Cutting-edge technology tied to safe driving is one of the chief trends that surfaced at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show - the nation's largest. Manufacturers are hard at work developing new innovations that comply with road-safety regulations.
In an effort to keep roads safe, 75 municipalities throughout the state of Illinois, including Chicago, have banned the use of cell phones while driving. Other states also have laws barring such devices. Automakers have long been the leaders in developing hands-free interfaces allowing vehicle occupants to remain connected to their mobile device.
"Hands-free operation and smartphone interconnectivity applications are just some of the new technologies on display here at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show," said Chicago Auto Show Chairman Mike Ettleson.
Infotainment - described as information-based media content that includes entertainment - is on display in every exhibit and becoming mainstream in today's cars. Specifically, center console display screens have become increasingly popular in recent years. Although initially offering only general information like outside temperature, radio station and vehicle status, screen features have now expanded to include rearview cameras and apps similar to those found on smartphones. Some manufacturers, such as General Motors, offer technology that can read a driver's text message aloud without ever needing to reach for their phone.
"Since 2007, we've got a ton of smartphones just piling into people's pockets, so a lot of that technology and a lot of those trends we're seeing move into the vehicles," said David Szczepanski, lead connected customer specialist at General Motors. "With the [Chevy] Spark, the brain is really the phone...all of the data lives on your phone, the processing happens on the phone, but the screen is how you interact with it."
Szczepanski says that playing around with the new technology is a lot of fun, but that it will also help keep you safe. "If you ask [the technology] a question that it needs you to look at the phone, it will say 'Sorry, for your safety, I can't do that.'"
Kia Motors is also moving driver safety to the fore in its infotainment offerings. Kia Motors' Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications Michael Sprague says that Kia's UVO eServices, an in-vehicle communications and infotainment system, allows drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road. Sprague adds, "But [drivers can] still access their Blackberry, iPhone, or any other PDA that they bring into the vehicle so you can phone your friends, you can listen to your music, you can schedule service if your vehicle needs it; there's a whole slew of products that this vehicle can help you communicate with."
Infotainment and tech amenities have even made their way into trucks - a line of vehicles historically noted for their "work horse" capability and towing and load capacities. Doug Scott, Ford's truck group marketing manager, said the feature content in a number of Ford trucks rivals that of any vehicle on the road. However, Scott points out that Ford's concept trucks have even more to offer.
"Next gen LED lighting, toggle switches, a 10-inch screen in the center console...again, stretching the envelope. That's what you try to do with a design concept is give the customer an idea of what the future might look like and really stretch your boundaries," said Scott.
Other infotainment and technology features appearing in 2013 cars include:
Active and passive safety technology
Adaptive cruise control with brake assist
Smart phone app integration
WiFi hot spot