Bringing owls to Las Vegas?


The new year has barely begun, and the innovations are coming fast and furious. At the CES in Las Vegas. What could owls have to do with the future of the automobile? The innovation scouts at Mercedes-Benz Cars, Procurement & Supplier Quality have found out.

Rain boots would not have gone amiss. A downpour in the middle of the Nevada desert put not only the hotel entrances underwater, but also the Google pavilion in the outdoor area of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. “Siri, let it rain!” someone must have shouted. In several of the halls, the electricity kept going out, reminding the visitors that electronics only work with electricity.

4,000 exhibitors, including 475 automobile suppliers. More than ever before. Ten years ago, the CES was mainly about toasters, washing machines and CD players. “That has changed completely in the last ten years. The CES has become a “must-attend” event for the purchasers and quality engineers in the automobile industry”, explains Klaus Zehender, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Procurement & Supplier Quality (MP). “For one, because of the rising number of automobile suppliers, but also because of the many startups.” A cornucopia of innovation in Las Vegas. This was why the MP scouts wanted to take a look.

What does the owl say?

Everywhere you looked, there were thousands of amazing things to see. Sometimes you had to ask just to understand what they were for. Like, who brought these little white owls to Las Vegas? They definitely didn’t fly here by themselves. Answer: Ling Technology. Software company from China. The little white owl is called Luka, and it is a computer that can read stories out loud to children. Luka know 50,000 picture books by memory. He only needs to glance at the pictures in the books, and he starts telling the story. It’s an idea that could also be carried over to cars. While driving, the cameras react to buildings, and the on-board computer reads out the corresponding information. Why not?

CES 2018 - Luka by Ling Technologies
This owl is a computer. He knows 50,000 picture books and reads the corresponding story aloud.

Very interesting for the innovation scouts: The booths of the display manufacturers. Displays not only of all sizes and with 8K resolution. Also in all shapes, rollable, with sound without speakers and haptic feedback. Ekhard Kaltenbrunner, Director of MP/E: “Among the displays, we saw many options for the automobiles of the future. Larger, more flexible, thinner. Yes, and maybe displays will also replace one or another speaker in the future.” A topic then: Innovative interior concepts. These are supposed to give passengers a new driving experience. Especially with autonomous driving. The classical seating arrangement with a driver, passenger and rear bench seat will become obsolete. And the side windows in the automobile of the future can be used for much more than just looking out of.

Everywhere at the CES, it was very clear: In the future, cars will drive autonomously. Small startups demonstrated the newest related developments in laser technology. The large vendors built simulators. Autonomous taxis drove along the streets of Las Vegas, though still with a human minder in the driver’s seat. And as in previous years, more than just a trend: Virtual and augmented reality. Today, you no longer dive into virtual reality with only a special headset; your fingers and other real objects are also integrated. Augmented reality connects more and more digital elements with reality.

Out of the 4,000 exhibitors at the CES, there were of course a few ideas from the digital world that won’t find their way into a car tomorrow. Like wireless battery charging, even over longer distances. Even startups, whose innovations do not seem useful at first glance, met with great interest. That’s just how it is with creative ideas. Sometimes, their time has just not yet come.