The future of cars goes into overdrive at CES 2017

From concept to reality

The future of cars feels like it's been coming forever, hasn't it? By now you know the drill: concept revealed, crowd claps, then cloth is put back over prototype and it's forgotten until the next time it's rolled out on a big conference stage. 

CES 2017 is different though. Yes, we're being treated to those same kinds of seemingly improbable concepts - Toyota Concept-i, Chrysler Portal - and a production vehicle that may never see the open road (sorry, Faraday Future), but this time around, it feels like we're finally getting a glimpse of our actual automotive future. 

That future is a little bit scary, a little bit jarring, but CES is showing us that everyone from traditional auto makers to Amazon is thinking hard about where cars are headed, and all are working to get there fast.

None encapsulate this more than the Toyota Concept-i, a driverless car that, as TechRadar Senior Editor Joe Osborne put it, feels like you're jumping 10 years ahead when you hop inside. 

Concept-i looks like something out of Tron, but part of what makes Toyota's car so intriguing is that it doesn't forget the driver, despite being "driverless." It keeps the gas and brake pedals, and amazingly, a steering wheel. Of course, there's a a super-smart AI running through the whole vehicle.

Toyota may have struck the perfect balance between the future (it has to recognize your palm print to start, for example) and the innate need for drivers to feel like they are still in a car, not a pod they have no domain over. Trust me, that's a frightening feeling.

Even family cars are getting their turn at CES, with Chrysler unveiling the Portal millennial-inspired minivan. It's not entirely self-driving, but like Tesla, has semi-autonomous driving powers, which seem like the "just right" medium for consumers.

Chrysler Portal

But it's not just crazy cool concepts and entirely new autos like the FF 91 wheeling around the Vegas tech extravaganza. There are smaller announcements circling the conference halls, more immediate advancements that signal the future of cars is, in reality, happening right now.

Ford and Amazon have teamed up to bring the Alexa personal assistant to the auto maker's wares, and starting later this month Ford owners can control their cars using an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Tap. This is the tightest integration of Alexa in cars yet, and by our first impressions, hugely promising. 

Google too is keeping up its car momentum, announcing this week that through Google Home, the Google Assistant can now communicate with any Hyundai vehicle. 

And it doesn't stop there: Cortana is carpooling with BMWs and Nissans, Microsoft has launched a Connected Vehicle Platform and Ford is trialling turning parking spaces into charging stations for electric cars. 

Google and Hyundai team up

Not to be outdone, Nvidia also revealed it's working with Audi to bring a driverless car to the road by 2020. Nvidia, a chip maker, has become one of the biggest proponents of self-driving cars, and regularly uses CES to discuss how it plans to bring autonomous driving to life. 

The flashy concepts are what make us yearn for more, but it's the integration of smart home technology, the commitment by non-car makers to transform transportation and the ever-strengthening connection between mobiles and automobiles that are spinning the future of cars forward. CES 2017 is a showcase for all of these developments, and we've got a shotgun seat to the action. 

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