When you sit in the driver’s seat of the all-new 2015 Audi A3, as I just did, you could easily miss how tech-laden this car is. There aren’t a lot of dials or screens. In fact, the look is spare and minimal. Turn on the engine, and a screen pops up offering route guidance. Still, nothing here screams pencil protector and nerdy glasses. But the technology is there, integrated into the car in a way that’s probably a bit of a historical moment in car design. There is a good reason this car was launched officially in Silicon Valley, heart of technology, and just a stone’s throw from Google, which was a partner in the development of this car.
A reasonably informed nerd might assume the machine being made here is a slick gaming tablet rather than a sweet ride: Nvidia, Google, ATT, and Qualcomm were in on it.
Take a look at the tech companies Audi partnered with on the A3. A reasonably informed nerd might assume the machine being made here is a slick gaming tablet rather than a sweet ride: Nvidia, Google, AT&T, and Qualcomm were in on it. The technology is baked quietly into the vehicle, not riveted on after the fact. But you will know it’s there when you use it.
As a tech geek, I love to see this much technology in my ride. So let me introduce you to technologies that make this car worthy of a Silicon Valley launch.
From Qualcomm: Gobi 4G/LTE Modem
Got a smartphone? There is a good chance, then, that you hold one of Qualcomm’s products in your hand every day. This company makes the Snapdragon processors and modems that power some of the most powerful smartphones on the market. The A3 has the newest Gobi 4G/LTE modem.
Your next question is probably, “Why?” Does my car need to connect to the Internet if I have a smartphone? Yes, it does, for reasons that make this car future proof: Want to connect your laptop, tablet, and whatever else you or your family uses to access the information superhighway while you fly down the tarmac superhighway?
This modem creates a fast Wi-Fi hotspot in the car and lets passengers connect up to eight devices. But that’s not the only reason. When a car can connect to the Internet to update its own software and maps, it won’t ask you to plug in a USB dongle or take it to the dealer to do that. And you won’t ever have to suffer outdated maps or technology. The car can do small, frequent updates the same way your phone does.
So, as the Internet of things evolves, your connected car can update itself to keep up, connecting to your house, your phone, other cars, parking structures, and the rest of the world. Connected! It’s what computers—be they desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, toaster, or sexy sedan—like to be.
From AT&T: The Data Connection
AT&T is providing the data connection to that Gobi modem, making the A3 the first car on the streets to have a 4G/LTE connection. (There are other cars following quickly, including all cars with OnStar.) And that means that after a six-month free trial period, when you will no-doubt become completely dependent on having data in the car, you’ll have to buy your car a data plan. Audi and AT&T will offer two options: a 5GB six-month plan for $99 or a 30GB thirty-month plan for $499.
From Nvidia: The Graphics Processor
Ask any teenager what the difference is between your perfectly adequate work computer and the one he or she covets for playing high-end graphical games. The answer is likely to be “an Nvidia graphics processor.” These little microchips handle high-speed, ultra-rich displays without choking or making you wait. That means the A3’s in-dash display will deliver detailed, intricate graphics that can keep up with the apps and services you will want to display there.
From Google: The Mapping
This machine is connected, has a data feed, and is capable of high-speed graphics processing? That makes Google Maps Street View and Google Earth possible right in that pop-up display. Because isn’t that where you want to keep your maps? In the car? Yes. You are driving a computer.