Tech Takes to the Road at Auto Show

Forget the mobile phone, car makers and technology companies are teaming to rev up more advanced distractions in the automobile, including video games, displays, refrigerators, BBQ grills and more.

Much of the latest road trip technology is on display this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where Nissan featured its new Urge, a sporty vehicle that when not rolling, converts to a video game with the real steering wheel and pedals serving as controls for the “driver.”

Other technology for cars includes an increasing amount of hardware — screens, sound, cameras, wireless, appliances and other gadgets — and software, including on-board navigation systems, Internet connectivity, location-based services and entertainment capabilities.

Play Only While Parked

Fortunately, Nissan’s Urge does not allow gameplay during actual drive time, at least for the driver. However, when parked, owners of the new vehicles — which will reportedly sell for under US$20,000 — will be able to play games such as Microsoft’s “Project Gotham Racing 3” using the car’s actual steering wheel, gas and brake pedals while viewing on a 7-inch flip-down screen.

Microsoft claimed in a statement the vehicle is a testament to the importance of onboard multimedia to younger car buyers, described as “echo boomers.”

“Nissan conducted an Internet survey of 2,000 echo boomers, a majority of which said technology and gaming are among the most important attributes in their first car,” said a statement from Bruce Campbell, vice president of design at Nissan Design America in La Jolla, Calif. “Xbox 360 offered the latest in technology and was already a favorite among this audience.”

Inside and Out

The latest in telematics, as the car technology is called, also includes advanced automobile guidance, assistance and automation technology, with services such as On-Star and similar connectivity increasing.

Gartner Research Vice President Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld the trend is likely to continue as car makers use technology to drive new sales, and technology serves under the hood as much as in entertainment DVD screens and remote controls.

“You can see there’s a ton of technology going into cars,” he said, referring to his firm’s optimistic outlook for semiconductors in cars. “We’re seeing some pretty incredible things happening in terms of the way these vehicles operate,” he added, highlighting the batteries, transistors and other technology behind the latest hybrid vehicles.

Reynolds said directional and guidance technologies and services are also winning over consumers who don’t want to go back to folding maps and asking directions once they have experienced them.

Watch Your Speed

Reynolds also warned, however, that the race to gear up the automobile of tomorrow must work for the car in a simple manner.

“It has to be risk-free, and easy to operate,” he said. “That’s why you don’t see advanced, graphical user interfaces. It’s better to have simple systems that don’t interfere with driving.”

Jupiter Research Vice President Michael Gartenberg said there is a tremendous opportunity for technology companies as the car is further integrated with features of home, such as the phone, which is still adapting to the automobile largely with Bluetooth wireless technology.

Gartenberg said the in-car advances will come in smaller steps, with the biggest challenge being the integration of such technology into the vehicle and driving experience.

“The key is going to be integrating with the vehicle in a way that is unobtrusive, and in a way where everyone can acquire things while making sure the driver does not have another distraction to deal with.”

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