Tech, Auto Brands Team Up to Transform Cars Into Rolling Internet Platforms at CES

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Anyone concerned that automobiles soon will be reduced to self-driven, rolling video-game platforms should stay away from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. Tech companies from Nvidia to Google to Samsung, and auto brands from Audi to Hyundai to Chevrolet, are making it clear at CES that super-enhanced in-vehicle internet connectivity may be their most important technological priority these days.

Chevrolet announced that the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette, Impala, Malibu And Volt would be the first GM vehicles to come optionally equipped with OnStar 4G LTE, an industry first across multiple product lines, to be followed quickly by the majority of the 2015 Chevy lineup in the US and Canada. Among other things, the initiative will create a Wi-Fi hotspot in GM vehicles.

Busily, GM also was announcing its participation in the recently rumored huge new telematics initiative led by Google, called the Open Automotive Alliance, which also includes Audi, Honda, Hyundai and chip maker Nvidia in an effort to customize Google’s Android platform for vehicles that will allow for things such as app access and remote vehicle diagnostics.[more]

Work on the new electronic “ecosystem” will further “our mission to bring vehicles into our owners’ digital lives and their digital lives into their vehicles,” said Mary Chan, president of GM’s Global Connected Consumer unit, in a release.

Added Ricky Hudi, Audi’s head of electrics and electronics development, in the release: “The worlds of consumer and automotive technologies have never been more closely aligned, and this alliance will only pave the way for faster innovation.”

Alliance members believe that coming up with open standards of innovation for the “connected car” will help extend mobile experiences seamlessly to the vehicle. Timing from each automaker will vary, but alliance members said that they expect to see the first cars with Android integration by the end of this year.

That is if federal officials allow it. Highway safety officials have already published guidelines for automakers’ ‘infotainment’ systems, but the rules may become more stringent if the new and upcoming technology proves to create a greater risk of distracted driving. 

“To take mobile technology and give the driver distractions that don’t even relate to driving is just not the right direction,” Dave Teater, senior director at the Chicago-based National Safety Council, told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t blame the auto makers, but they are now in an arms race to be more connected and I think that sends a message that it is normal and not dangerous.”

But some brands are already traveling at 4G speeds. Besides GM’s 4G initiative with OnStar, for instance, Audi already beat everyone else to the punch by announcing that its soon-to-debut new A3 sedan will become the first vehicle in the US market to offer super-fast 4G connectivity. Volvo, too, is partnering with tech brand Ericcson to bring connected car capabilities to its vehicles. 

But the vehicle brands are clearly hoping—each with somewhat overlapping yet distinct places in the market—that they can get further in this arena by cooperating together with some worthy tech giants than by going it alone.

It’s just that they aren’t alone in the effort. Samsung is reported to be cooperating with Toyota and some automakers in this area, for example. There’s always Apple and its “iOS in the car” initiative. And even Microsoft was an early telematics partner with Ford by coming up with the original platform for Sync.

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