Byton concept first ride: the future is a trendy family room on wheels

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Walk up to your Byton and an exterior camera knows your face. The door unlocks and you open it. The car boots up and it knows your name. It knows your health data, reads your blood pressure, checks your schedule, and streams whatever video was on your smartphone.

It even knows where you need to go next.

From the caramel-colored leather seats and warm leather dashboard, this Byton prototype projects the automaker's vision for the future; it's even called the "Byton life." 

On Wednesday at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas I received a first-hand look at what this Chinese start-up views as the future of transportation.

I left wondering if the "Byton life" could be "real life." At least, as far as I know it to be.

Byton concept first ride

Byton concept first ride

Byton concept first ride

Byton concept first ride

Byton concept first ride

Byton concept first ride

Experiencing the actual car

Byton offered a hand-built model for test rides at CES, complete with a team of handlers to keep the fragile prototype from living a "rough life." The doors had to be gingerly opened and closed, the floor creaked as I moved my feet across it, and everything felt delicate. All electronics worked for demonstration purposes, including the 49-inch screen spanning the dashboard, the tablet-like screen mounted in the middle of the steering wheel, and the two monitors mounted to the back of the front seats. The climate control settings, swiveling front seats, and most other vehicle functions including selecting gears, were all controlled from its steering wheel-mounted screen.

Our friendly test driver ran through the vehicle's systems including the gesture controls for the 49-inch screen—no buttons or knobs to control it. It’s all gesture-controlled, along with how the Byton Life integrates with the vehicle’s systems (more on that later).

The prototype felt heavy, and reportedly the version I sat in was 30 to 50 percent heavier than a production model would be. Byton officials deflected our questions as to why it was so portly, only offering that it's “because it’s hand built.” Unless it’s made of lead, I'm not sure how it could possibly be that much heavier.

The 49-inch screen may seem like it's naturally distracting, but it's not. The glare on the screen is. It's hard to read what's on the screen when the sunlight hits it.

As we made our way around the test course, a bolt or nut flung itself around under the vehicle in what sounded like the battery casing or belly pan. Prototypes, we suppose.

In the production version, an airbag will supposedly be mounted below the tablet-like screen in the center of the steering wheel.

Aside from those concerns, the seats felt like trendy chairs we'd expect in a Scandinavian furniture store. They're thinly padded, but fashion is rarely comfortable too.

If this is the future, it feels like a trendy family room on wheels.

Byton concept first ride

Byton concept first ride

Backing up to the basics

Byton is a Chinese startup looking to produce electric cars for the Chinese, US, and European market. It showed off its first vehicle, a crossover, in concept form on Sunday with a promised launch in 2019 with a starting price of about $45,000.

Byton’s headquarters are in Nanjing, China where a plant is being built to produce the vehicles in 2019.

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