CES has very much become a car show over the past few years. In fact, the entire North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Centre is dedicated to cars and car technology.
While 2018 wasn't quite as bumper a show for new metal as 2017 was, the tech was arguably more interesting. Electric vehicles (EVs), autonomous cars, new interface design and Amazon Alexa voice-assistant were all key stories.
But there was much more besides, including robots galore. Read on to see more...
The first auto launch of CES 2018 also proved to be one of the most important. The Toyota e-Palette is a delivery-truck-sized, reconfigurable autonomous pod. It can be pop-up shop, Amazon delivery truck or Uber as needed. Amazon, Uber, Didi and Pizza Hut are all on board for this concept, which will appear for real at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Henrik Fisker designed the Aston Martin Vantage and BMW Z9, he was even designer at Tesla for a while. His company – back from the dead after the ill-fated Karma – showed off a smaller, Tesla Model 3-sized EV, with a battery that's supposedly rechargeable in 15 minutes. The previous Karma project, however, ended in tears – so we await with interest to see where this one goes and whether it makes it to market.
Kia Niro EV
Kia's Niro hybrid has been on the market for a couple of years. But it will shortly be joined by a plug-in hybrid, and fully electric version. This concept vehicle previews the EV, which will launch in late 2018. Kia claims it has a 238 mile range.
The auto industry is moving quickly towards battery-based electric vehicles for its future form of production. But some manufacturers are persevering with hydrogen fuel cell technology, with Hyundai being one of them. The Nexo is a small SUV, and it's impressive that Hyundai has managed to get the Fuel Cell stack and hydrogen tanks compacted to the point where it makes little impact on cabin or boot space. Despite that, due to the on-going costs associated with hydrogen fuel vehicles, the Nexo will only be available in limited numbers, primarily to customers in California.
Panasonic Autonomous Future Concept
We've seen numerous autonomous car concepts to date. Panasonic says this style of setup is still 20 years out, but it's impresses nonetheless – particularly the OLED windows, which allow you to turn the car into a giant fish tank – or write messages to your friends, from CES.
Rinspeed's annual crazy concept has become a CES fixture – and we weren't disappointed by the Swiss firm's 2018 offering. Sat on a "skateboard" chassis, the whole top of the Snap car lifts off so that what's inside can be interchanged. Our demo was of a future driverless car setup – with four seats facing each other, designed to take some kids to school. It comes complete with on-board robot.
Nissan Brain-to-Vehicle experience
Nissan caused an uproar before CES by saying it was investigating brain-to-vehicle technology – tapping into a driver's brainwaves to help better connect them to the car, and make them a safer driver.
Byton SUV Concept
Byton is the latest name to join the auto world – a Chinese funded and manufactured brand. The Byton concept was designed in Munich by ex-BMW designers and is full of tech that's been developed in California. A full-on EV, it's a rival to Tesla – but unlike many recent startup car companies, Byton is keen to prove it is more than just vapourware, and was offering rides around the parking lot at CES. The most attention-grabbing aspect of its design is the 44-inch screen that runs right across the dashboard.
Nvidia Roborace car
Roborace fuses circuit racing with autonomous driving – it's electric cars piloting themselves around circuits. What's the point of that, you might ask? We don't know either. But the Roborace car looks pretty cool, perhaps no surprise as it was designed by the same guy who did the light cycles in the movie Tron.
Mercedes' new user interface – appearing in the next A-class, later this year – features a pair of 10-inch screens stacked side-by-side in a style reminiscent of the E-Class. For the first time ever in a Merc there's touchscreen capability, and the company has thrown away its tradition scroll-wheel control on the console, replacing it with a touchpad. The system offered super-fluid movement and impressive lack of response lag – at least in this static demo.
Panasonic's next-generation wireless charger
Panasonic showed off loads of new automotive technology at CES. But one of the most near-term interesting is this future wireless charger. It features a moving magnetic coil underneath the tray – which means if your phone moves around during driving, it won't stop charging. The perforated surface also blows cool air on your phone, to overcome the overheating issues that wireless charging can cause.
Who doesn't love Asimo – Honda's friendly, human-aping robot? At CES, Honda showed three new robots, all of which wheeled around its stand as part of a choreographed display. The one in the picture is even capable of showing emotion – it cries if it sees you're sad.
Harman's pop-out QLED dashboard
Fancy giving your passenger a little bit more to look at in future? Harman – one of the auto industry's big tech suppliers – showcased a concept for a dashboard with a thin screen running right across the car. When stationary or safe to do so, the entire dashboard pops up, creating a large screen, which the passenger can used to watch movies on. The so-called "QLED" display (that's Samsung terminology, adopted since the Korean giant acquired Harman) is stunning in its depth of colour and richness.
Open and start your car with your face
Samsung's iris reader and Apple's Face ID are making facial and eye recognition technology something we're increasingly comfortable with, and more used to in our everyday lives. But how about using it for your car? Byton's concept didn't have a key – instead you "Face ID" unlock the door. Gentex's mirror, shown here, reads your eyes to make sure only you (or someone you authenticate) can start the car.
We don't have Lyft in the UK, which is a car-hailing and ridesharing service like Uber, but it's a CES staple to get around from conference to conference. At the show, Lyft put on some self-driving cars – all distinctive white BMWs with orange wheels. These cars – complete with a supervising "driver" in the hot seat – were driving themselves to 22 destinations in Vegas.
Everyone's favourite Amazon voice-assistant will be a big automotive story in 2018. Companies like Panasonic and Harman (who supply a lot of the technology kit that's in today's cars) and car-makers like Byton and Ford all announced the integration of Alexa into the car. You'll be able to ask her to play music and get directions, just as you do at home via an Amazon Echo device. But in some cases (such as Panasonic's technology platforms) Alexa on-board is being deeply integrated, meaning you'll be able to voice-control aspects of the vehicle, too, like turning the temperature up, or rolling a window down.
Android Auto Wireless / Google Assistant
Fed up of having to plug your phone in to get Android Auto on the centre screen of your car? In some new products from 2018 you won't have to – you'll simply leave your phone in your pocket, or throw it in the centre bin, and then be able to pull up Android Auto or use the Google Assistant.