Car technology to entertain

2012-05-02 10:27

Detroit - The high-tech entertainment that is normal on every long plane flight is finding its way into the car with several manufacturers working on sophisticated programmes that go way beyond simply turning on the CD player.

General Motors and students of the Israeli art and design academy Bezalel are involved in the Windows of Opportunity project where the windows in the rear of the car are turned into touch-sensitive screens, providing entertainment.

Software programs in the form of apps turn the windows into a blackboard where children can paint with their fingers. Alternatively they can also be turned into a screen where for instance a virtual mosquito explains interesting sights in the area. Or they become an electronic wall to exchange messages with a fellow motorist in a traffic jam.

According to the project leader of Windows of Opportunity, Tom Seder, the ideas are at present only research. But a number of high-tech entertainment gadgets are already reality.

Several car makers including Audi and BMW are offering mobile hotspots that link-up with the internet via a WLAN connection through the car's mobile phone antenna.

Dual-view monitor

Some eight different gadgets can be linked to the system, according to Audi spokesperson Josef Schlossmacher. While Daddy is having a quick look at incoming e-mails the children in the rear seats could be hooked up to the internet on a tablet-PC or laptop.

Most of the gadgets are designed for children or people sitting in the rear of the car but some developers are also specifically looking at the front seat passenger.

The Mercedes S-Class, the Jaguar XJ and the Range Rover offer a so-called dual-view monitor where a different image can be seen from a different perspective.

While the driver would be seeing the GPS details on his route the passenger would be watching a DVD on the same screen. To avoid radio disturbance the sound for the movie comes from an infra-red signal sent to headphones.

Audi researcher Werner Hamberger believes this is not yet sufficient. He is working on a second head-up-display designed for the passenger.

While the driver has his GPS data transmitted to the windscreen in front of him, the passenger could be surfing on the internet or watching a movie. Hamberger sees the system operated by a simple hand movement where the passenger could send data to the driver.

Jan Burgard, who is a partner of the Munich Berylls Strategy Advisors, sees a growing significance in car entertainment systems.


"The car industry itself will have to come up with creative ideas to keep up with the electronic industry or they will end up missing the boat," Burgard said.

Already there is a trend to taking the mobile phone or tablet PC on a trip. However, so-called rear seat entertainment systems are only ordered by about 2% of customers with higher figures only registered among buyers of luxury sedans or Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs).

But it is still the person behind the wheel who mostly makes the decision on such entertainment options. BMW has thus developed a Micro Pause app that provides for brief distraction during the red phase of a traffic light.

As soon as the car stops, the speedometer makes room for e-mails or Facebook contacts. But project leader Marc Bechler rejects fears that the real world out there could be forgotten.

"The electronics keeps an eye on the traffic light and turns off the game or email function before the traffic light turns back to green," he points out.