Self driving cars and self starting republicans headline CES

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Vegas, baby.

The product and policy buzz at the Consumer Electronics Show I mean International CES oops, the global technology event which has the official name of CES is humming around autonomous vehicles as the show gets under way this week. Car companies are out in force, while Silicon Valley-style tech companies continue to back away and the big guns of consumer electronics seem to be showing up because its the Car Electronics Show the most awesome global technology event ever.

Three questions I’ll be trying to answer as I check out the hot new rides:

  • Are automakers pitching self driving cars because they have product in the pipeline, or because it’s a sexy way to draw attention to themselves while they flog the same old stuff?
  • What’s the balance between onboard computing power and data storage, and remote services that’ll need to accessed via mobile carriers or other means?
  • Will the industry stay out in front on policy issues, or will it simply accept whatever suits regulatory comfort levels and then drive to Arizona?

One major change this year, from a telecoms policy geek’s perspective, is that the traditional center ring conversation with the chairman of the FCC has been scrapped and the side show panel with the four other commissioners was trimmed back to just the republican junta commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly.

It’s understandable given that chairman Tom Wheeler will be out of a job in a couple of weeks and probably needs the time to work on his resume. Mignon Clyburn’s absence is a little more puzzling. As the soon to be sole democrat on the commission, she ought to have an interesting perspective to share.

O’Rielly and Pai are the key players for the next few months and I can hope that it won’t follow the usual pattern where a CTA lobbyist pitches suck up questions for 45 minutes. The panel discussion pairs them with a representative from the Federal Trade Commission, which might be taking over some of the FCC’s duties if certain members of the transition team get their way.