Recently though, heavy industry has been booking floor space for the latest automotive designs and concept cars. This year brought more than a dozen new electric vehicles (EVs) to CES. Sony brought the Version 2.0 of its VISION-S SUV, and BMW brought a car that’s able to change its color at the push of a button.

Some of the automotive innovations could have significant futures. Mercedes showed a prototype Vision EQXX with batteries that are half the size of and 30% lighter than those in the current Mercedes-Benz EQS sedan. The prototype can get 620 miles on a charge, providing twice the range of most current EVs in production and 100 miles farther than the top performer today, the 2022 Lucid Air Dream Edition with a highest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-estimated range of 520 miles and an equally serious base price of $169,000.

The Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup attracted a lot of attention. It’s scheduled for production in 2023, and it will be more powerful than the top of the current V8 Silverado line of internal combustion models with 664 horsepower, 780 pound-feet of torque, and the quickness to sprint to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

Togg, Turkey’s Automobile Joint Venture Group, exhibited a model styled by the legendary Ferrari and Alfa Romeo designer Pininfarina, and VinFast from Vietnam brought three new electric SUVs and a plan for battery leasing for owners. The company has David Beckham as brand ambassador, and it has promised to have a competitive dealership in the United States later this year.

The Sony VISION-S 02. Image courtesy Sony.

Sony showed a concept EV with autonomous features two years ago at CES 2020. It was called the Vision-S. In December 2020, it began road testing the Vision in Europe, and according to a press release, that included “verification testing of the safety and user experience of the imaging and sensing technology installed inside and outside the vehicle, and the human-machine interface (HMI) system.” In April 2021, it began 5G driving tests.

This year at CES, Sony announced that the company is entering a new phase to accelerate and add to the mobility experience. In spring 2022, it will establish an operating company called Sony Mobility Inc.

Image courtesy Sony

The SUV prototype (VISION-S 02) that Sony premiered at this year’s CES uses the same EV/cloud platform as the Vision-S 01. The evolving entertainment experience within “utilize[s] the large interior space and variations of a 7-seater, [which] will promote the accommodation of a large variety of lifestyles.” The edge-to-edge dash display is terminated at both ends with monitors displaying live feeds from the rearview mirrors. Above the driver, Time of Flight sensors can authenticate and monitor the driver and watch over the passengers. The system supports intuitive gestures and voice commands for control over the interface.

Sony’s Time of Flight sensors verify and monitor the driver. Image courtesy Sony.

Seat speakers create a three-dimensional sound space, and an integrated digital video service enables playback on the front panoramic screen and individual back-seat speakers. You can play PlayStation games through a remote connection to a console at home as well as stream games from the cloud.

Safety systems on the VISION-S can recognize and analyze the surrounding environments in real time with sensors installed completely around the vehicle. These include high-sensitivity, high-resolution complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors and light detection and ranging (LiDAR). The press information explains that Sony “is currently conducting functional verification tests in Europe toward the release of Level 2+ advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) on public roads.” Level 2 is classified by SAE International as partial automation in which the car can control steering and acceleration with constant human monitoring.

Click to enlarge. Table courtesy Synopsys.

Software security company Synopsys Inc. explains, “Here the automation falls short of self-driving because a human sits in the driver’s seat and can take control of the car at any time. Tesla Autopilot and Cadillac (General Motors) Super Cruise systems both qualify as Level 2.”


But perhaps the most unexpected and out-there innovation at this year’s show was BMW’s iX Flow SUV with a remote-control paint job and switching wheel trims. A push of a button is all that’s needed to change your snowy white Flow to a black SUV.

The BMW iX Flow in transition.

A YouTube video by BMWBLOG provides a demo and offers reasons why you might want this feature.

The iX Flow system uses electronic paper technology from E Ink to make this work. The same physics you activate when you turn the pages on your Kindle or Nook e-reader operates in the embedded electronic paper/paint of the vehicle. The fundamental process isn’t new; it was invented by two students at the MIT Media Lab in 1997 and has since been used in e-books, public signs and bulletin boards, price markers on grocery shelves, note-taking tablets, smart watches, and smartphones. It’s an ingenious imitation of the traditional method for printing with black dots.

Microcapsules of negatively charged black particles and positively charged white particles, both about the width of a human hair, float in a clear liquid, sandwiched between protective sheets of film. Transistors in the film create electrodes, and different voltages above and below the capsules lift black or white particles to the top in configured designs for print or graphics. Mixtures of white and black near but not at the top can appear in shades of gray. A turn of the page reconfigures the pattern, and you think you’re on a different page—same page but new patterns made by some capsules shifting as others remain in place, as in the white margins or the type that displays the chapter and page.

The BMW iX Flow is a truly imaginative new use of electronic paper, but seeing this in production models is unlikely. It’s expensive, and the surfaces are prone to damage. Would it work if the technology for full color in electronic paper could be transferred to the surface of the cars? It might get more serious attention from the engineers, but the current development of color electronic paper makes that seem even less possible. The E Ink company has two color systems, Triton and Kaleido, but a quick look at the readers available with these technologies shows why many-tone SUVs aren’t in the near future. The reduced resolution and brightness have, in E Ink’s words, “limited the popularity of the first generation of these technologies.” In a word, the screens produce what look like watercolors alongside the vivid LCD screens of ordinary tablets.

What might be more likely to succeed is BMW’s 31" widescreen monitor that can glide down from above in the back seat. That feature was also included in the chameleon iX Flow. The instant-change paint job might have been good theater for the electronics show, but it’s impractical at this point for deliveries to dealerships.

It’s probably a safe guess to assume that the automotive section of CES will continue to grow because the investment in the electronics for performance, safety, and entertainment inside and outside future vehicles is blossoming.

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