LAS VEGAS—“In the future,” said Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche before a keynote audience at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), “the car grants access to private space and quality time.” What he meant was that people aren’t going to be driving, they’ll be sitting pretty in the back, playing video games, texting friends and reading the morning paper on their iPads.

A BMW ActiveAssist car, one of several that self-parked at CES.

A BMW ActiveAssist car, one of several that self-parked at CES. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

The so-called autonomous car was everywhere in and around CES this year. Here’s a sampling:

Audi A7 that traveled hands-free from Silicon Valley to CES in Vegas.

This is the Audi A7 that traveled hands-free from Silicon Valley to CES in Vegas. The car in the background traversed the Hockenheim track in Germany at race speeds. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

  • Audi ran a specially equipped A7 from Silicon Valley to Vegas, a distance of 550 miles. That’s probably the longest sustained self-driving car trip to date. And it was on public highways, using only sensors on the car.
  • Volvo is putting 100 auto-pilot “Drive Me” cars on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2017. Some 30 miles of roads are being readied for self-driving, in a collaboration that includes Lindhomen Science Park and the Swedish Transportation Administration. Volvo’s Klas Bendrik predicted at the Telematics Update that self-driving cars would lead to 10 to 20 percent improvements in traffic flow and fuel savings.
  • BMW and Volkswagen demonstrated valet auto pilot — your car drops you off, and then goes off and parks itself. These systems are likely to be the first to market, since parking often takes place on private property and is much easier to manage technically. Valeo’s version is called Valet Park4U, and it even sends you a smartphone notification when the car is safely tucked away (and charging, if it’s an electric car). In a crowded lot, the intrepid autopiloted vehicle will continue circling in search of a parking space until it finds one.
  • Bosch and Delphi both have autopilot systems, Delphi’s aimed at urban jungle and Bosch’s at the highway traffic jam. Bosch formed its “Automated Driving” project team in 2011 in Palo Alto and Stuttgart, and in 2013 demonstrated its technology on German freeways. “The traffic of the future is electric, automated, and connected,” said Bosch Chairman Volkmar Denner.
During CES, the Boston Consulting Group released a report on autonomous cars with some bold predictions: self-driving cars will represent a roughly $42 billion market by 2025, when full autonomy will hit the road with a system sticker price of about $10,000. “Not cheap,” said Xavier Mosquet, North America leader of BCG’s automotive practice.

VW's Golf parking assistance demonstration. This one was with a driver in place

VW's Golf parking assistance demonstration. This one was with a driver in place. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

The company said that partially self-driving cars with highway and traffic jam auto-pilot will be on the road “in large numbers” by 2017, and urban autopilot will hit in 2022. Here's that VW parking demonstration on video:

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.