Cars With Feelings: Forbes Africa In The Driving Seat

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The latest in automotive technology that’s rolling out, even cars with facial expressions and that you can talk to.

By Nafisa Akabor

Imagine a car that can speak to you, express moods and emotions, change its color, display your avatar on the window and automatically open the door when you approach?

We are not talking about a science fiction movie; this is what we experienced first-hand at the CES 2023 tech event and consumer technology show in Las Vegas in the first week of the
new year. This is how it is inside BMW’s new retro futuristic i Vision Dee concept electric car that was unveiled at CES, where CEO Oliver Zipse explained: “It is our vision of pushing the boundaries between physical and digital perception.” “Dee embodies the next level of human machine interaction, a concept that cannot be simply dismissed as science fiction because it will inspire our neue klasse,” said Zipse, referring to BMW’s new class of vehicles coming in 2025.

Despite its retro look, the EV highlighted the technology inside the car. Its name Dee refers to a ‘digital emotional experience’.

It seeks to be your companion by talking to you in natural language; expressing moods like joy, approval, or astonishment; and displaying nine facial expressions through the closed-off kidney grille.

Other cutting-edge tech experienced was as an advanced head-up display that takes over the entire windshield; a mixed reality slider that goes through a range of analogue and digital experiences; and an on-demand color changing E Ink exterior that supports 32 colors.

Once inside, it feels like you have entered another dimension. Experiencing the metaverse shuts you out from reality – the windows dim to transform into a magical world taking up most of the front of the vehicle. It will be interesting to see how BMW translates it into real world usage.

EVs took center-stage at CES 2023 and manufacturers were given considerably more floor space than before.

Another brand hoping to tap into our emotions is Sony Honda Mobility, with its ‘Afeela’ concept. CEO Yasuhide Mizuno explains:

“Afeela represents our concept of an interactive relationship where people feel the sensation of interactive mobility and where mobility can detect and understand people and society by utilizing sensing and AI technologies.

It has a unique “media bar” on the front bumper that displays vehicle name, and other information
like the weather or the car’s charging status. Its purpose is to connect with people outside the car.

The Afeela leverages Snapdragon’s digital chassis for key features like telematics, advanced driver assistance system and infotainment. It is kitted with 45 sensors and cameras and will have 800 TOPS (tera
operations per second) of maximum computing power for its self-driving technology.

Inside is a full width dash screen from side to side, and screens for back passengers. There will be a huge focus on entertainment thanks to its partnership with Fortnite creator Epic Games.

There were also hints that it could support PlayStation games.

The joint venture between two of the largest Japanese tech and auto companies promises the vehicle will make it to production and go on sale in North America in 2026. Meanwhile, Peugeot went all out with its Inception concept EV that has a feline-like stance with sharp angles and straight lines.

Boasting 500kW of power, the Inception has a 100kWh battery with dual electric motors that promises 800km of range from a single charge. It will support 225kW charging speeds and is equipped for wireless induction charging. It will go from 0-100km/h in less than three seconds.

Inside is its next-gen i-Cockpit with a ‘Hypersquare’ steering wheel that has touch controls on its four corners.

Without removing your hands from the wheel, you can access climate, navigation, multimedia, etc.
It supports level 4 autonomous driving and when activated, the Hypersquare retracts into the dashboard and a screen slides up from the floor. All very futuristic, and again, it will be interesting to see what makes it to production on Peugeot’s upcoming EVs.

While Mercedes-Benz didn’t unveil any new vehicles, it displayed its Vision EQXX EV concept that promises over 1,200km of range from a single charge. It is also regarded as the most efficient EV,
consuming 8.3kWh per 100km. It demoed the car on the streets of Las Vegas and made a bunch of announcements about where it’s headed.

It is the first company in the US to receive regulatory approval for level 3 autonomous driving, coming to Nevada and California in 2023.

Level 3 allows the vehicle to drive on its own for up to 60km/h speeds. Mercedes will also roll out EV charging stations at ultra-high speeds of 350kW, starting in the US, with other markets to follow. Its
plan is to have over 10 000 high-powered chargers rolled out globally by the end of the decade.

For an improved in-car sound experience, it partnered with Apple Music and Universal Music Group to offer spatial audio with Dolby Atmos, the first non-Apple device to do so.

Volkswagen showed off the electric ID.7, which has been rebranded from a previous ID.Aero concept revealed in China. It is the company’s first electric sedan, following a hatchback, three SUVs and a van.

The ID.7 has a smart camouflage exterior that lights up and changes color to match the rhythm from a sound system. It features 40 layers of paint and has 22 areas that can be controlled individually. The vehicle promises up to 700km of range from a single charge and will be one of 10 EVs that VW will launch by 2026.

Other features include a 15-inch screen, an augmented reality headup display, smart air vents and the ability to talk to the car. If you say, “hello Volkswagen, my hands are cold”, it will switch on the heated
steering wheel and direct warm air to your hands.

CES remains a playground for prototypes that may or may not make it to production, but the emphasis on EVs was hard to miss. It’s only a matter of time before we see some of these technologies come to life, with some already showing promise.