Among the most newsworthy topics at CES this year were artificial intelligence and flying cars. And robotic roller skates.
Hyundai had the biggest, coolest flying thing at CES, while Xpeng AeroHT also showed off the eVTOL flying supercar (pictured above).
Artificial intelligence insinuated itself into everything at the show.
2024 started off with a bang at CES, a show that has become by default the biggest car show of the year. Even though General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis—the former Big 3—all skipped the event this year, eager, tech-talking contenders from Germany, Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea all showed up ready to innovate.
Some of the tech we saw was pure pie-in-the-sky, and you couldn’t help but think some companies were just using CES to raise money for projects that will never come. Other projects that were presented, even from long-established, successful carmakers, seemed like they were just too cool to ever see mass production.
But some of what we saw might make its way into our future everyday lives. So, let us consider the Best of CES for 2024. And the worst. Which was which? We report, you decide.
Various Flying Contraptions
The so-called “Flying Car” has more or less gone away, given over to various multi-nacelle pod thingies of various funding and/or provenance.
Leading the flock is surely the Hyundai Supernal S-A2, which promises seating for five, a cruising speed of 120 mph, and 20 to 40 miles of range. Lift and forward movement will come from eight “all-tilting rotors.” And it will be powered by electricity alone, eliminating emissions and cutting noise down to what Hyundai promises will match that of a dishwasher. Look for them in the skies over your city by 2028, shuttling the lucky few over traffic at 1500 feet.
There were many other intriguing contraptions. The Helix eVTOL seats one, offers eight rotors (but can still fly on six), an eight-kWh battery good for a range of 20 miles (“or more”) and a parachute in case things go horribly wrong. Prices start at $190,000. Also: Made in the USA!
The Xpeng Aeroht Ground Module and Air Module need to be in a Bond movie.
Chinese carmaker Xpeng has an aviation subsidiary called Xpeng AeroHT. AeroHT introduced two different flying phenomena at CES. One is a cool six-wheeled megavan called the Ground Module that is similar (in my memory) to the 1992 Italdesign Columbus concept (but you’d have to be real old to remember that).
The Ground Module carries inside it a five-seater flying phone booth called the Air Module. The latter retreats from the former and off it flies. So cool. It can fly autonomously if no one has a helicopter license. Customers in China will get these by the end of the year, Xpeng says. We might get it sometime, but no plans were announced.
Second, XPENG AeroHT also showed off the eVTOL flying supercar. Xpeng says the flying supercar has “the driving experience of a supercar, but can transition effortlessly from land to flight mode, allowing drivers to take to the air.” Looks like eight rotors with two on each of its four arms. The arms fold in for supercar duty, flip out for flight. No indication how many it seats, looks like at least two. Xpeng says it successfully test-flew a two-ton prototype in Dubai in 2022.
The Increasing Presence of AI
There is no hard-and-fast, legally binding definition of artificial intelligence. Saying a product is driven by AI is like saying something’s “organic,” or “world-reknowned!” Thus, the term has been exploited by some startups eager to draw in investors who don’t know that AI isn’t always A or even I.
“Artificial intelligence is a machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we usually associate with human minds,” says consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
Generally, AI is helpful. So while you may be right that Mark Zuckerberg wants to control your brain, AI could just as easily make driving, and many things associated with driving, easier and safer, like directing you to your favorite taco stands with an EV charging station outside that are on the route you’re already taking.
While every entity that could crank out a press release claimed to have “groundbreaking advances in AI,” let’s look at AI-enabled advancements from Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW at CES.
Global component supplier Marelli used CES 2024 to display its Software-Defined Interior, which leverages AI and is one of the first automotive applications of an organic light-emitting diode display. The Marelli system incorporates a pillar-to-pillar display (and even a 12-inch hidden display) and supports up to four Zone Control Units so content can be personalized by vehicle occupants.
Volkswagen partnered with Cerence to bring Chat GPt to all MEB and MQB models later this year. That’s all the ID EVs, as well as the Tiguan, Passat, and Golf.
“The IDA voice assistant can be used, for example, to control the infotainment, navigation, and air conditioning, or to answer general knowledge questions,” VW said. “In the future, AI will (be) enriching conversations, clearing up questions, interacting in intuitive language, receiving vehicle-specific information, and much more—purely hands-free.
BMW has partenered with Amazon for its Alexa Large Language Model, which will “enable human-like interactions and dialogues.” BMW says to look for improvements with the next generation of the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, over the course of the year in vehicles with BMW Operating System 9.
Mercedes used the North American debut of its Concept CLA to show the next step up for its MBUX Virtual Assistant. The new system will offer helpful suggestions based on learned behavior and situational context in a new, more natural voice that even has “empathy” (a German first!).
The dialogue will be accompanied by visual feedback in the form of a colored shape made of advanced 3D graphics from the Unity game engine. In the new MBUX Virtual Assistant, a so-called ‘living’ star avatar “uses animations to express different moods and states of being.” Hug me, Gunther!
Sony Honda Mobility Afeela, Again!
Sony Honda Mobility, the joint venture between two corporate giants, drove its AFEELA prototype onto a Las Vegas stage using only a Sony Playstation 5 controller. That part was just for show—you won’t be able to drive your car using a PlayStation 5 controller. The car is pretty much the same as what debuted at CES in 2023.
It can operate at Level 3 autonomy in certain conditions and “Level 2+” the rest of the time, which will give you time to play video games on your PlayStation 5 and watch movies using Sony RIDEVU, which plays movies in your car. Perhaps you should watch the Sony movie Gran Turismo. Look for pre-orders of the AFEELA next year and deliveries in 2026, SHM said.
Mobion Crazy Concept Car from Hyundai
Hate parallel parking? Check this out.
There have been versions of something like this before, from that black-and-white film from the 1930s of the car with the spare tire that drops down from the trunk to help slide the rear of the vehicle into a parking space, to the GMC Hummer EV doing parlor tricks in a dirt lot. The problem with high articulation of wheels is that the wheels are often attached to suspension links and drive shafts.
Hyundai’s parts group Mobis made this party trick of an Ioniq 5 EV by incorporating hub motors at all four wheels, freeing up each wheel from any normal links. Thus, each wheel can rotate 90 degrees and spin in either direction. This not only makes parallel parking a breeze, it makes you the king—or queen—of the street takeover.
Moonwalkers are like strap-on six-wheeled roller skates powered by AI and electric motors. Specifically, according to maker Shift Robotics, they are “robotic shoes that use AI software to measure a user’s stride 100 times a second, thus enabling each shoe to adjust to the gait cycle of each individual, thereby maximizing safety, enjoyment, and performance while walking.”
Each step you take is multiplied 3x by the rollers. Because the wheels move only when you do, Shift Robotics assures us they are safe, and numerous demos suggested as much. The suggested use is to improve the productivity of warehouse workers, but you can use them for whatever you want.
Price? Only $1400. Wait, how much?