New smart car technology won't just be for the rich

A Nissan Pathfinder sits on display behind a guest who is trying out Nissan's 1DX 3D Experience at the North American International Auto Show on Jan. 14, 2014, in Detroit. Scott Olson/Getty Images

One idea was made clear at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit: Your next car's dashboard is going to look very different than the one that's in your current vehicle. 

And experts say that new generation of cars is also going to perform quite differently. They will take learn your driving preferences, offer suggestions on alternate routes when you're stuck in traffic, and even help out with parking or saving on gas.

“From the automaker's perspective, about 90 percent of the innovation in cars today comes from technology,” said Danny Shapiro, senior director, automotive, with Santa Clara, Calif.-based NVIDIA Corporation (NVDA). “And what we're doing is really trying to enable cars to be a lot safer and more enjoyable for people that are the drivers or the passengers of these vehicles.”

 NVIDIA is a leading maker of the processors that give your smart phone, tablet and other devices their operating capacity. His company and others are also involved in creating the next generation of innovative, smart cars.

NVIDIA is adapting their processors for the road, making them smaller, energy-efficient and customizable for use in vehicles. These Visual Computing Modules not only run the car's information and entertainment systems, but also can be updated via the Internet – much like your home computer's operating system.

The chipmaker is also a member of the newly formed Open Automotive Alliance, which also includes General Motors (GM), Honda (HMC), Audi (a division of the Volkswagen Group), Google (GOOG) and Hyundai. Earlier this month, the group announced its goals of sharing "a vision for the connected car,” along with creating a common platform for this next generation of connected vehicles.

Similar efforts are also underway. Apple's (AAPL) iOS in the Car” platform links the company's mobile operating system with a vehicles in-dash technology. That allows people to use the car's display to make phone calls, receive messages, get directors and access music.

 Shapiro predicts we'll be seeing more integration of people's smart phone devices and functions into their vehicles, along with some features that will change the way we drive. And there will come a day in the near future, he added, when your car “starts to understand and learn your preferences and habits...it knows where you live, it knows where you work, it knows your daily commute.” Using that information, for example, it could send you a text, perhaps suggesting you leave early for a scheduled meeting due to traffic congestion.

Surprisingly, experts say, this eventually new technology should not add too much additional cost to a new car's sticker price. Shapiro notes that for now the more sophisticated functionality might add up to several thousand dollars to a vehicle's overall cost.

“But I think those prices are coming down significantly,” he said, “because people are saying, 'Well, I have my phone, why don't I just use that?' And we're also seeing more and more of these systems appear in the base model [cars]. It's what people are starting to expect and what car companies are doing more of, to stay competitive as well.”

  • Bruce Kennedy

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