Most people who know a thing or two about technology have heard about CES. It’s a big, yearly tech party thrown by the Consumer Technology Association. And it’s played host to everything from the first iPhone to today’s top consumer wearables.

But in recent years, there have been more and more cars turning up at the show. Just last year, BMW put on a big showcase for its fabulous new i8 electric sports car. But there have been many other examples.

The question is why. Why have there been so many cars at a show that one usually associated with consumer electronics and gadgets? Well, the answer to that question is actually a lot simpler than you might think. Essentially, cars themselves have become gadgets. Yes, they still have all of the mechanical, old-school technologies that they’ve had for decades. But what really sets the modern car apart is its ability to connect with the wider world like never before. In a sense, it’s become a platform, like the computer and the phone before it. And only now are innovators in the sector beginning to realize what it all means.

Autonomous Driving

Volvo S60

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Right now the biggest name in the autonomous driving arena is a company called Mobileye. They produce dozens of different sensors to helping cars drive themselves in dangerous situations. But at last year’s CES, nVidia, maker of graphics cards, announced it too was moving into the space. This represents a sea-change in the race toward autonomy. Mobileye, for all its positives, is only a niche player. But Nvidia is a global, billion dollar giant. And it’s been developing hardware for almost two decades. It’s entry signals that there’s serious money to be made in the autonomous space.

Nvidia GPU

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Autonomous cars are a big deal for consumers. As legal firms like Scheiner Law point out, people regularly go to prison for driving offenses. However, when occupants of a car aren’t actually responsible for its movements, the threat of legal sanction goes away. On top of that, drivers get a level of convenience that simply isn’t possible with the cars we have today. For consumers, it’s a win-win. And it’s comparable, from a utility perspective, to what we already see with smartphones.

Human-Machine Interfaces

Ford FocusOf course, actually being able to interact with apps in a car environment is important. If they’re going to become part of the tech ecosystem, our vehicles are going to have to support our apps.

Thus, it’s no surprise that carmakers all over the world are moving toward including apps in infotainment systems. We’ve already seen Ford’s Sync 3 system and the AppLink platform. But we’re also going to get interface changes appropriate for driving. Ford, for instance, is working on integrating its Sync 3 tech with home automation technologies. The idea is that drivers will be able to give their car voice commands as they’re driving home. And the car will them communicate with smart devices in their home to prepare for their arrival. If it’s cold, for instance, a driver could issue a command and the car will tell a home appliance to switch on. You can do this from your smartphone today, of course. But it’s not safe to do so while driving.

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