Audi autonomous driving technology on display at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas.
We’ve got the smartphone, smart watch, smart fridge and even a smart toothbrush. And soon we can welcome the smart car.
Car makers are increasingly turning to advanced technology and gadgets - rather than more powerful engines or bigger boots – to tempt buyers, especially younger ones that yearn for a connected lifestyle.
Connectivity is the buzz word for the 10 automotive brands at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas - the world’s biggest gadget expo.
Here’s a rundown of what the car of the (not-too distant) future will be like.
Audi showcased a new supercomputer, dubbed zFas, that has the power to handle more than 2.5 billion inputs per second from a series of cameras, radars and sensors that can read the road ahead. The 192-core processor is the size of an iPad and was fitted in the boot of an A7 that drove itself onto the stage at a keynote presentation prior to the event opening.
For BMW, it took autonomous driving to another level with a system that utilises the latest GPS technology - similar to that used in guided-missile systems - that can drive the car around a racetrack, do big smokey burnouts and even drift sideways, all without any driver intervention.
Legislation and additional infrastructure could slow their introduction, although Audi plans to introduce what it calls “piloted driving” functions, including an autopilot function in traffic jams, in its next A8 limousine due in 2016 and BMW says it will have autonomous driving cars on the road by the end of the decade.
Google’s Android operating system might have arrived late to the smartphone market, but it is playing catch-up fast – and is about to do the same with in-car multimedia systems.
The software giant is taking on Apple and Microsoft by joining forces with leading car makers to create the Open Automotive Alliance to encourage the adaptation of its Android operating system in next-generation vehicles.
Included are Audi, Hyundai, Honda and General Motors – along with processor company NVIDIA - which together aim to create a common Android-based platform suitable for automotive applications, opening up access to almost 1 million apps.
Volvo and Hyundai announced cloud-based connectivity functions that will allow users to connect their car with the rest of their lifestyle.
Hyundai will introduce its Intelligent Assistant App in the Korean car maker's new Genesis luxury sedan (expected later this year). The app syncs user’s smartphone calendar to the car and can access weather and traffic data before calculating when the vehicle needs to remotely start to warm or cool the cabin before leaving for an appointment.
Volvo’s Sensus Connect system offers similar reminders to remotely start the engine and servicing, but also has a unique Park&Pay function where, using car-to-infrastructure communication, can locate the nearest parking with vacant spaces and access your banking details to pay for it.
Audi and Kia previewed tablet-style portable devices that can act like an iPad when outside the car but become the car’s central media system when in the cockpit.
Audi’s Smart Display system is a prototype of a future application that is a storage device, which can play music, movies and photos - and even has a camera for Skype calls - when carried, but then becomes the car’s satellite navigation and multimedia screen.
Kia’s UVO infotainment system, which is expected to debut in the next-generation Soul due later this year, also has a 20-inch removable tablet.
Car makers are also looking at wearable devices, with Mercedes-Benz announcing a tie-up with Pebble to create an app for its smart watch and Hyundai confirming the Genesis will have an app for the Google Glass.
Why have two screens in a car when you can have one? That’s the thinking behind Audi’s Virtual Cockpit which will debut in the next-generation TT coupe, due late in 2014.
The German car maker has combined the infotainment and navigation functions into a high-res digital instrument cluster of the TT, which can be displayed in two different modes, Classic and Infotainment. In the former, the cluster displays the speedo and tacho with large conventional dials but in the latter the gauges are relegated to smaller items in each corner of the screen to make way for the navigation, vehicle or media functions.
At the other end of the information-overload spectrum, Kia’s User-Centred Driver concept features a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the 20-inch UVO centre console and a widescreen 18-inch head-up display.
While the other car makers concentrated on connectivity, Ford and Toyota both used CES to preview future powertrain solutions.
The blue oval revealed its C-Max Solar Energi concept, a family wagon with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain with a battery pack that can be recharged from a high-tech solar panel on the roof, using a special lens to amplify the sunlight enough to generate the equivalent energy over a day to a four-hour charge from mains power.
Japanese maker Toyota had a camouflaged prototype of the hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle it plans to start selling commercially in 2015.
Toyota admits “there is still work to be done” to ensure it is safe and affordable by the time it hits showrooms and that it is working with companies to guarantee the infrastructure is in place for consumers to be able refuel the vehicles.