Connected car technology is one of the hottest topics emerging from CE (Consumer Electronics) Week. Companies ranging from Buick, to Pioneer, to Blackberry & QNX have developed new forms of connective products for the car. And this connected car technology, from Smartphone apps, to in-dash receivers, infotainment systems and WiFi, is changing driving, as the connected car protects and entertains more than ever.

Connected Car Protects You

Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

It was unanimous among panel experts at a “Connected Car” talk about using car technology to “protect and serve the urban commuter,” that with smartphone use virtually everywhere, drivers are more comfortable than ever using all kinds of technology. But how are they using the systems in their cars?

There’s plenty of new connected car technology on the market, from apps with real-time traffic to “driver assist systems” that can take over partial control of a car.

The challenge now: How quickly can companies create and introduce effective technology that’s easily understood and that helps to protect those in the car, while also enhancing the driving experience? That’s a large order, but the experts say better integration of the connective products and better voice recognition are key.

No Simple Answers

Those solutions aren’t simple, but panelists agreed that with expanding consumer demand, what’s needed is the easiest experience possible for the driver. Bigger screens and beautiful digital layouts were on display, with their marketers saying easy connection is priority, whether it’s for the safety, convenience, or entertainment of those in the car.

QNX, Maserati, Blackberry

Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Kathy McMahon, Director of Infotainment/Telematics Systems Engineering at GM/Buick, says, “Using your devices in the car as if they are connected devices becomes a distracted driving problem.”

In other words—if you’re the driver, you really shouldn’t be using your smartphone while driving. Rather, the connectivity needs to be integrated into the car. “If we put in a good user interface as a natural way for people to access what they want to use, that’s a good way to cut down on distracted driving,” McMahon said.

These days, “…we’re looking at an aggregation of all content—traffic, appointments, knowing the driver’s habits and schedule and making prompts that are easy to use,” Ted Cardenas, V.P. of Marketing at Pioneer’s Car Electronics Division said as he explained factors being taken into consideration when producing the latest products.

Future Cars

Looking into the cars of the (possibly near) future, according to Brian Radloff, Director of Strategic Accounts-Automotive at Nuance, means using artificial intelligence and predictive intelligence.

“It means looking at what a person does the first five minutes they are in the car.” Based on that intelligence, plus cloud intel, the car can then provide needed information to help manage the expectations of the driver.

Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Cars are becoming more, “situationally aware,” said Derek Kuhn, Vice President of Sales for Blackberry Technology Solutions. As we sat in a QNX technology concept car based on a Maserati Quattroporte GTS, he showed me some of these new concept technologies, explaining the intent with the connectivity is, “to know the situation that the car is in at the time.”

The car’s concept solutions (some in practice now, some farther off from being fully practical) include, “infotainment systems, digital instrument clusters, and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). “ There are cameras, sensors, cloud-based services, speech interfaces and more, each with the intent of making driving easier, while increasing awareness and warning of potential dangers.

For instance, the car’s systems offered visual cues to help a driver gauge direction and proximity of objects near it—like determining how far away a pedestrian is from the front bumper and how quickly you’d need to stop to avoid hitting them. Another scenario was a rearview mirror that senses drivers’ eye movements to determine if they are paying attention to the road, or falling asleep. Once determined, the car, may set off an alarm, or shake the steering wheel, or even know to pull off to the side of the road on its own, and decide whether it should call 9-1-1.

Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Big Data

The buzz words of “Big Data,” were in the air. Technology will allow drivers to beat gridlock, avoid accidents and figure out the most effective route to take. Experts virtually all agree that the cloud allows for people to be better drivers. Thanks to big data, there are masses of information piped in from drivers all around you. You’re getting real-time facts that are more accurate than what’s usually embedded into car systems. That, they conclude, makes your drive potentially safer and more enjoyable.

Wi-Fi Hotspots

Kate McMahon, at GM/Buick, touted the ability to find Wi-Fi hotspots everywhere these days. She talked about taking a car trip from New York to Florida, describing how now you can be sitting in the non-driver seats working on your computer throughout the entire drive thanks to additional power in antennas. Gone now is the need to stop at Starbucks for a hotspot.

But with all these new expectations, how do you overcome the slower cycle of car-making itself? When you get a car, you expect it to last. But electronic products are constantly changing. Yet you can’t constantly change out your car’s systems to make sure they work with the latest products. This is perhaps the biggest challenge of all—one leaving car, car product and technology companies in an ongoing race for the best solutions.