The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas each January is where gadget makers gather to show off their latest gizmos, and in the past few years CES has increasingly attracted automakers and suppliers who introduce their tech innovations at the show alongside aftermarket companies. And while CES is a showcase for products and features that we'll see in cars and in stores within the next year, it also offers a glimpse at cutting-edge technologies that are a little farther down the road.
There's no better place than CES to see what the short-term and long-term future of car electronics holds for drivers. Here are 10 car tech trends we identified at this year's show.
- Smartphone Apps
CES 2010 may be remembered as the year automakers and suppliers went app happy. Ford introduced innovative apps for its Sync system that allow access to Twitter feeds and other content in the car, while OnStar showed an app for the upcoming Chevy Volt that lets owners check charging status, schedule charge times, remotely start the car and more. And auto electronics suppliers such as Continental and Hughes Telematics showed future-concept apps that allow you to do everything from remotely checking tire pressure to analyzing emissions.
CES 2010 was also the year that Internet-radio service Pandora came to the car in a big way through Ford's Sync system and head units from Alpine and Pioneer. Each uses Pandora's smartphone app to access the service and then pipe it into the car so it can be safely controlled by the head unit or, in the case of Sync, via voice controls. Radio was the first entertainment technology available in cars, and while satellite radio offers more variety for a price and HD Radio provides more features for free, Pandora offers the best of both worlds.
- Easier Portable Device Integration
Automakers and aftermarket manufacturers know that for most drivers it's all about how well their portable media and communications devices integrate into a vehicle. Ford's Sync system continues to raise the bar by adding features like the aforementioned apps for bringing content into cars. Kia introduced its new Uvo system that runs on similar Microsoft software and offers many of the same features and conveniences of Sync. Meanwhile, aftermarket companies like Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer continue to roll out unique features that make using portables easier and safer while behind the wheel.
- Better Voice Controls
Sync also largely sets the standard in voice control for accessing content on portable media players and using a mobile phone while behind the wheel, and the system got an upgrade in the form of a "flatter" command sequencing, meaning less structured and rigid input on the part of a driver. Kia's Uvo system uses a new Microsoft-developed voice engine that makes it easier to say what you want the system to do instead of having to remove your hands from the wheel and your eyes from the road.
- More Accurate Traffic
For many drivers, real-time traffic is still the missing piece of the navigation puzzle: Existing systems can tell you where to go and how long it will take to get there, but usually fall short on providing a detailed picture of the traffic along the way. Inrix, a major supplier of traffic info, made several announcements at the show that could help. The company is extending its coverage beyond major highways to surface streets by March 2010, and its service will provide traffic info for the nav portion of the new MyFord Touch system, replacing Sirius Traffic. Finally, Inrix introduced a new and more extensive iPhone app called Traffic Pro. This all means that with Inrix gathering data from more users, an accurate picture of the traffic on your commute could become much clearer.
- More Detailed Maps
In the same way that traffic is becoming more comprehensive, nav system mapping is getting more "granular." The two major map-data suppliers each introduced innovations that will better help drivers find their way and also add some safety. Navteq showed a new LIDAR-based data-gathering system that goes Google Street View one better by providing detailed 3-D and 360-degree renderings of areas. Tele Atlas announced new mapping software that can provide details such as road curvature and grade percentage to potentially help cars not only save fuel, but keep drivers and their passengers safer by potentially alerting them to road features that could prove dangerous.
- Aftermarket Camera Systems
In the same way that automakers have been muscling in on the aftermarket's turf in audio, video and other areas, brands such as Alpine and Kenwood are challenging the OEMs with cool new camera systems. Alpine showed a prototype of a multicamera system that provides a 360-degree view similar to Infiniti's Around View Monitor, while Kenwood offers a tiny camera that can be hooked up to the company's A/V head units to provide various wide-angled views in the rear or front of a vehicle.
- Disc-Less Head Units
This is a trend that Alpine created and has virtually owned in the last few years. But at CES 2010, Pioneer and Kenwood both debuted "mech-less" head units without a disc drive that are primarily used to control an iPod or other portable media player.
- Eco Routing
Even though gas prices have eased somewhat, drivers are increasingly fuel-cost-conscious and many also want to monitor their carbon footprint. Garmin introduced an upgrade to its ecoRoute software, called ecoRoute hd, that allows the company's existing Nuvi portable nav systems to display diagnostic and performance data obtained wirelessly through a vehicle's OBD II port. Pioneer added a feature called Eco Graph that lets a driver view and calculate in real-time the impact his driving has on the environment.
- The Connected Car
Cars that can connect to the Internet — and therefore to our connected lives — were a common theme at CES. The new MyFord Touch/Sync system allows you to access the Web in a variety of ways. Suppliers such as Continental and Hughes Telematics showed technology that will allow owners to monitor their vehicles from anywhere in the world via a smartphone; receive RSS feeds in the car and have them read using text-to-speech technology; get detailed restaurant reviews and discounts; and customize their daily commutes using smart nav routing.
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