CES Highlights: Legacy automakers are playing catch-up with the Tesla UI

One of Tesla’s many innovations has been to modernize the automobile user interface, and its putative rivals have been watching closely. Most vehicle UIs are (to be charitable) still a decade behind the technology that consumers are used to using on their tablets and phones, but at the recent CES, there were all kinds of improvements in interface technology on display. 


Above: Dodge Ram trucks shown at CES have a center-stack touchscreen that looks eerily similar to a Tesla (Image: Business Insider via Ram)

The modern vehicle interface is being asked to do much more, as always-on mobile connections and all kinds of internal sensors proliferate. The rise of autonomous capabilities will drive another wave of change in user interface design, as the UI evolves from a way for humans to control cars into a way to keep them entertained.

Mashable’s Pete Pachal tried out the latest UI innovations at CES, from new types of touchscreens to voice interaction and even gesture control. He tested a lot of slick new gadgets, but found that (as is often the case at forward-looking trade shows), many of the “dashboards of the future” failed to deliver a very good overall experience.


Above: At CES, automotive suppliers like Samsung were showing their vision for what a car's future user interface might look like (Youtube: Samsung Mobile UK)

Tesla’s touchscreens were always ahead of their time, but Pete found that the legacy automakers are catching up, replacing latentcy-plagued resistive screens with more responsive capacitive multitouch screens like the ones we’ve come to expect on our phones and pads.

He had high praise for the screen on the 2018 Mercedes A-Class - a 10-inch touchscreen with large icons, highly responsive and very customizable. Following the trend set by Tesla, the new A-Class has dispensed with most physical buttons. Not all drivers are a fan of this trend, but whether that’s mainly a result of unfamiliarity remains to be seen.

Above: Dashboard of new Mercedes A-Class (Image: Mashable via Mercedes Benz)

The big daddy of digital dashboards is the 49-inch display on an electric SUV concept car from German/Chinese startup Byton. This massive screen stretches across the entire dashboard, and can be controlled by gesturing with your hands. An 8-inch touchscreen in the center of the steering wheel is used to control vehicle functions. Pachal and other reviewers found the whole idea of gesture control in a vehicle dangerous - however, it isn’t designed to be used while the car is in motion.

Of course, once you start getting rid of the buttons, the logical end point is voice control, and automakers are working hard to improve their capabilities in this area. The new Toyota vehicles use voice-recognition technology from a company called Voicebox. Panasonic announced plans to incorporate both Alexa and Google Assistant into its infotainment systems, which it supplies to a number of carmakers.

Above: Chinese EV startup, Byton, shows a massive 49-inch display in their concept car at CES (Source: Mashable via Byton)

Pachal’s favorite voice assistant was the one in the new Mercedes A-Class, which he found “great at parsing natural language and inferring intent,” although it had a hard time understanding certain words.

Of course, Tesla vehicles have featured voice commands for their navigation and infotainment systems for years, and Elon Musk recently said that eventually, drivers will be able to control “pretty much anything” on Model 3 with the voice. Advances in AI should someday enable a voice-controlled assistant to know us as well as a trusted servant. But at what point does our control of the car begin to shift to its control of us?


Written by: Charles Morris; Source: Mashable