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Autonomous Cars, In-Vehicle Infotainment Steer New Direction at CES

Automakers hope to turn the car into a digital showpiece.

by on Jan.08, 2013

Ford Chief Technology Officer Paul Masarenas at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.

Want your friends to get a Glympse of what you’re up to? That’s easy if you’re using the Glympse smartphone app and driving a Ford product equipped with the maker’s latest-generation Sync infotainment system.  With the touch of a button and a simple voice command, the technology will allow a driver to send out a bulletin alerting friends where you are – and where you’re heading.

“We’re providing drivers with a rich, real-time and hands-free way to share where they are,” explains Brian Bryan Trussel, the CEO of Glympse, which is showing off its new software – and its partnership with Ford at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

CES is the largest trade show in the country and this year organizers are reporting record turnout at an even featuring 3,250 exhibitors spread out across 1.9 million square feet of exhibition space at the Las Vegas Convention Center. And that doesn’t include spin-off gatherings scattered all across Sin City.


Traditionally, the show has focused on televisions, audio systems, computers and smartphones, but in recent years automotive technology has come to play a more important role. More than a dozen different automakers have staked out a presence at the 2013 CES, along with scores of hardware suppliers, app makers and other vendors looking to make inroads into the transportation industry.

Ford has been one of the most active in the field and CEO Alan Mulally has been as frequent a guest as Microsoft founder Bill Gates in recent years.  While Mulally has remained in Detroit this time around, preparing for next week’s Detroit Auto Show, Ford is again staking out a highly visible role.  The maker is showing off a new developer program it hopes will make it easier for companies like Glympse to come up with apps that can be used with the Sync system.

Explains chief technology officer, Paul Mascarenas, Ford is “inviting software developers to deliver thoughtful, meaningful solutions that will enhance the driving experience.”  They’ll be added to a growing list that already includes Stitcher ratio, Pandora, iHeartRadio and, in the coming weeks, a service dubbed Kaliki, where stories from magazines like Men’s Fitness and Shape will be read out loud.

Ford is just one of many automakers looking to expand its line-up of apps. But there are plenty of other ways manufacturers are using CES to show off their new in-vehicle technologies.

Hyundai’s Blue Link system already offers a variety of connectivity, convenience and safety solutions and the maker will add the next-generation Google Maps API to ensure that its navigation database remains up-to-date. That would eliminate the need to regularly order and install expensive DVD-based map updates.

Like most of its competitors, Hyundai claims its latest Dragon Drive update will improve the ability of its infotainment system to recognize natural voice commands to find music, check the weather or ask for directions. And by tapping into Apple’s Siri concierge system if a motorist owns a new iPhone, it will be easy to find the best restaurant after the show ends.

Automakers have long relied on proprietary hardware and software systems but that creates a conundrum: technology that is typically expensive and often out-of-date. By linking to smartphones and using more open-architecture based technologies, makers hope to start moving at a speed closer to that of the consumer electronics industry while also driving down costs.

Chrysler is showing off the first dealer-activated navigation system. Instead of ordering the technology at the time of purchase, a motorist could save money up front and later go back to activate the system. The technology will initially be offered on the new Fiat 500L, Dodge Ram 1500 pickup and SRT Viper sports car but will eventually spread to much of the rest of the maker’s line-up.

“With dealer-activated navigation, we are adopting a ‘no-customer-left-behind’ attitude,” explained Marios Zenios, Vice President- Uconnect Systems and Services.

In all, automotive-related exhibits are taking up about 100,000 square feet of CES exhibition space, a 5% increase from 2012, according to organizers.

While much of the emphasis is on infotainment technology, automakers are also exploring more advanced safety and control systems, such as Toyota’s Advanced Automotive Safety Research Vehicle, or AASRV, which the maker is using to test technologies that could serve as “an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving,” says Mark Templin, general manager of the Japanese maker’s luxury brand Lexus.

(For more on the AASRV, Click Here.)

A number of senior industry executives are on hand for this year’s CES, including Audi CEO Wolfgang Durheimer. The German marque’s theme for the show is “Electronic trends over the next decade,” and that covers everything from advanced interior lighting to autonomous driving technology.

Not so coincidentally, Audi announced this week that it was the first luxury automaker to receive a license to publicly test its self-driving vehicle technology on Nevada roads.  The state is the first in the country to formally put in place a registration program for autonomous vehicles – which some proponents contend could be offered for sale by the end of the decade.

Audi is demonstrating at CES a less complex piloted driving system that will help a motorist steer through congested traffic at speeds of up to nearly 40 mph.

“At Audi you’d be hard pushed to find an innovation that isn’t related to electronics nowadays,” says Ricky Hudi, Head of Electrics/Electronics Development.

It’s probably no surprise that the auto industry is getting such a grand welcome to CES. The consumer electronic industry has struggled in recent years and is searching for the next “big thing.” And in-car technology could become just that.  Consider that Rhapsody, another music app that Ford will pair with Sync now finds 40% of its subscribers using the service on the road.

The most advanced of today’s cars now have more digital technology onboard than you’ll find in the typical home and in the years ahead, that could be true of even the lowest-priced econoboxes. So expect to see automakers stake out an even higher profile at the CES show for years to come.

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2 Responses to “Autonomous Cars, In-Vehicle Infotainment Steer New Direction at CES”

  1. Jorge M. says:

    I can see the product liability lawyers lining up now. If you thought the bogus “unintended acceleration lawsuits” were insane, wait until the autonomous car lawsuits begin.

    At least now when the drivers of these cars are playing with their electronic toys, aka infortainment devices, they can claim the car caused the crash…

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Jorge, note that the laws enacted in Nevada, for example, still require there be a person in the driver’s seat ready to take over instantly. And such things as drinking and driving or texting are still not permitted.

      Paul E.