Car companies didn’t start out exhibiting at CES; they started coming to the show to scout for new, inventive consumer technology that might make its way into the car. Even though car companies have made CES their own over the last decade or so by plugging their own wares, CES is still a hotbed of consumer innovation. As an homage to the original auto intent, here are a couple things outside of automotive that are pretty cool – maybe even a little bit out there – that may one day make the car a better place.

3D immersive sound. Demoed by students from the University of South Hampton, the AudioScenic project allows for a fully immersive 3D audio experience with an array of speakers in a single bar. You might argue that the car already has speakers surrounding the occupants, so why bother? Simply put – existing audio setups can’t fine-tune the sound to each ear. AudioScenic tracks the user’s head position and uses that to form independent audio beams to each ear, making for an amazingly lifelike audio experience. With this technology, you could personalize the audio experience for each passenger, letting everyone hear their own music – without needing earphones. Each person would hear sounds in an immersive 3D soundscape that would change as they turned their head, creating the illusion of being in a concert hall, a jungle, or any other sound-rich environment. While this could enable cinematic-like entertainment effects, it could also be used for a number of safety applications. Alerts positioned in 3D space would give a driver blind-spot (or other) warnings that would immediately cue them to the actual direction of the problem.

Quiet On earbuds

Snore prevention earphones. While we’re on the topic of audio, noise cancelling earphones from QuietOn were on display, designed to give people a quiet rest from their snoring bedmates. That got us thinking – if carmakers want to deliver personalized experiences for everyone in the car, it’s not too hard to imagine the family minivan coming with several sets of bluetooth earpieces. They could charge in special docks in the car and each earpiece would be linked to the car via individual profiles, letting each passenger travel in their own isolated bubble or letting audio pass through for conversations as desired. As an example, one person could restfully nap on a long autonomous car ride while the kids watch loud action movies.

Watergen in the car

Water extraction. A company called Watergen was demoing a small unit that quickly extracted clean, pure water out of the humidity in the air. While that might not work in Death Valley, it’d be perfect for nearly everywhere else that has at least 20 percent humidity in the air. This type of unit in a car could ensure users always have clean water at their disposal – no need to remember those pesky water bottles. Heck, we already have eight cup holders per car, why not have them automatically fill our water bottles too?

Rollable display. The LG LOED TV R is a small discrete box that unfurls a 4K 65” display on command. It’s also got a “line” mode, where only a foot or so unrolls, creating a long, horizontal display … like an instrument cluster maybe? This could enable the car to have a screen that could roll out at maximum height when watching movies is more important than looking out the windshield, yet roll back to “cluster height” when someone actually wants to drive. Windshield angle still needs to be solved, but sounds like a pretty cool application to us. 

Massage chair. Massage chairs are all the rage at CES 2019, and even Lamborghini has gotten into the act with their own $30,000 branded massage chair. We understand that Lamborghini and autonomous don’t really belong in the same sentence, but wouldn’t a massage chair be the perfect accessory for an autonomous ride? You know the instant we have Level 5 cars on the streets, it won’t be long before there’s a massage chair bolted into one, so why not make it a luxury option? (A few automakers have massage seat options in top-end cars but nothing like this.) Maybe Lamborghini didn’t go far enough – just pop one of their full-body Shiatsu massage chairs into an Urus and we’ll be all set.

Sure, some of this is out there – for now. But in five or 10 years, maybe it’ll all make sense. Just like your own in-car music seemed a bit loopy in the 60’s when Chrysler added a phonograph to the car.  Have you seen some emerging tech at CES?  Come see us at the show; we’d love to talk about how your favorite new product could change the automotive experience!

Brian Debler Principal HMI Engineer

Brian bridges between the creative teams that handle user experience and the technical teams that will implement them, all while working with both to meet customer needs.