LAS VEGAS -- It’s easy to overlook the little guy.
In today’s issue of Automotive News, we laid out the most meaningful news and cars we’re expecting to come out of the International Consumer Electronics Show this week. Naturally, our rundown was dominated by huge car companies.
During a keynote address here on Wednesday, General Motors CEO Mary Barra will introduce the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt and talk about GM’s new $500 million investment in the ride-sharing service Lyft. And tomorrow, Volkswagen, humiliated by the admission that it cheated its way around emissions standards for diesel vehicles, will unveil a concept for an all-electric Microbus as a symbol of its future.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of companies, from multibillion-dollar suppliers to untested startups, are converging on Las Vegas this week to show off the technology that could define the cars of the future.
Here are five under-the-radar companies that deserve a closer look.
California-based Gracenote is best known for its trove of digital metadata. By reading the data embedded in an audio track and consulting Gracenote’s database, a car audio system can identify the track and display appropriate information and artwork.
This week at CES, Gracenote is introducing software that tailors the audio system’s equalizer settings to the track being played -- essentially, cranking the bass or the treble when it suits the music. It works with both high-fidelity formats such as CDs and low-fidelity formats such as downloaded MP3 files, streaming audio or satellite radio.
Gracenote hopes automakers will embrace its service as they have Harman’s Clari-Fi technology, which artificially fills in gaps in low-fidelity music sources to produce richer sound. With customers gravitating to low-fi formats, digital solutions such as these are becoming more useful.
With its high-tech sensors, Quanergy, a 3-year-old startup based in a Silicon Valley industrial park, finds itself smack in the middle of the rush to self-driving vehicles.
Quanergy is using CES to introduce what it describes as the world’s first solid-state lidar sensor for self-driving vehicles. To date, most of the lidar sensors used for experimental self-driving vehicles have relied on spinning beams, and those moving parts add cost, packaging challenges and greater risk of failure.
Quanergy says its sensor design, developed with partners such as Mercedes-Benz and Delphi, solves many of those problems because it has no moving parts. This week, the company will show off its sensors built into a Mercedes GLE450 AMG Coupe.
Spurred by Tesla Motors, automakers are rushing to outfit their vehicles with over-the-air updates to add features and patch software glitches. Last year, supplier Harman acquired the Israeli software company Redbend, which got its start delivering updates for cellphones, to deliver them.
The field keeps growing. This week in Las Vegas, Movimento, a Michigan company that delivers software updates to vehicles as they roll down the assembly line, will demonstrate over-the-air updates that it plans to deliver to production vehicles starting in the 2018 model year. More impressive: The company also will show a smartphone-based system that would allow vehicles without built-in cellular connections to be retroactively updated over Bluetooth.
For older vehicles in desperate need of an update to their built-in software (think, for instance, of Jeep’s security glitch last year) that could be a godsend.
First automakers and suppliers connected cars to smartphones. Then they connected them to the cloud. And now, with the so-called Internet of Things gaining momentum, they’re working hard to connect them to our homes. But if they don’t hurry, aftermarket companies may get there first.
Vinli, a Dallas-based startup with funding from Cox Automotive and Samsung, sells a $199 device with a dedicated cellular connection that plugs into the OBD-II port under the steering wheel. This week at CES, it will show a feature called Home Connect that speaks to Samsung’s home electronics. When a driver with a Vinli gadget pulls into the driveway, the home springs to life -- the lights turn on, the furnace kicks in, and the security system disarms. Vinli isn’t the only company chasing this goal, but its new aftermarket gadget is worth a look as an example of where the industry is headed.
No one does razzle-dazzle like Las Vegas, and no one will deliver as much Vegas glitz at CES as the tuner shop Rinspeed, led by Swiss designer Frank Rinderknecht.
Rinspeed, known for the concepts that it unveils at the Geneva auto show, is using CES to unveil an outlandish concept for an autonomous car called the Etos.
How outlandish, you ask? For starters, it has a landing pad on the roof for a drone. The steering wheel is retractable for when the driver needs room to read a newspaper, and the infotainment system, displayed on a pair of curved 21.5-inch screens, makes Tesla’s tabletlike navigation screen look puny.
Yes, it’s silly. Who cares? Viva Las Vegas!