There was a time when computers and electronics were only for a small number of kooky, bespectacled neighbors who loved the smell of solder and dreamed about schematic drawings. But now the industry is huge, and the annual International Consumer Electronics Show is fast becoming a must-attend event for the big auto makers to make news. Held each year in Las Vegas, it makes the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association show look like a weekend garage sale. If you like home entertainment and global wireless technology, as well as personal phone and computer accessories, this show has it all. And with auto makers packing more tech inside every car, pickup truck and crossover, we expect the show to attract more coverage in the future. Here are just a few interesting things we saw.
1. CAT Phone
Nothing says "heavyduty" like Caterpillar construction equipment, and the B100 mobile phone looks like it was made to take some of the worst punishment nasty construction sites can dish out. CAT representatives tell us that both the company's basic and smartphone phones are waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and more than worthy of the CAT brand name. We've seen the CAT name on clothes and footwear, but this looks like an ideal fit if these phones are as rugged as they look. For more information, go to www.catphones.com.
2. BMW i3 Electric Car
Where else would you want to introduce one of the most sophisticated and high-tech pieces of German engineering? Although most of the world hasn't had the chance to drive the newest all-electric BMW vehicles, they were on display and available for test drives for showgoers this year. While many luxury car makers have been attending CES for years, we expect to see more big-news reveals from them at the show as advanced technology becomes more important. For more information, visit bmwusa.com or see what our Cars.com colleagues thought of the i3 here.
3. Willys Bed at California Headphones Booth
Like any trade show, catching the eye of random consumers walking the aisles is critical. This display from California Headphones caught our eye because we recognized the back half of a beautifully preserved old Jeep Willys pickup truck (likely from the mid-1950s). The person in the booth thought the front half of the truck was still in the company's Oakland, Calif., headquarters. The headphones also come in camouflage. For more information, visit http://californiaheadphones.com/.
4. Audi App
The Audi display first looked like a classic German exercise in minimalism, until a tall, well-dressed German man walked forward, pulled out his iPad and touched a few buttons. A garage door opened, and a 2014 A7 fired up and backed itself out, parking next to him. The car even came to a full, yet clumsy, stop when the he jumped behind the vehicle as it backed out of the garage. We were later told the early look at a prototype system uses the factory bumper-mounted sensors that also help the park-assist system; a simple app is all that's needed for this technology to work.
5. Toyota Fuel Cells
Fuel cell technology is not new, but the fact that Toyota will be selling a functional vehicle to the public next year at "a reasonable" price could be just the jumpstart needed to get people to see how much potential exists inside this technology. Toyota has invested a great deal of money, and after 11 years of research it has been able to drop costs by more than 95 percent. A better refueling infrastructure and concerns about safety are the biggest hurdles this technology faces, but as more companies get involved (would a hydrogen-powered electric pickup make sense?) some are guessing this alternative fuel could replace gasoline hybrids in less than 10 years.
6. Chevy and AT&T Promote 4G LTE Platforms
Chevrolet recently announced it will be offering quite a few electronic upgrades for those interested in having better WiFi and access to automotive information, whether you own a powerful sports car or more practical work truck. New apps and in-vehicle capabilities are likely to be uncountable in the years to come as more app makers offer more personalized solutions for midsize, full-size and heavy-duty truck customers. These may look like expensive toys right now, but it won't take too long before they become part of a base-level trim package that can be tailored to exactly how you want to use your truck.