A host of car manufacturers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas have taken to the stage to show off what they think the future of driving will look like.
Unsurprisingly they expect the future to be electric, but a bit more left-field was Mercedes-Benz’s new concept car, designed alongside James Cameron, the director of the 2009 film Avatar.
The car has been called AVTR and is covered in scales, 33 of them to be precise, which Mercedes-Benz has dubbed “bionic flaps” although they appear to be inspired more by the blockbuster film than real biology.
Even the somewhat spherical wheels on the car were inspired by seeds from a special tree in the film Avatar, and (of course) there is no steering wheel because the car is completely autonomous.
For Mercedes-Benz the AVTR is simply a bit of fun, a concept vehicle rather than a consumer device that will hit the market any time soon – as well as a chance to attract attention by standing beside a popular brand.
Other cars on stage at CES were a bit more real while remaining excitingly futuristic.
Chinese electric vehicle firm Byton’s all-electric M-Byte car looks like relatively normal SUV on the outside, but on the inside its single 48-inch display offers a very unusual dashboard unlike any other.
The sweeping display is just one of numerous screens inside the car, including in the steering wheel and two tucked behind the headrests of the front seats.
Meanwhile the president of Japanese car giant Toyota began his speech at CES with what appeared to be the company announcing a flying car alongside a giant robot.
But appearances can be deceiving. Akio Toyoda was actually revealing that the company was building an entire futuristic city across a 175-acre site at foot of Mt Fuji.
Construction hasn’t yet started on the concept, but the company said it will begin in 2021, building a “prototype town of the future where people live, work, play and participate in a living laboratory”.
Sound dystopian enough yet? There’s more: “Imagine a fully-controlled site that would allow researchers, engineers, and scientists the opportunity to freely test technology such as autonomy, mobility-as-a-service, robotics, smart home connected technology, AI, and more, in a real world environment.”
Joking that the audience may be wondering if he was a Japanese version of Willy Wonka, Mr Toyoda said the town would be known as Woven City and would be “a small but hopefully significant step” towards making the world a better place.
American electric utility truck maker Tropos Motors also showed off its designs for a fire engine.
Unlike some other fire engine designs, the ABLE fire response vehicle is only 195cm (6ft 5in) tall and thus able to safely enter into most parking garages, factories and warehouses.
Sony also unveiled a concept autonomous car as it predicts mobility will become this decade’s “mega-trend”.
The technology firm said the concept vehicle was designed to show its efforts to combine safety, reliability, comfort and entertainment.
Called Vision-S, the vehicle has 33 sensors inside and out to help monitor its surroundings and those inside it.
It also includes Sony’s artificial intelligence technology to detect and recognise people, as well as the firm’s 360 Reality Audio for in-car audio.