Smart cars with Silicon Valley tech dominate CES

I’ve spent the last few days in Las Vegas with nearly 200,000 of my closest friends, looking at the latest tech gear on display at CES.

CES used to stand for “Consumer Electronics Show,” but – as is the trend – it’s now known only by its initials. Based on what I saw this week, the “C” could stand for “car.”

CES takes place about a week before the big Detroit auto show, but that didn’t stop car companies from coming to CES to show off their latest technology, ranging from nifty audio systems to prototypes of fully autonomous cars.

Ford made news both at CES and the Monday before, when it announced it was canceling a $1.6 billion factory in Mexico and instead building a $700 million factory in Michigan for its electric and autonomous vehicles. But even though Ford may build those cars in Michigan, the automaker is building in Palo Alto the technology that goes inside the cars.

Toyota Research Institute also is located in Palo Alto, and other car makers have similar labs in Silicon Valley.

One reason for the nexus between Detroit and Silicon Valley is the ecosystem of local hardware and software companies and talented engineers that are playing a major supporting role. Just about anyone who walks or drives around Mountain View has come across those self-driving Google cars that are being tested on local roadways with a “safety driver” on board to comply with current law.

But Intel and Nvidia also are in the game. At a CES keynote, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang showed off Xavier, a computer that can be the “brains” of self-driving cars by processing data from all the car’s sensors and using artificial intelligence to make those all-important driving decisions, which we human drivers now must make as we pilot our cars.

Intel announced a partnership with BMW and Mobileye to test autonomous vehicles on public roads later this year. Mobileye, founded in 1999, is a pioneer in what the company calls “vision-based advanced collision avoidance systems.”

Chrysler introduced an all-electric concept car with a 250-mile range. The Portal uses “more than 20 available technologies designed to engage, inform and connect the driver and passengers,” according to Chrysler.

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