Top in-car technologies
Ah, in-car technology. Am I alone in my slavish love of it? Lucky me, there is a ton of innovation going on, and no better time in history to take advantage of technologies that amuse us as well as keep us connected, help keep us safe, help us park, help us stay between the lines - in general get us closer and closer to the day we won't have to drive our cars at all. We'll just jump in, push a button, and let electronic Jeeves do all the work. Thereby freeing up more to play driving games.
While I do, in general, adore them, some are more useful/fun/worth the price than others. I've decided to offer you this handy report card, based entirely on my own subjective opinions. You're welcome.
Internet connectivity: Intel says connected cars are the third-fasted growing technology, behind smartphones and tablets. However, with smartphones and tablets so proliferate, one wonders if in-car Internet is necessary at all. The question isn't stopping manufacturers from researching the heck out of it though, with some, like Audi, already offering 3G wireless. Useful, but perhaps redundant, and hey, do we really need to be connected to the internet everybloodywhere we go?
Apps: Leveraging smartphones and tablets and their Internet connectivity seems like a smarter way to go, and auto apps are on the rise. Mercedes will offer its Drive Style iPhone app for 2013, allowing a portion of the device's content to appear on an in-dash display. Buick Intellilink and Cadillac CUE are coming soon too. Chevy at this year's Consumer Electronics Show introduced MyLink, a new in-dash system in partnership with electronics giant LG, which will debut on their entry-level Sonic and Spark. Kia's got UVO, Ford's got SYNC, everybody's got something. Then there are the independents, like Car Butler, auto dictionaries, iLocate, Car Recalls, Backseat Driver ... they're endless. Useful, but only if you're addicted to your smartphone. Me, I'm ambivalent.
Infotainment platforms: MyTouch, MyLink, MyGIG, MyCOMAND, ConnectedDrive, Entune: the OEMs are definitely doing it. Garmin's doing it, Microsoft's doing it, Harman's doing it. DVDs, MP3s, nav systems. Everybody's doing something. Let's keep it up, people. I loves the infotainment.
Gesture control: The 2013 Ford Escape's got a feature that lets you swipe your foot along the underside of the rear end to open the tailgate, as long as the key is on you. Mercedes' Dynamic & Intuitive Control Experience (DICE) lets your pretend you're in Minority Report. Hard to grade, given that some seem genius, while others seem like the ill-conceived wet dreams of German engineers. I'm just waiting for thought control. In concept, super cool. In practice? I'm withholding judgment.
Around-view camera: Love. I actually know a man who killed his own toddler. Following an acrimonious argument with his wife, he slammed out of the house, got into his car, and slammed it into reverse - and his bike-riding 2-yr-old. Can you even fathom that? Tragically, it's not that uncommon; in fact, the development of rearview cameras coincides with the increase in so-called "backover" fatalities (which, not coincidentally, coincides with the surging popularity of giant SUVs). Around-view is the next step in their evolution. If there's an argument against them, I can't imagine what it is.
Centre airbags: GMC is pioneering the centre airbags in its 2013 Acadia. The bag deploys from the inboard side of the driver's seat in the event of a far-side collision. I'm not against these, but it does seem like maybe the safety R & D department just got all loopy in a meeting and, since they couldn't figure out how to bubble-wrap the passengers just figured, "Hey, I know! Let's stick another airbag in it!" GM says their analysis of NHTSA's data told them that far-side impact crashes accounted for 11% of belted front-seat occupant fatalities in non-roller incidents between 2004 and 2009, which does sound unpleasant. I'm sure someone will save themselves a dire injury by colliding with it instead of their spouse's thick head, but I just can't get excited about it, and truthfully, would never pay a penny extra for it.
Stop & Go: Annoying? Mostly, yes. Although every manufacturer would tell you that their system is "undetectable" (I'd be willing to lay odd that nine in 10 of them use that exact word in their press releases), I have yet to encounter one that actually is. In normal city driving, they're a pain. But in gridlock, I can certainly see their usefulness. And it can save up to 10% in fuel. Much like the centre airbag, it seems like a good idea, but I'm still not that excited. My colleague Mathieu St-Pierre just wrote that it should be standard equipment by 2014, like a steering wheel or wipers. Then again, Matt thinks traction control makes you stupid, so let's take that with a grain of salt.
Blindspot and lane departure warnings: Ah, the nanny techs. I think we need them for society's buffoons, but that I personally don't need them. Just as, I'm sure, most of the buffoons think. Owing to the vagaries of car design, not to mention people-design, I'm more for than against. I've driven cars that I thought had a big blind spot thanks to some wide pillars, only to read that a colleague thinks the car has the best visibility ever - we're significantly different heights whose shoulder-checks garner significantly different intelligence recon. Just let us turn them off if we want to, and I say go for it.
Overall, there may be some iffy R & D money going down the drain, but it's sure as heck a good time to be alive for us gadget freaks.