CES 2013: Car tech focuses on making the most of your time on the road — safely


QNX's concept car shows what's possible with connected car technology (Courtesy of QNX/Courtesy of QNX)
January 8, 2013

Is it possible to have your car do more without distracting you? That’s the idea behind the connected car — one of the main product threads to come out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The trend of techie cars is certainly nothing new, but it has previously been limited to such luxury lines such as Rolls Royce, Porsche and other high-end carmakers. Features such as automatic parking, collision avoidance and even more informative center console gauges are now expected on such high-end vehicles. But Derek Kuhn, marketing lead of the software firm QNX, said that systems such as those his company makes are trickling down to mid-tier lines.

Effortless is the name of the game when it comes to building out these new features. People are already texting, calling and checking e-mail behind the wheel — despite laws and campaigns to stop those behaviors — and software makers are focusing on making systems that will take care of the fussy parts of communicating from behind the wheel.
A simple example of this, he said, is one-touch Bluetooth pairing, which allows drivers to just tap a point on the dash to connect their phone and car. Another is the idea to put a navigation system screen in the instrument panel behind the wheel, so that drivers can take a quick look ahead of them instead of craning their necks to the center console.

“Our vision is do all the hard stuff underneath,” Kuhn said.

QNX also is working with AT&T to put its natural language program, Watson, into cars, making it easier for drivers to navigate messaging systems. It’s what QNX and others in the industry call “single utterance”: the difference between saying, “Where’s a good Italian restaurant around here?” and having to parse through several levels of a menu to uncover dinner recommendations and directions.

As for the really aspirational car technology, QNX is introducing a concept for Bentley that has a touchscreen dashboard with a single dial that controls the radio and air temperature as well as the car’s more sophisticated systems.

“The graphics grow out of the knob just as [your hand] approaches it, and media, navigation, car settings. . .they fill the entire center of the car,” said Andy Gryc, a QNX automotive product marketing manager.

Other big ideas include stereo conference calls, video conferencing (while parked) and other tech that will make the time you spend in the car more efficient.

While there’s a lot to come in this field, including the advent of driverless cars already drawing attention at this year’s show, consumers can actually expect to see smaller features that connect to entertainment and news services in the cars they’re most likely to purchase in the coming year.

Subaru, for example, is introducing systems called “Starlink” and “EyeSight” which include access to Internet radio systems, social network connections and smart-braking systems. Hyundai is working with Apple to integrate the Siri system into some models for basic phone functions. And Chrysler announced Monday that it’s allowing customers with certain versions of its Uconnect system to add navigation options to older cars by visiting their dealers.

“Sometimes customers don’t realize what they want until they need it,” Marios Zenios, a Uconnect Systems and Services executive, said in a statement. “That’s fine. We can help. With dealer-activated navigation, we are adopting a ‘no-customer-left-behind’ attitude.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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