CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
Smarter cars and better gadgets
By Rafe Needleman
(December 15, 2004)
As always, car tech suppliers will have a big presence at CES 2005. Expect to see hot technology in two main areas.
Built-in auto tech
Despite the overall failure of American car companies to successfully sell new car tech (witness the low uptake of the OnStar system), more technology is getting bundled into cars. Almost all manufacturers now offer Bluetooth cell phone links, for example, and MP3 capabilities are not far behind, such as the iPod dock that BMW is now selling.
Representing the automobile manufacturers at CES will be Delphi and Visteon, the spinouts (from GM and Ford, respectively) that supply automotive electronics to manufacturers. Both companies are pressing forward with satellite radio, which is becoming a more readily available option-list item in new cars. But for real innovation, check out the companies' technologically advanced driver awareness systems that can warn you if you're about to merge or crash into another vehicle. While even today's most advanced systems will only beep and maybe touch the brakes or steering wheel for you, over time, expect to see versions of these systems that are more aggressive in terms of how much control they will wrest from a driver when they sense an accident is imminent.
If you think built-in car tech is getting a little intrusive or overwhelming, you're not alone, and a few manufacturers are taking steps to prove they agree. In some of its cars, Mercedes-Benz is actively trying to reduce the number of electronic gizmos that might distract drivers.
If you're not ready to spend the kind of money required to snag a new ride, you can still get some pretty hot tech in your car, thanks to the market for car add-ons. The advantage of plug-in, as opposed to built-in, technology products is that the development cycle for plug-in products is shorter than for fully integrated ones, so you can get more advanced technology for a lower price than what's available in new cars.
For example, the navigation systems now available from the likes of Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom put many systems built into cars to shame: they're faster, easier to use, and can cost $1,000 less than what you can get built into your dash. Plus, you can replace an aftermarket system when the technology moves forward, something you can't do in your five-year-old car when its computing infrastructure starts to get old. Look for more advanced navigation products at CES 2005.
The aftermarket also offers car owners security features that they can't get in their Ford Escort. While remote locking and unlocking features are available on all cars today, vendors such as Audiovox continue to push the technology by adding more remote features (such as remote starting) and two-way communication between you and your car, so it will call for help if the alarm goes off, for example. Alerts via cell phone and e-mail are next.
Other products will let you track car use when someone else (such as your teenage child) is driving it. For instance, current CarChip products will record instances of heavy acceleration, which you can download and review when the car comes home. Future products will let you see exactly where your car is at any time. Obviously, there are large privacy implications for this technology, so it will be interesting to see how the CES exhibitors address this issue.
Most aftermarket car technologies eventually make it into production--remote door locks and car alarms started as aftermarket products, for example. So if you see car tech you like in a retail box at CES in 2005, expect to see it built-in from various manufacturers in 2006 or 2007.
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