Technology getting behind the wheel
MOTORING CES:A record number of car makers exhibited at the International Consumer Electronics Show this year, with eight firms taking space in the convention centre. Audi, Ford and Lexus were among the big-name motoring brands, with many other companies showcasing everything from voice recognition systems for vehicles to in-car audio and “infotainment” system.
As with last year, many are eager to showcase their driver assist systems, which aim to prevent crashes and make vehicles safer. But content is fast becoming an important battleground for car manufacturers, as they seek to entice tech-savvy buyers into investing in their products in an increasingly tough marketplace.
Many of the deals announced at the show are unlikely to be extended to Irish shores; Ford’s deal with Rhapsody for example, which saw the internet music service chalk up its first tie-in with a car company.
Under the deal, Ford will offer Rhapsody International’s internet music service in more than one million Ford and Lincoln vehicles.
The Sync-enabled cars can use voice control and manual buttons integrated into steering wheels to control functions on a connected smartphone.
Rhapsody has already identified a significant trend among its users, with 40 per cent of subscribers using the service while driving. It doesn’t plan to stop at Ford, with the music service’s president Jon Irwin confirming that it is also in talks with other car makers.
There are rivals. Pandora – another service that is unavailable to Irish users – provides its music service in 75 different car models.
Another tech firm promoting internet radio in cars, Livio, showed off its plans to revamp the humble FM radio service. “FM is still number one in the car,” chief executive Jake Sigal said. Livio’s FM Connect service would allow drivers to interact with broadcast radio stations through a Bluetooth link with mobile phones. There are no hardware updates required, or changes to existing broadcast technology, just software updates.
The issue of driverless cars is an ongoing theme at the show, but it seems that not all car makers are keen to free the driver from the steering wheel.
While Google already has a licence to test the autonomous vehicles in Nevada, Toyota said it would concentrate instead on developing a virtual “co-pilot” system that will help improve driver safety.
Research in Japan has seen Toyota equip a Lexus LS sedan with advanced safety features, including sensors that let it observe and respond to its surroundings.
“For Toyota and Lexus, an autonomous vehicle does not translate to a driverless vehicle, but rather a car equipped with an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving,” Mark Templin, head of US sales for Lexus, said. “The driver must be fully engaged.”
That position was in contrast with Audi, which said it was ready to start testing driverless cars and announced it had been awarded a licence to do so in Nevada.
One clear message from the car firms at the show is that technology is playing an increasing role in the purchasing decisions of buyers. Whether technology will ultimately take over the controls of the car or not, that’s a trend that seems set to continue to grow.