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The Road Ahead


Like clockwork, every year in January thousands of big tech names (Samsung, Google etc) and their diehard followers rush to Las Vegas in the Nevada Desert with their heads full to the brim of ideas and concepts to grasp at the future.

Since starting in New York in 1967, CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) has fast become the biggest tech show on Earth; a huge show for like-minded thinkers about product potentials and trends well in advance so consumers can get the most up-to-date information.

CES has become a massive platform for automotive brands to show off their latest technology, software and even entire vehicles. The show spans 2.75 million net square feet of exhibit space and has more than 11 venues and 24 product categories – it’s massive and it’s almost impossible to cover everything!

Despite its being a show with ‘consumer’ in the title, only media and electronics trade people are allowed to attend.

One member of the trade in attendance this year was Toyota New Zealand’s General Manager of New Vehicle Sales, Neeraj Lala, who shares parts of his experience with Believe readers. “CES provides a platform to get your head around the major technology trends and releases that will both bless and scare us in the upcoming year.

What impressed me the most at ‘CES Unveiled’ on the first night were the radical concepts that we might never see commercially released. A confident breed of innovators really pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation. Without these people, technology would be pretty dull.

With new cars featuring all kinds of advanced technology, CES has quickly become a regular fixture for car manufacturers to showcase their latest safety technology, infotainment systems, autonomous driving, battery packs and vast range of powertrain solutions. New cars, and concept cars, are also unveiled at CES.

The future is closer than you think

What became apparent is the future is much closer than we think. Which means there is considerable pressure for companies to be ready. Ready for what? The answer to that question is, ‘data’. From Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, technology is changing business and the way content is created, delivered and consumed. Machine-to-machine commerce has arrived, and AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning are everywhere.

We are on the brink of handling more data than we have ever imagined. The challenge for most companies will be developing strategies to access, manage, process and utilise the data efficiently to create customised and new, innovative customer experiences.

Data is clearly the new ‘power’ of corporate business, which means resilience technologies such as cyber resilience, disaster recovery, public alert systems and anti-terrorism will require greater levels of focus and investment.

Unlocking this acceleration is the arrival and reality of 5G.

The wireless industry has been excited about 5G for years and the expectation of delivering faster internet speeds to any smart device, car, appliance and home were on display at most exhibits at CES. 5G will be available in the United States from later this year, with nationwide access by 2020.

In my mind, the star of CES 2019 was the spotlight on AI. It felt like every piece of the latest technology had AI included as a critical ingredient. AI is the glue that makes devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant actually work and deliver high value.

In the case of the automotive industry, AI is considered an important gear in making sure that autonomous cars are safe and efficient. Regardless of the industry, AI will provide bespoke experiences through customisation and personalisation as never seen before.

The transformation will be largely driven by the explosion of digital assistants, which are growing and will be everywhere in the future. Amazon Alexa alone has nearly 60,000 skills already, and is compatible with more than 20,000 devices. Adding to this, new AI software makes Google Assistant even smarter in 2019 with an ‘Assistant’ functionality for Google Maps, and also a language translation mode. This technology is being made possible by the advancement to ‘voice’ recognition, which is quickly becoming the ‘go to’interface along with ‘gesture’.

Future mobility

It’s not surprising that the automotive sector takes centre stage at CES given that $17 billion in new in-vehicle technology is forecast to be spent by consumers in the United States in 2019. The $17 billion is a nine per cent increase on the previous year and is only behind streaming services at $26 billion (+25 per cent).

Autonomous vehicles, the future of mobility, connected cars, and car sharing featured throughout the show.

Given that CES is a trade show, a large number of platform, software, virtual reality and augmented reality specialists were on hand to demonstrate their latest technology to whomever would listen. Nearly all the smaller companies were specialising in niche areas to help car companies achieve their future-ofmobility objectives.

It was also clear that all car companies are converging towards a similar view when it comes to the future of mobility. The convergence is largely driven by key technological and social trends, such as the rapid growth of car sharing and ride sharing, the availability of alternative powertrains, new lightweight materials, the growth of connected cars, and the acceleration of autonomous vehicles. The cocktail of all these ingredients has led to the emergence of a new ecosystem of mobility that could potentially offer faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer, more efficient and bespoke travel.

What was also clear is that vehicles in the future will continue to provide a critical source of value. Car making is going to be significantly more complex as traditional car companies partner with tech companies to deliver highly customised and personalised experiences.

The challenge for New Zealand will be the readiness of our physical infrastructure, and the need for a digital infrastructure to emerge that is compatible with either the US or Europe, or both. Mobility management will become the key to unlocking the true potential, so OEMs will need to work with network and infrastructure partners to connect the dots.

Toyota Guardian

Toyota launched our new accident avoidance system called ‘Guardian’. What I really like about Guardian is the concept of ‘blended envelope control’. This is where technology partners with a driver to enhance a vehicle’s driving capability to avoid accidents, rather than completely taking over. Toyota started the show by offering ‘Guardian for all’ to all manufacturers.

The talk of CES focused on how advanced technologies will profoundly alter the customer experience. The arrival of 5G will, we hope, deliver on the promise of super-fast, reliable and omnipresent connectivity. Technology has been a static evolution in the automotive industry for the past two decades.

We have navigated from http static pages to, more recently, sophisticated ‘Build Your Car’ pages on the internet. The view of many experts is that AR is a piece of technology that takes the car-buying experience to a whole new stratosphere – and I’m a believer.

It’s no secret that people do not enjoy shopping for cars. Traditionally the research process and the dealership experience have struggled to align. CES highlighted huge advancements in AR technology to help car companies.

Researching information, and accessibility (like pop-ups at airports and shopping centres) become easy, engaging and entertaining.

However, there is one big pitfall: bandwidth. AR typically requires a download speed of at least 50 megabits per second – hence why 5G will be a mandatory requirement. This limitation means that true AR will be at least two years away for New Zealand, but the work needs to start now.

The next wave, maybe a decade away, will be how AR is integrated in autonomous vehicles so that when you enter a car, customised screens, speakers and other technologies allow a bespoke customer experience, and also allow you to connect to the outside world. There were lots of exhibits demonstrating this technology, so I don’t believe it’s another episode of Star Trek, but a reality.