The future of driveless cars at CES, Google to provide Wi-Fi to Manhattan neighborhood

An ethernet cable is seen at a news conference where it was announced that Free Wi-Fi will be provided by Google to the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea on January 8, 2013 in New York City.

Word Association: I say, "International Consumer Electronics Show now going on in Las Vegas," and you say, "Flatscreen TV's", "Conspicuous consumption"? It's also about the future of cars, including ones that drive themselves. Amid the tablets and the smartphones, Toyota is showing off a robot car, called the Lexus LS460.

If you look at it, it's basically just a regular Toyota, but on the grill, there's a huge rack with tons of cameras and sensors.

"It helps the car understand it's surroundings," says Jim Pisz, the corporate manager of North American business strategy at Toyota. "The process of all this technology is fundamentally based around three technologies: Recognition technology, judgement technology, and operational technology.

Pisz says that there is a lot that has to fall into place before the car can hit the road. First, there's the technology, and then laws allowing autonomous vehicles will have to catch up. In the meantime, Toyota hopes to add more and more technology like this to the cars that consumers can buy today.

Elswhere at CES, there's a guy who's not looking for more investors; he got his funding last summer. He's not looking to sell his product; that's what he'll be doing at a big toy fair in February. Eric Schweikert is looking for buzz.

"All the magazines and blogs are here. CES is just about exposure," says Schwikert.

He's founder of Cubelets, an educational way to build robots by snapping together cubes with sensors. We're following this Colorado-based company's progress in Las Vegas this week. To make buzz you have to have a story with punch. Schweikert tells one starting with his recent trip to China.

"While I was that visit, we interviewed, I think, six contract manufacturers who would make the entire product for us. Because common wisdom says that when you going into high volume consumer electronics, you have somebody in China make your stuff for you," says Schweikert. "It was a great visit. We met all those people, and we came back and we decided we're going to do this ourselves because it's absolutely insane when you really stop to think about it to make toys all the way across the world. So right now our team is conducting a deep analysis about whether we can build a giant factory outside of Boulder, Co., and hire American labor and build everything here ourselves."

We'll check in again with the Cubelets booth in Vegas later this week.


In New York's Chelsea neighborhood, they turned an old elevated rail line into a public park. Now that part of town is getting another amenity with no admission charge. Outdoor Wi-Fi internet for a chunk of Manhattan about eight blocks long. Free but from whom?

So which true believer has a massive office in Chelsea and enough money to give out things for free? Hint, it rhymes with frugal.  William Floyd, public policy and government relations senior manager at the company says he doesn't think rival internet service providers will complain about efforts to just be neighborly.

"We see this service as complementing or supplementing what's already there. This is no different from Wi-Fi spots that you see at Starbucks. We are not looking to supplant anybody, we are just looking to complement," says Floyd.

Google will share costs of free internet service with a nonprofit, The Chelsea Improvement Company.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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