In recent years, CES largely has usurped the North American International Auto Show in Detroit as the “first auto show of the year.” Automakers have used the annual Las Vegas shindig for all things consumer electronics to highlight the latest technology in vehicles.
So perhaps it was fitting that this year NAIAS, more commonly known as the “Detroit Auto Show,” looked a bit more like a technology trade show than a car show.
In addition to the major automakers’ press events highlighting vehicles that soon could be on the road and futuristic concept cars, this year’s auto show featured sessions on artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicle systems, vehicle security, and mobility.
The show floor at Detroit’s Cobo Hall featured numerous displays of tech.
NAIAS, which opened to the industry and press on Sunday, featured a keynote address by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who told attendees that the government will introduce updated guidelines this summer for autonomous vehicles. The update will be the third set of voluntary guidelines for autonomous vehicles issued by the federal government since it introduced the first set in 2016.
Chao called on automotive executives and the media to educate the public on the future of driving, noting that security and safety remain a concern.
“The public and the private sectors have an obligation to lead by safely developing, testing, and integrating this new technology into our transportation systems,” Chao said.
“We’ve got to work together to ensure that our country retains its eminent position as a global technology leader,” she added.
Safety and Security
One of this week’s biggest takeaways from the Detroit Auto Show was that automakers, including Ford and GM, will continue to work closely with tech companies such as Intel and BlackBerry in developing autonomous vehicle technologies.
However, it’s not clear whether the industry is heading down the right road — there may not be a market audience at the destination. Chao cited a recent AAA survey that found that 78 percent of Americans expressed fear of even riding in an autonomous vehicle.
On the other hand, just 47 percent of U.S. consumers who participated in a recent Deloitte survey felt that a driverless car would be unsafe. That represented a substantial drop from last year when 74 percent of those polled felt that autonomous vehicles would be unsafe.
BlackBerry, in particular, was quick to address the importance of security at the auto show. CEO John Chen on Monday introduced the company’s latest cybersecurity product, one designed specifically for vehicles. BlackBerry Jarvis can scan all software components within a car and then predict and even fix any vulnerabilities.
“Connected and autonomous vehicles require some of the most complex software ever developed, creating a significant challenge for automakers who must ensure the code complies with industry and manufacturer-specific standards while simultaneously battle-hardening very large and tempting attack surface for cybercriminals,” Chen said during the BlackBerry keynote session.
Those comments were echoed by Sandeep Chennakeshu, president of BlackBerry Technology Solutions.
The same security platform that was instrumental in making BlackBerry smartphones the preferred choice of government and military officials alike is being utilized with BlackBerry Jarvis.
“We’ve enhanced what made our handheld devices so secure and applied it,” Chennakeshu said during the BlackBery keynote address. “What differentiates us is you can keep adding engines to scan new codes. When you have 20,000 files from hundreds of parts suppliers, you have to know you can trust the integrity of the codes.”
Although the willingness of consumers to embrace the autonomous vehicle remains uncertain, NAIAS has already embraced the companies behind its development. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation played a major role in supporting Automobili-D, the second year for an event that brought more than 50 startups from around the world to Detroit.
The event, which runs through the first weekend of the public show, has been described as a crucial connector of mobility startups to automotive and mobility companies, suppliers, and related organizations.
These companies include firms that are working to develop technology in five categories: connected cars, autonomous driving, e-mobility, mobility services, and smart cities.
Universities and other centers of learning also were present at the Automobili-D, including the University of Michigan, Wayne State University in Detroit, and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. In total, this year’s Automobili-D event has attracted 83 exhibitors.
VR, Simulators, and Concepts
Perhaps one of the most notable ways that this year’s NAIAS embraced technology was in the use of simulators, including augmented and virtual reality. Normally at an auto show, all eyes are on the new cars, but this year a fair number of exhibits guided viewers’ eyes either to a screen or VR headset.
This isn’t the first year that VR has been featured at the show, but Mercedes and Ford each offered experiences that highlighted the design process as much as the actual driving experience.
Ford kept things a little old school in the simulation area, offering attendees a chance to ride in a RangerSimulator that resembled a high-end amusement park ride, providing a tactile experience to accompany the visuals.