Power Players

Future of cars includes watching a movie while your car drives you to work and turning your car into a Disney theme park with VR

The interior of the Byton M-Byte features a 48-inch video screen.
Source: Paul Eisenstein
The interior of the Byton M-Byte features a 48-inch video screen.

Have you been dreaming of a future where your car drives you to work while you watch a movie from the driver's seat? What about a virtual reality rig that makes you feel like you're on a theme park ride while your self-driving car takes you where you want to go?

Those ideas might sound like they're straight out of "The Jetsons," but those features are already on display at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where the world's biggest automakers are showing off some of the futuristic features they're developing for autonomous vehicles.

Audi and Disney putting VR in the car

An artist's rendering of the Holoride experience.
Source: Holoride
An artist's rendering of the Holoride experience.

German automaker Audi teamed up with Disney's gaming division to showcase a new in-car entertainment system, called Holoride, that uses virtual reality headsets to turn "vehicles into moving theme parks," according to the system's website. The Audi-developed Holoride uses a mixture of VR and autonomous driving technology to create virtual reality adventures that sync with the movement of the vehicle.

At CES, Disney created a demo for Holoride called "Rocket's Rescue Run," based on Marvel's "Avengers" movie franchise, where a person wearing a VR headset feels like they're racing through space, shooting at asteroids and enemy ships, along with characters like Rocket Racoon and Iron Man.

Until self-driving cars become fully autonomous (possibly by 2021, based on Audi's stated goals), Holoride will have to be used in cars' passenger seats, but the gameplay still matches up with the movements of your vehicle in order to avoid causing motion sickness, and entering your destination means the game will be tailored to the length of your trip.

Hyundai's "Virtual Touch"

An interior view of a Hyundai Mobis autonomous concept car with gesture-based "virtual touch."
Source: Hyundai Mobis
An interior view of a Hyundai Mobis autonomous concept car with gesture-based "virtual touch."

Other features on display among the autonomous vehicles at CES this year include the "car of tomorrow" displayed by Hyundai's Mobis division. The South Korean company is showing off a concept car that features "Virtual Touch," a gesture-based system that would allow the car's driver and passengers to point their fingers or wave their hands to navigate an interactive screen in the vehicle's windshield.

In other words, with the wave of a hand, you'll be able to switch to autonomous driving mode from manual (which will deactivate the steering wheel) and then select a movie or other entertainment to watch on the inside of your vehicle's windshield while the car drives itself. The Hyundai concept car also features facial recognition technology that uses artificial intelligence to assess the driver's emotional state to change the vehicle's interior lighting based on the driver's mood. That technology could help "avoid potential accidents among disengaged or distracted drivers/passengers," Hyundai Mobis said in a press release.

Such features would only be available to the public along with the highest levels of autonomous driving technology, which Hyundai hopes to start rolling out by 2025, the company has said.

BMW gets touchy-feely

The interior of BMW's Vision iNEXT autonomous vehicle.
Source: BMW Group
The interior of BMW's Vision iNEXT autonomous vehicle.

Meanwhile, BMW is showing off its own concept car, the BMW Vision iNEXT, with a vision of both luxury and autonomy. The vehicle is a self-driving luxury car that's been described as a "living room on wheels," with carpeted seats and a wooden table, all of which feature touch sensors that allow you to control everything from music to connected devices by touching any part of the car's interior.

The BMW Vision iNEXT also features a voice-powered intelligent personal assistant that BMW says is "seamlessly interlinked with BMW Connected, smart devices and the smart home network, enabling drivers to make purchases or close the windows of their house, for example, by voice command from their vehicle."

BMW expects to put a fully autonomous version of the concept car on the road by 2021.

Mercedes-Benz's vision

Mercedes-Benz has its own futuristic self-driving concept car at CES this year, and the German automaker's Vision Urbanetic autonomous vehicle is made for transporting large amounts of cargo or people (it can be made to fit up to 12 people at once) for short distances around cities and towns.

In other words, the car can either be a sort of cargo delivery vehicle, or a ride-sharing taxi for large groups, and it has switchable bodies that can be changed out for each situation. In the latter case, the Vision Urbanetic's seats are arranged in a circle, with a two-level bench in the back.

A Tesla rival?

Concept version of Byton M-Byte, set to be 1st vehicle to go into production in China this year.
Source: Paul Eisenstein
Concept version of Byton M-Byte, set to be 1st vehicle to go into production in China this year.

Meanwhile, as Tesla was making news at CES because of a robotics company's PR stunt, a competitor to Elon Musk's electric automaker was showcasing some of its newest models. China's Byton showed off its M-Byte electric vehicle, which offers Level 3 autonomy (allowing drivers to go hands-free on most highways, while remaining ready to take the wheel in an emergency) and comes with a 48-inch touch screen that stretches across the car's dashboard. Byton is also displaying its K-Byte premium sedan, which also features large touch screens and will offer Level 4 autonomous driving (meaning you could conceivably complete an entire trip without a human touching the wheel) by 2021.

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