Vehicles are increasingly becoming our offices as we see how seamlessly they will connect with our smart phones. They are also a second living room, and a second suit of clothes.
At the Consumer Electronics Show and the North American International Auto Show this month, lots of new wares, flares and doodads caught our attention -- everything from Ford's decision to open up its Sync infotainment system to app developers to a handy set of wipes we recommend keeping in your car to deal with the smudge-prone touch screens and console controls that are increasingly turning up.
Have a look at what's new and what's coming:
Wouldn't we all like to get rid of phone charging cords in the car?
Audiovox Electronics is bringing wireless phone charging to the car this summer. Audiovox President Tom Malone said at CES that his company is readying a device that uses Qi wireless charging. Features will include a universal quick-clamp and release cradle, capacitive sensing to activate charging and a 12-volt adapter. The target suggested retail price will be $70 plus a choice of mounting systems.
Tablet computers are becoming popular entertainment devices for cars, especially in the back-seat for kids. So, Shiniest Industries showed a new set of mounting systems at CES that may well appeal to families who don't have factory-installed rear-seat DVD screens.
The new series of holders will take car of a 12-inch tablet down to a Kindle-sized tablet and even down to a five-inch smartphone by way of adjustable hardware.
There are a few different kinds of mounts: one to attach to the headrest of the front-seat passengers; one that can hook into the dashboard for those who use tablets in the front seat, and even a suction-cup mounts for windows. Pricing still to come, but it should be available at retail later this year.
We all know that hands-free use of a phone is best when driving. Indeed, many states and cities have made it unlawful to use a smartphone in a moving car any other way. If you are seen with a phone to your ear in New York City while driving, the ticket can run you in excess of $100.
Into this situation comes Hi-Call USA's Hi-Call winter gloves that have a Bluetooth speaker and microphone sewn into the thumb and pinky of the glove. To make a call, the user speaks to the pinky and puts their thumb into their ear to hear.
Of course, these gloves work outside the car too, but we couldn't resist thinking about how they could throw the fuzz off. If questioned, you could just say that you had your finger in your ear.
Magellan launched a new GPS navigation device that connects to a Cloud-based service to to receive pushed location-based content, including Yelp and Foursquare reviews an offers from nearby businesses.
Just think. You are finding your way through suburban Chicago neighborhoods looking for the hotel you booked, or the conference you are attending, and an offer from the local steakhouse comes through: Two for one price entrees.
The SmartGPS, which connects the car to the Cloud via a Bluetooth-connected smartphone, is the industry's first on-dash GPS unit to integrate pushed location-based updates from social media apps. Pricing not yet announced.
Security company Directed showed off MyAutomate, which offers car buyers a selection of telematics features that let them connect, interact, secure and control virtually any new vehicle, all from an iPhone, or Android device, while also establishing a link to the dealership.
This device will be primarily sold through dealers to customers at point of sale. The four key reasons to buy it is its ability to connect the car to the dealership's service department, allowing for remote diagnosis of problems; it will tell you when your car is stolen, and tells you where the thief is taking it; has remote starter and GPS tracking (track your young teen driver or perhaps ... a cheating spouse?) Once it is installed, you can operate those functions from a phone app.
With more and more touch screens showing up in cars, fingerprints and general funk are becoming a problem. It's getting to be that a driver needs to keep a supply of screen cleaners in the car, handy for quick clean-ups.
Enter Funk Off! Screen wipes. These individually packaged, pre-moistened wipes are easy-to-use and travel in your briefcase, wallet, handbag, car, etc. A package of 100 will cost you $14.
The Tylt Band is a new way to charge your smartphone in your car. It has been designed with a flat silicon rubber cable that will not tangle with your other cables or keep your center console from closing. The length of just over 2 feet, is just the right length to reach any cup holder or lay on the seat.
Another Tylt product we like is the Y Charger, which is a stiff rubber car charger that will plug right into your cigarette lighter and charge up to two devices via USB.
Toyota has jumped into the autonomous car category, wondering with the rest of us if we will ever really get to buy cars that are so good at driving themselves that we can just sit back and read a book after punching our destination into the navigation system. Lexus is testing its technology on a tricked out Lexus LS460.
For now, Toyota and Lexus officials are stressing that, while this research could lead to fully-autonomous vehicles in the future, that's not really what they're going for. Instead, the company wants to focus on "partially automated technologies" that will enhance the skills of the driver.
Said Mark Templin, general manager of Lexus: "Our vision is a car equipped with an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving."
The Lexus has been modified with multiple sensors, lasers, radars, and cameras for processing the car's surroundings. It has a 360-degree laser system on the roof that detects objects 70 meters away.
There are also three high-definition color cameras for detecting traffic light colors and approaching vehicles,. There is radar capability on the front and sides of the vehicle for measuring the location and speeds of nearby objects, and GPS antennas on the roof for estimating vehicle angle and orientation. The system also measures the vehicle's travel distance and speed, as well as acceleration and angle changes.
Ford Motor Co. has a growing base of customers for its Sync telematics/infotainment system, and just announced that it was opening the system up for app developers for new apps other than games.
Ford already boasts about 20 apps integrated with its Sync AppLink system, with nine new apps announced at the CES show this month. Cars in the near future seem likely to let drivers install apps for a variety of uses into the dash. Similar to using a smartphone, a driver might have his or her favorite apps to load up when they get a new car.
Early next year, the Chevy Spark and Sonic LTZ and RS will integrate Siri, the intelligent assistant that helps get things done, just by asking.
Through the cars' standard Chevy MyLink infotainment system, customers with a compatible iPhone running iOS 6 can direct Siri to perform a number of tasks while they safely keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. To further minimize distraction, Siri takes hands-free functionality even further with an Eyes Free mode that enables users to interact with their iPhone using nothing more than their voice while keeping the device's screen from lighting up.
Owners simply connect their iPhone with the MyLink radio via Bluetooth, pair with the system, and use the steering wheel voice activation button to begin and end sessions with Siri in Eyes Free mode.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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