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The Detroit Auto Show is all about the “shiny stuff”


DETROIT. Not everyone is a Detroit Auto Show veteran, although based on the number of media at the Cobo Center this week for the media preview ahead of the official opening of the show, there are probably very few of us left.

Walking the show floor at the Detroit Auto Show is an experience that transforms you from the here and now to visions of the future. My first visit to the show has been both exciting and educational. There have also been a few hiccups along the way, like the fact that no one can drink the water, and it has nothing to do with the Flint water crisis. Seems a water main break occurred in the area and rendered the water undrinkable. Hotels are giving out bottles of water to use for brushing teeth and other uses. A minor inconvenience.

As to the show itself, it has been everything I expected an auto show to be – plenty of new vehicles, innovative concept vehicles, and fancy technology to go around. Or, as my wife likes to say, “lots of shiny stuff to distract you.”

Inside the show is a section dubbed autoMOBILI-D, sponsored by PlanetM. Companies in this space cross the spectrum from startups like Phoenix Contact to established companies like Eaton Corp. There is a section dedicated to universities and associations.

The one thing all these companies and universities have in common is that they are working on innovative technological solutions to the problems of tomorrow, and in some cases, even today. As expected, these include autonomous mobility, electrification, and blockchain.

For instance, Phoenix Contact [bs1] is pitching its vehicle charging solutions. Utilizing glycol as a coolant within the charging cord to keep heat down, the company says it can fully charge a vehicle using a 500,000 watt DC charger in about 20 minutes, giving the vehicle a 600-mile effective range.

Also in the electric space, GBatteries is working to not only charge vehicles, but to extend the life of the batteries. According to the company, each fast charge of a battery – regardless of size – reduces the battery’s effective life. By providing a fast charge up to a point and then backing down before repeating, the GBatteries solution is able to restore battery life. In an electric vehicle test, it said that a manufacturer verified that a repeated 66 minute fast charge of the vehicle resulted in only 17 cycles of the battery. In its test, GBatteries said it was able to fast charge that same battery in 55 minutes and maintain 110 cycles.

The company is now in discussion with several automakers with demonstration tests expected this year with hopes of a working product by 2020. It is scalable up to large commercial vehicle batteries, too.

It may be the auto show, but there are companies here with freight solutions as well. Intrepid Control Systems offers a device called the OBD2 Professional. Connecting with Amazon’s Alexa and working over Amazon Web Services, the device provides a low cost way to collect vehicle performance data. Rob Pilat, senior sales engineer, said the platform gives those with basic IT backgrounds (“You don’t need to be a programmer”) the ability to build custom solutions using the data the tool can provide. This could allow fleets to bypass more expensive fleet management systems, he said.

There was also a startup competition at the show. Startups pitched their companies to a panel of judges, which selected winners that would be given a chance to meet with investors from Techstars, a large global venture fund. One company that won was Alchemy, which makes coatings for lenses and lights to prevent frost from forming. This is important as sensors and cameras become an integral part of advanced driver-assistance systems. Frost buildup can prevent the systems from working properly.

Techstars also hosted a reception one evening, affording startup companies the chance to mingle with each other and potential investors.

The Detroit Auto Show has always been about the latest and greatest in new vehicle technology, but it is now also about the latest in innovative solutions that not only are transforming the way we drive, but also the way we connect with each other and our surroundings.

And there are still enough shiny things to keep me interested.