At one of the year’s top technology conventions where “mobility” is the buzzword, it is a real pain to get around.
Over 165,000 people from 150 countries descend on Las Vegas this week for CES, the annual show where exhibitors are boasting of ways to ease commuting. But gridlock, long wait times, and frazzled attendees are the reality here, underscoring the limitations of the nascent mobility technology that is front and center at the show.
Automotive companies attending the event, whether carmakers BMW and Toyota Motor or major auto suppliers like Bosch and Delphi Automotive, are promoting self-driving cars, ride services, and applications that help plan transportation options to ease urban congestion.
The convergence of the bustling Las Vegas Strip and one of the year’s largest trade shows demonstrates how far these concepts have to go.
“Las Vegas is the poster child for dysfunctional traffic,” said Gartner Research Director Michael Ramsey. “Imagining the future, let’s say there’s a cab working autonomously – it’s still going to be in the middle of this mess inching down the road!”
Chinese-backed electric car maker Faraday Future staged an event on Tuesday to show off an electric vehicle that executives said will park itself and eventually self-drive.
“Mobility won’t be a buzzword, but a normal part of everyone’s lives,” said Nick Sampson, Faraday’s senior vice president of engineering and research and development.
Nevertheless, it took half an hour for journalists attending the launch to travel a mere 6.5 miles (10.5km) to the event by bus.
At a presentation by Tier One auto supplier Bosch, executives said it takes on average a half hour to find a parking place in busy urban centers. The company is supplying technology to carmakers allowing cars to park themselves.
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Congestion is not exclusive to Las Vegas, of course. Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk, in neighboring California, tweeted about gridlock weeks before the conference: “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.”
Small startups at CES are capitalizing on traffic headaches to highlight their products. Some companies send maps and guides with the quickest routes to their events. Autobrain offers to spare attendees long taxi lines with airport pickups to show off an after-market device allowing drivers to locate their cars, call roadside assistance, or receive safety alerts.
Companies such as GenZe and Kymco see scooters as the most efficient way to travel in a crowded urban environment. GenZe said its electric scooter was a means “to avoid the hassle and delay of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Strip and beyond.”
GenZe Chief Marketing Officer Tom Valasek said the irony of the CES show touting easier mobility was not lost on his team: “Even if you get an Uber, you sit in traffic anyway.”