Top 10 Car Tech Trends for 2012
The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is where mega tech brands such as Sony and Toshiba, as well as hundreds of smaller companies and upstart entrepenuers, show off their latest and greatest gadgets. In recent years, it’s also become the place where automakers unveil state-of-the-art electronics.
The big buzz at CES 2012 was automakers staking an increasing share of the floor space at the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center. In fact, having a presence there is now almost on par with exhibiting at a major auto show. Why? For more and more tech-savvy car buyers and the most advanced automakers, vehicles are considered electronic devices as much as personal transportation. For proof of this radical evolution of the automobile, here are the top 10 Car Tech Trends for 2012 we spotted at this year’s CES.
1. All About Apps
Carmakers historically have been at a disadvantage in electronics due the auto industry’s two-year production cycles (an eon in technology terms). But by using the cutting-edge innovation and Internet-connectivity of smartphones to deliver content and features, automakers have evened the playing field. Ford showed several new apps for its Sync system, including an NPR app that allows public radio fans to tune in their favorite programs and stations and create custom playlists. At its CES debut, Mercedes-Benz showcased its DriveStyle iPhone app that minimizes distractions by letting drivers access Google to search for information and local services as well as Facebook and Twitter feeds via voice commands.
2. Telematics Adds Conveniences
Telematics is the odd word used to describe connected-vehicle services such as GM’s OnStar. Now, the technology is moving beyond core safety features to deliver more convenience to drivers. At CES Kia unveiled its UVO2 system, the next-generation of its UVO (short for “your voice”) portable-device connectivity platform. Using a driver’s smartphone and an app, UVO2 allows setting a speed-limit and “geo-fencing” parameter for the car so owners – specifically parents of teen drivers – can remotely keep tabs on the vehicle’s velocity and location. The app can also help guide owners back to their parked vehicle by showing its location on a map on their smartphone.
3. Car Sharing Goes Big Time
A big announcement at CES 2012 was that GM’s OnStar is opening up its API to third-party developers. Translation for non-techies: Developers will be able to write smartphone apps that interface with OnStar. The first, from RelayRides, will allow owners of GM cars with OnStar to rent their vehicles while not using them, with the RelayRides app handling all aspects of the transaction.
4. Gestures Point to the Future
Forget fancy touch screens. The car of the future will be controlled with just a wave of your hand, a la Xbox Kinect. Mercedes-Benz’s cube-shaped, chrome-clad Dynamic & Intuitive Control Experience (DICE) autonomous-driving simulator was displayed at CES to show how gestures can be used to change music sources and find services -- or even a nearby Facebook friend. Audi also announced a dual head-up display concept that uses gesture control.
5. OEM Audio Systems Upgrades
CES used to be all about aftermarket electronics, and specifically car audio. Yet OEM systems have gotten so good – and have become so integrated into modern vehicles – that ripping out the stock components for an audio upgrade is hard to justify. But several aftermarket audio suppliers showed add-on systems at CES that are specifically designed to fit in the factory locations and provide much better sound than their stock counterparts – while leaving the factory head unit intact. Rockford Fosgate debuted a system specifically for the Nissan Juke, while JL Audio showed a new line of upgraded systems for a variety of vehicles. Kicker also unveiled its Hideaway Compact Powered Subwoofer Systems that make it easier to add bass to any existing system.
6. The Aftermarket Strikes Back
Not all the app action came from automakers at CES. Several large aftermarket brands showed products that allow people who already own a car to get connectivity in their dashboard. Pioneer introduced its AppRadio2 line, the second-generation of replacement head units that employ an iPhone or Android device – and their apps – to connect to online content and features. JVC unveiled a similar line of App Link radios that use apps such as MOG to stream music and Cobra’s iRadar to sniff out speed traps and cameras.
7. 4G Connectivity Hits the Highway
The connected car will get a major boost with the advent of wireless 4G connectivity. OnStar announced a partnership with Verizon at last year’s CES, and at this year’s show the duo unveiled a concept Chevy Volt that includes 4G LTE capability for everything from streaming online entertainment such as Netflix for backseat passengers to Skpe video calling. Audi, meanwhile, stated that it wants to be the first automakers to offer 4G onboard a vehicle.
8. Dashboard of the Future
With all of the information being thrown at drivers these days, dashboards need to evolve to make the increased data flow easier to absorb without causing distraction. Visteon and Johnson Controls showed futuristic 3D-display instrument panel concepts that can be configured to show various levels of information, or only info that’s mission-critical.
9. Easier Navigation
Smartphone navigation apps have made in-dash nav systems almost as antiquated as those clunky old car phones. But several automakers and navigation suppliers are making navigation easier by bridging the gap between smartphone apps and in-dash and portable systems. Telenav introduced its Scout smartphone app that works with Ford Sync’s AppLink system to seamlessly send destinations and other information found by the app across multiple devices, including the car. And Garmin’s Smartphone Link app automatically sends destinations and other info from an Android smartphone to one of the company’s portables.
10. Autonomous Driving Cars
While autonomous driving vehicles weren’t (yet) displayed at CES 2012, automakers and suppliers are laying the foundation for this groundbreaking form of personal transportation. The Mercedes-Benz DICE simulator used gesture-recognition that’s specifically geared to hands-off-the-wheel driving. To appeal to car enthusiasts for whom autonomous driving is anathema, Audi announced that it’s working on “piloted” technology that lets the driver relinquish control when “driving becomes stressful.” But the driver has the choice to reengage the cars controls on, say, a twisting country road.
Another Major Auto Show?
This year CES took place the same week as the 2012 Detroit Auto Show (one of the most important shows in the automotive industry). Yet many automakers chose to have a major presence at both events – proof of the rising significance of technology to car companies and car buyers. And it’s confirmation that CES is becoming an important “auto” show on its own.