Amid the frivolous, like Angry Birds becoming available on Samsung TV sets, or just plain inexplicable, like Panasonic teaming up with MySpace, the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is also showing the way to how we will drive in the near future. Especially if we drive an Audi.
"Audi connect" is the company's term for an array of features that can turn a car from mere conveyance into an intelligent device, just like our smartphones and computers. Underneath it all is the new standard for radio waves, called Long Term Evolution (LTE), that can allow streaming of video and other large amounts of data. So things like Google Earth, Google Street View, email and many other web-related functions become possible.
LTE connects with a smartphone. For anyone griping that they don't have an Apple iPhone, one of Audi's newest innovations is the Audi Phone Box, which it calls "a universal interface between a cell phone and the car."
The car will also have a seven-inch screen (less than half an inch thick) showing 3D graphics, plus a head-up display for the driver. Right now, the company uses a rotary wheel that works something like a computer mouse (and also reminiscent of BMW's tolerated-rather-than-loved iDrive system) to access functions like navigation, phone calls and music - along with voice commands and a touchpad. But there are plans afoot to add control just by using gestures.
Some of this tech will find its way into the new generation of compact sedan, the 2013 Audi A3, expected later this year. No doubt it will then proliferate throughout the lineup. Eventually, though, features like lane keeping assist - where onboard computers and servo motors can actually apply the brakes and make steering inputs - will lead to cars being able to drive themselves. That would necessitate a level of communication between separate vehicles and with the infrastructure in general, what Audi calls "networked mobility." And LTE is able to achieve that very thing.