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2015 Consumer Electronics Show: What You Need to Know

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Amid the flurry of sales reports and state-of-the-industry analyses, automakers had plenty to say at an event that’s becoming more intertwined with the auto industry each year: the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Related: Chrysler Debuts Updated Uconnect Access System

This year, autonomous cars and wearable technology were high on the docket. The show runs Jan. 6-9 in Las Vegas, but we pulled together all the news that should matter for car shoppers.

Audi

What’s here: The biggest news from the Audi stand is a test of the A7 Sportback Piloted Driving Concept, which the automaker calls “Jack”; the autonomous A7 successfully completed a 560-mile journey from California’s Silicon Valley to Las Vegas.

What’s cool: The concept uses laser scanners, video cameras and sensors to gather data about the car and the road. This information is then transmitted to a central control unit that handles driving. According to Audi, the car can drive autonomously at speeds up to 70 mph as well as initiate lane changes and passing maneuvers. It can also accelerate and brake independently. Audi says the concept’s sensors and equipment are production-ready and will make their way into production cars soon. First up is the high-resolution 3-D video camera in the new Q7.

What’s not: While the autonomous A7 was successful on the open road, in city driving situations, the driver has to take over.

BMW

What’s here: BMW unveiled a doozy of new connected-car technologies — some with production dates, some still in development — for tech-heavy cars such as the i3 and i8.

What’s cool: Enhancements for BMW’s car-finder smartphone app could pinpoint your ride even in elevation like a multistory parking garage via your smartphone or smartwatch. In future models, a space between BMW’s iDrive controller and the dashboard display could become an area for gesture recognition, allowing you to, say, input your home in the navigation system by waving your finger. And BMW says that this spring drivers will get free over-the-air navigation map updates via the signal from a tethered mobile device.

What’s not: New wearable integration could allow drivers to lock or unlock their car by gesturing to their smartwatch or waving their chip-fitted BMW credit card near the windshield, but both processes seem like an extra step versus today’s keyless access systems. Speaking of which, a new key fob for the i8 has a 2.2-inch LCD screen that shows whether the doors are locked, the battery level and more. Gizmodo reports it will be optional in the i8 beginning this fall. It looks wicked cool, but it seems like a lot of tech for something that’s likely to sit in your pocket except when you need to recharge it — and replicates a lot of what BMW’s smartphone app already shows. Finally, a new Remote Valet Parking Assistant could enable you to order your i3 from a parking spot — provided it has a digital blueprint of the whole lot, even if it’s a multilevel parking garage. That’s even more ambitious than an auto-park capability Tesla hinted at in October 2014. The initiative has complications written all over it; we’ll believe it when we see one in production.

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Hyundai

What’s here: A bevy of tech concepts including voice recognition and hand-gesture control systems, as well as a robust head-up display that connects to a wearable device and a new connected tablet-based rear entertainment system.

What’s cool: The augmented reality head-up display is like a regular version on steroids. Hyundai’s unit, which is on display inside a 2015 Genesis, doesn’t just project the car’s speed on the windshield in front of the driver, like typical head-up displays. Rather, it adds information such as cruise control status, navigation, blind spot detection, and forward collision and lane departure warnings. What’s more, it even projects animations describing road conditions ahead. Drivers will be shown when a car is about to unexpectedly enter their lane, exit ramp arrows, highlighted street signs and one-way street signs. All this information is tied to the driver via a band that can vibrate in certain situations, like when the lane departure warning system is activated. It’s also a heart rate monitor and the system can call 911 if a driver’s heart rate changes rapidly. Hyundai says the system is “production-ready.”

What’s not: It’s becoming easier and easier to get distracted while driving and this system could only pile on to that danger.

Mercedes-Benz

What’s here: Mercedes debuted the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, a self-driving car with private jet-like environs.

What’s cool: The all-electric F 015’s interior has four rotating lounge chairs so passengers can face each other (or not). Open the doors and the seats rotate 30 degrees outward to ease entry and exit. Large displays along the doors can recognize gestures and eye tracking.

What’s not: The F 015’s tortoise-like styling takes some getting used to, and we’re scratching our heads as to how the interior has as much room as Mercedes’ footage suggests, given the car’s profile. One advantage of driverless cars, at least, is you don’t have to design for visibility.

Subaru

What’s here: Subaru announced 4G LTE connectivity via AT&T with its StarLink multimedia platform.

What’s cool: StarLink will provide the usual suite of services like stolen vehicle recovery, collision notification and smartphone apps that allow you to lock or unlock the car from your device, and the LTE coverage should make for speedy integration.

What’s not: Subaru says cost structures will be decided later this year. If the coverage requires an ongoing subscription — as most do once the free trial runs out — it’s doubtful many people will keep it.

Valeo

What’s here: Valeo, which makes everything from headlights to climate controls, debuted a virtual key called InBlue.

What’s cool: InBlue authorizes your smartphone or smartwatch to become a key for your vehicle, so you can leave your car keys at home. Security is similar to smartphone payment systems, and you can virtually transfer the keys to someone else if you want to share the car. InBlue virtual keys could arrive as early as 2016, Valeo says.

What’s not: Three cheers to emptier pockets or purses, right? Hold on. You still need keys for your house, office, gym locker and more. Until all locks adopt such technology (and your smart device becomes all things, which means a dead battery really puts you up a creek), InBlue might allow you to shrink that keychain, but it will probably still need come along.

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Volkswagen

What’s here: Volkswagen is debuting several new technologies: computer-controlled drive systems, intuitive controls, an app and smartphone integration system, and autonomous and semi-autonomous driving concepts.

What’s cool: The Volkswagen Golf R Touch concept features a multimedia system controlled by gestures. A hand wave in front of one of the car’s three high-resolution display screens activates climate and audio functions. The automaker also debuted the e-Golf autonomous parking concept that can automatically guide the car into parallel and perpendicular parking spaces and can also automatically exit parallel parking spaces.

What’s not: If the technology ever sees a production car, there’s likely to be a high margin of error in terms of accurately controlling the car’s functions — just like when voice-control systems originally hit the market.

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