Welcome back! I survived CES — my feet are sore but there was lots to learn about the future of transportation, so read on!
Today's newsletter is 1,571 words, a 6-minute read.
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 mashup 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.
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.
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.
My personal favorite, however, came at mid-afternoon on a particularly exhausting day: the BMW X7 ZeroG Lounger.
Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua at CES. Photo: Courtesy of Mobileye
Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua introduced auto industry followers at CES to new terminology this week: "vidar" is a computer vision system he claims can match expensive laser-based lidar solutions using only camera sensors.
Why it matters: There's been a debate inside the industry about whether lidar is necessary for self-driving cars. Most companies say it provides important redundancy to detect objects that cameras and radar can't see, but others — notably, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who calls lidar "a fool's errand" — argue it's not needed.
Driving the news: Shashua, an Israeli professor, schooled customers, analysts and journalists during an hour-long presentation on Mobileye's technology, including why redundant software algorithms and triangulating camera sensors will be just as good as lidar.
To back it up, he showed detailed video clips demonstrating how Mobileye achieves pixel-level scene segmentation that can be used to detect tiny fragments of road users such as wheelchairs and open vehicle doors. (Unedited video here.)
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
AV technology suppliers who bet heavily on a self-driving future that has yet to materialize are pivoting to a new strategy, pitching their sensors and software — including lidar — as a way to make today's vehicles even safer.
Why it matters: Self-driving cars remain a ways off, but AV tech suppliers need revenue to offset their big investments and keep innovating. By incorporating their wares into advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) for millions of today's cars, they hope to reduce costs and make future AVs more feasible.
A recurring topic at CES was the growth of level 2+ (or even 2++!) ADAS technology, which doesn't exist under SAE's driving automation standards, but generally has come to mean hands-off highway driving.
It could be a way to speed commercialization of lidar.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Utility companies are helping cash-strapped school districts replace diesel buses with electric ones that have a secondary purpose: helping to manage electricity demand.
Why it matters: Electric buses are cleaner, but cost about three times more. Using them for energy storage can help close that cost gap and smooth out energy demand on the electric grid.
What's happening: Less than 1% of America's 480,000 school buses are electric today, but that's beginning to change.
The most ambitious V2G effort comes from Dominion Energy, which is planning to deploy 1,050 electric school buses in Virginia over the next five years.
How it works: V2G enables electric vehicles to store surplus energy from intermittent wind or solar sources during non-peak periods and feed power back to the grid when needed.
A fleet of school buses is a better source of distributed power than passenger EVs because their usage patterns are predictable.
Speed bump: E-scooter startup Lime shuts in 12 markets, lays off around 100 (Kia Kokalitcheva — Axios)
Not funny: Boeing employees mocked FAA and 'clowns' who designed 737 MAX (Natalie Kitroeff — The New York Times)
AV 4.0: New U.S. plan keeps autonomous vehicle standards voluntary (Tom Krisher — Associated Press)
Aboard the Goodyear blimp. Photo: Bill Rapai
This week, I ticked off a bucket list item while in Las Vegas — riding in the Goodyear blimp.
How it happened: Goodyear, which was touting its predictive fleet management services at CES, invited a handful of auto beat reporters to experience a blimp ride over The Strip.
The details: This new generation of the Goodyear Blimp is not really a gas-filled sack. It's a semi-rigid airship, with a frame providing structure.
The experience: It's sort of a cross between a commercial jet and a small boat.
How it works: Forward motion is provided by two, 200-horsepower propeller motors mounted to either side of the airship's fuselage.
The bottom line: In a word? Awesome.