Las Vegas, Nevada. Not only home to the greatest entertainment in the world but, during CES, the latest and greatest technology. Since changing to a once-a-year format in 1998, CES has positioned itself at the forefront of consumer technology and over the years has built up a great automotive presence, now considered as one of the top five auto shows. In 2015, I met the Audi engineers who accomplished the first autonomous drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas. The following year, I rode in an autonomous car. Last year, despite some great technology on display, the main highlight was when the power went out.
This year, I went searching for the most amazing, exciting and entertaining automotive technology experience for Auto Futures.
CES covers 2.5 million net square feet of exhibit space. It’s huge. I refused to pay the $70 valet parking near the Las Vegas Convention Center, so had to park several blocks away and walk. After finally getting to the Convention Center and roaming around for the best automotive technology, I developed ‘Vegas throat’ from the dry desert air, giving my voice the ‘Leonard Cohen’ affect. After an exhausting day, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like a waitress who had just worked a double shift with a bad pair of tight shoes.
I overheard two automotive reporters talking about their favourite event at the show. It’s kind of like tourists who talk about seeing Celine Dion or The Beatles ‘Cirque du Soleil’ show in Vegas. The young reporter was bubbling over something with Audi; it reminded me of how kids talk about the rides at Disneyland. Once I finished a few more appointments, I headed over to Audi.
Lights, Camera, Action!
On my way, I noticed that Google was running a train filled with conventioneers through animatronic life scenes. A GM manager told me that it was cute. At the Intel Booth, I danced in front of a screen of characters from the movie Grease and did a few ‘bugaloos’ to the left and right as the dancers on the screen moved with me. I see what looks like a giant ball cage, with a rotating Samsung Galaxy S9 taking videos of volunteers for an orbital video with matching techno-pop music. I decided to show off my dance moves, which turned out to be a great commercial for Samsung. But these didn’t have anything to do with automotive…
Let’s see what’s going on at the Audi booth. A giant rotunda coliseum greets me, surrounded by an array of colour-changing LED light tubes that would fit right in with the Vegas skyline. But there are bright, colourful and distracting lights scattered all over Vegas, so let’s focus on the technology. Two Aphrodite statuesque models with off-shoulder white stretch tops and gold harem-style trousers greet me before Andreas Reich, Audi’s Executive Director Development of Connected Car and Infotainment, appeared for an interview.
“Audi has always offered excellent superb audio,” says Reich, “We were the first to offer Bose sound.” He gave me a brief history of all the different types of music, from SD, HD, digital and streaming, right up to the latest versions of in-car infotainment systems, starting with the 2017 Audi A8 which Reich says is more intelligent and acts as a personal assistant. “It can understand, ‘Drive to Michael’s’, please call him,” he says.
He explains that Audi has over 8,000 engineers working all over the world, so the company has a lot of time to be creative and think about what is next. There are often times when people are waiting in a parking lot or when they could be entertained. Reich himself hops in his car whenever he wants to listen to good-quality music.
“We have very cool engineers,” says Reich. And these “cool” Audi engineers have really delivered. In the booth, visitors can experience immersive entertainment. An Audi vehicle faces a video screen. The inhabitants of the vehicle a treated to a movie with all kinds of exciting characters flying through space and fighting monsters. The actuators move the car in sync while vibrations in the seat match what is happening on the screen and the air vents blow as the participants become part of the action. The woman in the passenger seat next to me giggles a lot. I must admit, I let out a few screams.
Saving the Galaxy
But wait, there’s more. It turns out that Audi’s latest electric vehicle, the Audi E-tron, is at SpeedVegas. The track with many twists and turns has been mapped out by Holoride, creating a 3D experience for attendees to enjoy. Passengers in the backseat wear VR headsets with both audio and video, immersing themselves in the action.
I was then driven in an Audi A8 over to SpeedVegas at the south strip. Whew, I couldn’t walk another step and my feet were screaming. During the ride, using a small tablet, I turned on the massagers in the luxurious seats. Time to relax.
At SpeedVegas, Mike Goslin, Vice President Disney Gaming and Interactive, told me he spent about a year working on the project, managing a team that uses traditional animation techniques that are then rendered in a game engine to form the five minute Audi experience.
I played ‘Rocket’s Rescue Run,’ a Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality(AR) gaming thrill ride guided by characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Characters Rocket Racoon and Iron Man, took me through their galaxy as I used a single button remote that destroyed many asteroids and saved the day. I felt part of the experience, feeling the force, spins, turns, up and downs with a pinch of galaxy sickness. However, the force turned out to be that I was being driven around the track at 95 mph!
Goslin said that designers of the experience matched the game to the twists and turns of the track. Now that’s entertainment!
The pain in my feet has finally disappeared. Now if I could just get my voice back…