Companies are finding brave new ways for our cars to help us live better. Here are my favorites.
1. The Tesla of the Future
The slickest piece of car technology I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show was this future-looking prototype Tesla in the Delphi booth. There was a lot of talk this year about autonomous driving. But this was a hands-on demonstration of the future. Once cars are tricked out with sensors and autonomous driving features, the driver will be free to focus on other things. How will that change the interior of the car? This gorgeous design feat is an imagining of the interior of that car of the future. With cameras to detect if the driver is paying attention, a huge in-dash screen, the ability to change the appearance of the dash with a 3D NVIDIA display that renders a stunning new look digitally, a projector capable of displaying movies on the interior of the windshield, and a complete gaming system in the back seat, it is a future I want to see.
Once cars are tricked out with sensors and autonomous driving features, the driver will be free to focus on other things. How will that change the interior of the car?
Since everyone in the car might be entertained in different ways, the sound system is personalized. Speakers in the left back seat play only for that passenger. And when the driver needs to take over driving, the car turns off the movie, flashes warnings, and – if you ignore that to send another email – it will buzz your seat and get aggressive. Those cameras and driver prompts help ensure the driver stays focused when he is driving as well.
2. Inductive Charging
Right now, car buyers are happy to get a few USB ports to keep devices charged while driving. But in a few years, those USB ports will be the cigarette lighter of previous generations. Cars will increasingly install much slicker wireless inductive charging systems. Just drop your phone on a flat surface on the dash, and it will connect to your telematics system and charge your device wirelessly. In the back seat, perhaps you’ll find a larger mount for a tablet so the kids can watch a movie while charging their tablet. Inductive charging is already built into in many new smartphones. (I charged my own Nexus 5 while listening to the Delphi rep explain the system.) And these chargers are widely available for phones. (Just search for Qi wireless chargers on Amazon.com.) It’s just a matter of time before they comes as standard features in cars.
3. Delphi Connect
There were some amazingly connected cars at CES. And there's a lot of forward-looking technology that won’t be available until later in the year … or further. It all made me look at my car’s in-dash telematics system with disgust. This Delphi solution to connected-car envy is available now (at delphiconnect.com) and doesn’t require a new car or a professional installation. Just plug this little unit into your car’s OBD-II port, download an app to your tablet or smartphone, mount that tablet to your dash, and MacGyver yourself an elegant solution for $199 plus a data plan for your car. (A version without Wi-Fi is $99.) It’s even better, actually, than some current in-dash systems. It gives you location tracking of the car (with geo-fencing so you can get alerts if your car leaves home, or wherever you set up a fence, without you), health data on your car, and turns your phone into another key fob that can start the car.
4. Pioneer NEX
Another solution for connected-car envy is this in-dash system from Pioneer. Plug in your phone (Android or iOS), and it will grab all the apps you already use and make them pretty for the in-dash display. App developers have to have created a version for NEX for them to show up here; there are many of these. You can listen to your own Pandora station, send a Glympse, and watch Netflix (if you are parked). It's almost like having your smartphone re-created on the dash. There's a range of models, but the high-end one boasts a slick capacitive touch screen with pinch and zoom.
5. Head-Up Display in the Mazda 3
Mazda was showcasing some slick technology in the Mazda 3 on the show floor. My favorite tool in that arsenal was the small rear projector just above the steering wheel that projected driver-related information to a spot that appeared about five feet away from the driver’s eye on the hood of the car. This is a secondary display; the car also has a raised display in the dash for navigation, music, apps, and other information. It shows the driver only driver-related information such as speed and when, according to the nav system, you should turn next. It’s a slick way to help keep the driver informed without asking her to look away from the road and find clues in a confusing in-dash screen.
6. 4G in the Car
As if Onstar – with its team of people at the ready to help you at the push of a button when you’re driving – wasn’t cool enough, going forward into 2014 and 2015, buying a GM car with Onstar means your car will come with a 4G LTE hotspot that delivers fast Internet access to up to seven devices in your car. Best part? According to the man in the GM booth at CES, it won’t matter if you buy a high-end luxury car or something in the $12K range, the Webernets come with. That’s the best reason to buy American you can give to a geek.