6 cool things from CES

LAS VEGAS — CES showcases a lot of new technology every year, much of which will never make it into production.

But some of the coolest stuff we saw at the technology-themed trade show could end up on the road in the next couple of years. There were some wild ideas, such as a flying taxi and dog-shaped robots. But much of the new offerings from suppliers and automakers are tamer and will likely keep advancing the development of self-driving cars.

Here are our picks for some of the coolest auto tech shown in Las Vegas last week.

So many mobility developments involved scooters and e-bikes in 2018. Might the latest future transportation developments occur at the other end of the mobility spectrum in 2019?

One of the standouts at CES was the unveiling of the Bell Nexus flying taxi. While it’d be easy to chalk this concept up as emblematic of the far-fetched fanfare that CES usually serves, something like this vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft could someday find the skies.

Powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system that powers six ducted fans, the Nexus has a payload of 1,000 pounds and can carry four passengers and a human pilot. The inclusion of space for a human pilot in the cabin is acknowledgment that the idea of autonomous air taxis carrying humans remains far away, and Bell is pursuing a more near-term path.

Uber is a potential partner for Bell, as it considers how to deploy air taxis. But the longtime helicopter company, known for pushing Chuck Yeager through the sound barrier in the X-1 and, more recently, cooking up the V-22 Osprey, is further exploring partnerships with cities and other partners geared toward operational aspects of delivering air-taxi service. Bell is also exploring test sites.

It’s interesting to consider that as urban areas seek to solve traffic congestion problems, two of the most novel solutions involve either drilling down — Elon Musk’s Boring Co. — or reaching to the skies in air taxis. Expectations perhaps still should be grounded, but it’s not every year at CES that there’s a mobility prototype that delivers sizzle and substance.

Executives with the company said they will have more than 40 trucks on the road in the United States by midyear, and they’ll be running routes in Arizona and Texas. Already, the company is running as many as five commercial routes per day in these locations.

TuSimple announced a partnership with Cummins that portends big things in the self-driving trucking realm. Together, the two companies will work to integrate powertrain with autonomous technology. Considering how engine braking is both an everyday and important aspect of truck operations, this seems like a partnership that should be a significant technical step in the advent of autonomous trucking.

Trucking is a $740 billion industry, and the American Trucking Associations projects a current shortage of 50,000 qualified drivers. The latest Federal Automated Vehicles Policy laid regulatory groundwork for the arrival of these trucks on public roads. As self-driving trucks roll out in the next few years, look for TuSimple to be among the front-runners.

Being called a backseat driver may soon become a compliment rather than an insult.

Veoneer’s autonomous test car, LIV, short for Learning Intelligent Vehicle, can be driven from anywhere in the car using a smartphone.

It is possible to accelerate and steer the car with the phone, which we did from the backseat with limited success — it was more difficult than it sounds.

A green dot on the phone screen accelerates and decelerates the car, while a circle on the screen controls the steering.

LIV can also park itself using a system called Autonomous Valet Parking, which includes Veoneer’s hardware and software from Zenuity, a joint venture between Volvo Cars and Autoliv.

The suppliers aim to offer a system that allows the driver to exit the car near a store entrance and send the vehicle to find a parking space. The system can also be used to have the car retrieve the driver at the store’s entrance.

Continental showed a delivery robot that can climb stairs, ring the doorbell and even dance. The ANYmal, which looks like a cross between a spider and a dog, is from Swiss firm ANYbotics. Continental says it’s ready to transfer and scale automotive technology to meet robot manufacturers’ requirements because delivery robots will need the same solutions that the supplier is developing for autonomous cars.

The aim is to use the CUbE and the ANYmal to improve the delivery of goods through better use of capacity and shorter idle times.

Continental says that the demand for solutions to transport goods is even bigger than the need to transport people in densely populated areas. Continental is looking to address the problem by providing sensors, environment perception and modeling, localization, positioning, situation analysis, decision-making and mechatronic actuators.

Douglas A. Bolduc contributed to this report.

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