on the process of the CE industry, and now they’re trying to inject themselves in to it a bit.
Wagoner also spent some time talking about the future direction they’re taking OnStar. Future improvements will include an external interface for other devices to access a car’s OnStar system (smartphones and the like) in order to do things like remotely start the car, check its status, lock the doors, and so on. Wagoner also talked about the remote engine disabling system coming to OnStar they’re calling Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and will be an upgrade of their current stolen vehicle locating system. The engine disabling system will allow law enforcement to request that the engine be disabled by slowly reducing the amount of power the engine produces.
The demonstration continued with Wagoner demonstrating the voice message played when the system is triggered, the cheery female OnStar voice informing the driver that the system had been triggered and to pull over to the side of the road and stay in the car as the police will be coming. The usefulness of this system is clear and GM is solely proposing this as a way to prevent drivers of stolen vehicles from leading police on high-speed chases, but we have to admit that this makes us a bit nervous in a 1984 kind of way. Technology can be used for good or evil, after all.
Wagoner then moved on to talking about the other electronic systems going in to their latest cars, including the usual systems (airbags, anti-lock brakes, collision warnings) and how future cars will be including even more. Quickly discussed was a new technology called Vehicle to Vehicle, which will involve cars acting in a peer-to-peer node configuration to pass along information to each other; the given example was the on-board computer in a car making a hard brake instructing the other cars that they should automatically begin braking too. This lead to talking about even greater levels of computer controls for cars, with Wagoner making it clear they want to have a car that can drive itself and showcasing the Carnegie Mellon University’s DARPA Urban Challenge vehicle the Boss, which is a full computer controlled car that competed in DARPA’s challenge last year.
Finally Wagoner spent nearly the rest of the speech talking about what GM is doing for fuel efficiency, which is a bit of a segway in all ways from consumer electronics. If you follow cars there wasn’t much new in terms of technology (and if you don’t follow cars you won’t care) so we won’t say too much on this. GM is still big on ethanol for the short term, and hybrids as a longer-term situation.
Finally, and also a first for CES, Wagoner announced a new concept car at CES, the Cadillac Provoq. The Provoq is a fuel cell hybrid that can get 20 miles on its battery before engaging the fuel cell to power the batteries for another 280 miles. It has a 0-to-60 time of 8.5 seconds and tops out at 100mph. It’s definitely not a CE device in and of itself, but it still managed to attract the full attention of the audience and we could hear a very faint “doh” echoing in from our car-obsessed boss who was not at the keynote.