High Tech at High Speeds: Cars of the Future at CES


Cars at CES have recently started sporting technology that rivals anything else at the show. HowStuffWorks had a chance to check out some cars at CES 2016, and here's what we found.

Ford and Amazon Partnership

Our first stop was Ford, which before the show opened had been rumored to be partnering with Google. Everyone expected to see an autonomous Ford vehicle powered by Google's technology. We were all wrong: Ford actually forged a partnership with Amazon.

Amazon has a voice concierge interface called Alexa. It's similar to other voice recognition applications like Siri, Cortana and Google's product (which bucks the trend by not having a woman's name). Alexa works with Amazon's Echo product, which is sort of a media playback gadget, organizational product and smart device control system all wrapped into one.

Ford wants to link home automation devices like Amazon Echo and Wink with its vehicles through Ford SYNC. Alexa is the name of that voice concierge interface.
Ford wants to link home automation devices like Amazon Echo and Wink with its vehicles through Ford SYNC. Alexa is the name of that voice concierge interface.
Ford

So how does it work with Ford? It will be active in the cabin of the vehicle, allowing you to use voice commands to play media on the entertainment system. You can also get real-time updates on your car's condition and performance. It can also sync with your home smart systems, allowing you to control devices while in your car. Imagine driving up to your house and saying, “Alexa, open the garage.” Or you can even ask Alexa to start up your car while you're still in the house, getting the interior to just the right temperature before you head out.

VW's BUDD-e

We next headed over to Volkswagen, a company that went into CES with a huge challenge, given the clean diesel scandal. Perhaps as a way to deflect some of that ire, Volkswagen introduced a concept vehicle called the BUDD-e. It's an electric bus concept, and it's pretty nifty.

Volkswagen's BUDD-e concept van
Volkswagen's BUDD-e concept van
Volkswagen of America

The BUDD-e has two motors, one for the front wheels and one for the back. The dashboard looks like it's a series of tablets laid next to each other with a steering wheel poking out from it. Instead of wing mirrors, the bus has cameras mounted where mirrors would be and displays to show the view (no more mirror adjusting!). There's even a surface upon which you can charge compatible electronics through wireless induction. The whole thing is outlined in lights and gives the vehicle an almost retro futuristic look. It's definitely a striking design.

A look inside Volkswagen's BUDD-e concept van
A look inside Volkswagen's BUDD-e concept van
Volkswagen of America

According to The Verge, BUDD-e's battery is capable of holding enough of a charge to allow for a 373-mile driving range (600 kilometers). The Verge is quick to point out that real-world driving would likely see a much more modest driving range, however. 

And like Ford, Volkswagen is trying to pair the smart car with the smart home. The BUDD-e would be able to synchronize with a home's own systems, prompting lights to come on and air conditioning to kick in as you drive toward your house. It also has a compartment that can be used as a package drop box, so incoming deliveries could be stored in a safe container attached to the car rather than left in the open. Authorized delivery companies would be able to open it with a digital key, the company says.

It's important to remember that BUDD-e is still just a concept car at this phase. We may never see an actual version of it on the roads, though surely some of the technology on display in the concept will make its way into future VW models.

Faraday Future

Our last stop on our quick tour was Faraday. This is a company that received tons of buzz leading into CES 2016. No one was really sure what was going on. It was as if an Internet startup company had decided to get into the car manufacturing business. It seemed brash and incredibly ambitious. But the vehicle on display turned a lot of heads.

The cockpit of the Faraday Future FFZero1 electric concept car at CES
The cockpit of the Faraday Future FFZero1 electric concept car at CES
Steve Marcus/Reuters/Corbis

It's an electric race car concept that looks like it could fit right into a science fiction film like "TRON" or "Minority Report." The sleek design, cockpit styling and lights made it seem otherworldly. And the most exciting thing about the car was that it's actually just an example of what the company wants to do using a modular electric vehicle platform.

A Faraday spokesman explained to us that the real innovation in the company's approach is that they have built a foundation that can be modified to serve as the base of any type of vehicle. It's all in the battery design: The battery is composed of modules. For a vehicle like an SUV, you'll want more battery modules to handle the demands put on the car. A subcompact would need far less juice, so you could use the same platform but with fewer battery modules. Faraday claims that even the drivetrain is simple to modify in the design phase. And the company could design a vehicle so that it's autonomous.

The genius behind this approach is it allows for rapid prototyping and development of different styles of vehicles. Typically, a vehicle design goes through several years from concept to product. But Faraday was able to produce the race car concept model in just 18 months. So while we were all drooling over the sleek electric car that looks like it's going fast while staying still, the real story is that an upstart company is attempting to disrupt an entrenched auto industry.

These are just a few examples of the auto technology on display at CES. There were other examples of connected cars, fuel cell vehicles, driverless technology and more. It looks like as if future of driving is going to get really interesting soon.