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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Some of the biggest surprises at CES came from big-name companies that seemed to stray from their traditional expertise: Sony debuted an electric car, Hyundai introduced a flying taxi and Toyota launched an entire city.

Why it matters: The mobility mash-up shows how multiple industries are converging around their desire to own the transportation experience for consumers — whether they are riding alone, or with strangers, with a robot behind the wheel or soaring over cities.

The big picture: CES has become an important venue to introduce what's next in transportation. This year it was about personalizing the ride to make people's lives better, even in a potentially shared driverless car or flying taxi.

  • Sony surprised many with its electric concept car, the Vision-S, showcasing its 360° immersive audio system and panoramic entertainment screen stretching across the front dashboard.
  • Hyundai, fresh off a $4 billion joint venture with Aptiv on self-driving cars, upped the ante on future mobility with its new air taxi concept that will someday allow you to summon a ride using Uber's app.
  • Toyota's Woven City will be a living laboratory to explore how humans and robots can thrive together in a hydrogen fuel cell-powered environment built from the ground up.

There are complications, as Axios' Sara Fisher points out, like who owns the data and how connectivity will work, but that potentially lucrative relationship with the traveling consumer has everyone piling into the mobility industry.

Some other examples from CES:

  • Uber wants to lock people into using its app. In Denver — and now, Las Vegas — customers can use Uber to plan their multi-modal journey and even buy public transit tickets, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva writes.
  • Amazon aims to get its Fire TV software into more back-seat entertainment systems, starting with BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Axios' Ina Fried reports.
  • iHeartMedia announced deals with General Motors, Android Auto and others to bring iHeartRadio's mega library of audio content to listeners in cars.
  • Byton, the Chinese-American EV startup, said it's partnering with ViacomCBS and Accuweather, among others, to provide content and services for the massive 48-inch screen in its upcoming M-Byte plug-in SUV.

And there were plenty of demonstrations of what travel will be like when cars have no steering wheels, pedals or physical controls of any kind. To make a command, just gaze at, or point to, your selection on the windshield or virtual dashboard.

  • Audi's "empathetic" AI:ME concept car, came with virtual reality glasses that had me floating over scenic mountains, chasing a friendly dragon.
  • BMW showed its i3 Urban Suite and the i Interaction Ease concept, a mock-up of a future car interior, where augmented reality on the panoramic display might offer up movies and showtimes as you pass a theater, for example.

My personal favorite, however, came at mid-afternoon on a particularly exhausting day: the BMW X7 ZeroG Lounger.

  • A silky-voiced product expert showed how the NASA-inspired, zero-gravity seat could tilt back as much as 60°, relieving pressure and pain, for perfect comfort to inspire sleep on a long journey.
  • After that, I don't remember anything else he said until he woke me up and told me the demo was over and it was time to leave.

Go deeper

Updated 14 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

16 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.