However, here’s some good news. If you are one of the many drivers who disapprove of sat-nav’s penchant for backseat driving, the next-generation of cloud-connected cars – powered by the likes of Microsoft, Google and RIM – will catapult in-car tech into the future. Slow, rarely-updated sat-nav will be replaced by Googlemaps, Streetview, Bing and a ton of other sophisticated tech. Sat-nav, and it’s relentless, clumsy utterings will be made to look positively medieval. Welcome to the digital dashboard…
The age of digital driving
2012: Best In-car Infotainment tech
It’s internet-connected Entune infotainment system features apps such as Open Table and Movietickets, allowing users to book food and films through the car’s touchscreen console.
Poor sense of direction? The Uvo system uses the car’s onboard GPS to guide lost owners back to a misplaced parked car. What’s more, in the States this system automatically calls 911 should the car be involved in a crash.
The Sync system has been around for over four years in the States, but the latest version will feature in the forthcoming B-MAX MPV. Two USB slots allow the driver to plug in a 3G mobile broadband dongle and create their own Wi-Fi hotspot.
Introduced in 2010, BMW’s Connected system aimed to integrate iPhone and in-house BMW apps into its MINI-branded cars. MINI Connected already allows owners to use internet radio, check Facebook and Twitter subscribe to RSS news feeds and use Google’s services.
Dodge Uconnect Touch
Installed in the highly-anticipated Dodge Dart (due this spring), Uconnect can access weather, fuel prices, news and film listings via an 8.4-inch central touchscreen.
While you point it in the right direction, your car’s Intel-powered ‘infotainment’ brain will be busily chatting to your smartphone, planning routes based on the meetings in your diary, closing the garage door for you, predicting tomorrow’s departure time by looking at your calendar, turning the air-con on a few minutes before you enter the vehicle so its comfortable in a bleak day in September and – quite possibly – tweeting your doctor to grass you up for having a crafty cigarette at the Watford Gap.
To be fair, Ford’s Evos concept – built to showcase Ford’s partnership with Microsoft – doesn’t allow cars the luxury of their own Twitter account, but it does everything else we just mentioned and more.
Pim van der Jagt, Joint Managing Director at Ford of Europe’s Advanced Research & Engineering Centre, believes the infotainment software in cars has traditionally lagged far behind the rest of the computing world – but that Wi-Fi and 3G Mobile Hotspots will have a profound effect on the industry this year: “We want to connect the vehicle with the rest of your personal life. So your home, your vehicle, your iPad, your contacts and preferences, your music catalogue – all this will be available via cloud connectivity. When you wake up in the morning, the vehicle has already talked to your house and office, figured out time what time you need to leave the house and synched with your smartphone to set an alarm call”.
In other words, your car will be bespoke – tailored your individual needs and preferences. Say van der Jagt, “As you step into your car, the type of music that playing in your house will be playing in your car.” And, perhaps most impressive of all, “The Evos concept has a heart rate monitor fitted in the seat so the car knows when you’re stressed.” It cross-references this data with the density of the traffic on the roads and your workload, checking your diary and looking at the number of meetings and engagements. So the Evos not only knows when you’re stressed, but why.
Your car will predict your every move
The ‘why’ is important because it can then take the appropriate action – what you might call ‘Florence Nightingale’ mode. It can shut off your mobile phone to give you some peace and quiet, adopt soothing mood lighting in the car’s cabin, change the ride settings from Sport to Comfort to help relax the driver, or play what youngsters might call ‘blissed-out chillwave’ on the stereo.
But while Ford and Microsoft have showcased their plan for the future in the Evos, BlackBerry’s has already shown off an in-car version of its forthcoming QNX OS. Features include Near Field Communication to automatically pair the car with your smartphone, and Ultra HD voice technology that brings CD quality audio to phone calls.
Then there’s the ingenious Smart Ford-U.S. concept – a 12ft electric pick-up truck. In place of a standard rear-view mirror it has a smartphone holder situated atop the dash, thus allowing the driver to see what’s happening behind them – via a live stream from an integrated video camera pointing out of the rear of the vehicle.
If that sounds more like a videogame than motoring – not to mention field day for cops issuing ‘fixed penalty’ notices – you’d have a point. Hence manufacturers are wary of tempting the driver with too many cloud-connected applications. Ford’s van der Jagt believes that “If we allow apps they must be safe and most of the time interfacing must be via voice control because this is the safest way to operate the vehicle.” Ford has even developed an aerial that blocks Wi-Fi connection only in the driver’s area of the cabin, whilst allowing passengers full online access.
There is one bad piece of news about the Ford Evos, though. Those insanely cool gullwing doors are, according to Ford, “Just for the concept – they look cool but they’re also very expensive!”