A View from the Driver’s Seat: Automotive Technology in 2012

2012 is shaping up to be the year of automotive innovation. For years, the automotive industry has been chasing the tech-savvy, connected consumer, and we’re finally starting to see some exciting progress. Automakers are racing to put connected cars on the road with systems that allow drivers to do everything from updating their Facebook status to making reservations to finding directions to their favorite restaurant – all while keeping their hands firmly on the wheel.  Consumer technology has become a driving force behind innovation in the automotive industry, with today’s cars are serving as the nexus point where the latest in mobile, entertainment, navigation and safety technologies meet.

Electronics announcements have taken center stage at auto shows across the globe, and a record number of automakers attended CES this year where their latest revelations (e.g., Audi’s A3 and Kia’s Uvo) had everyone talking. In a sense, we are witnessing the birth of a new category of enthusiast – the auto-geek – who stands at this pivotal point where the technology and automotive industries intertwine.

Growing demand for interactive connectivity from auto-geeks and traditional consumers alike will accelerate progress in car infotainment and user interface (UI) systems while shaping the future of the auto industry.  Auto-makers who respond most quickly to this demand will be rewarded with competitive advantage, and in some cases, brand allegiance.

Technology’s role as a key product differentiator continues to be evident at the Chicago Auto Show, where automakers and tech innovators are currently gathered to showcase the latest and greatest.  This includes Continental Automotive demoing “Simplify your Drive,” a vehicle that allows the driver to personalize the driving experience. The motor, chassis and infotainment settings can be configured to fit any situation on the road.

While the ability to design a personalized driving experience is an exciting prospect, it also leads to the question:  What if a car could learn from its driver, anticipate needs and just do it for you? Maybe the question isn’t “what if?” but “when?”

Currently, flash memory serves as the backbone of most new display, safety, vision and control systems. Spansion GL parallel NOR Flash memory provides fast data access for increased interactivity, faster boot times and an enhanced user experience that increases passenger safety and brings the driving experience to life. Moving forward, the industry’s reliance on NOR Flash memory will become increasingly evident as the next wave of automotive technology transforms the driving experience. Imagine a car that can suggest a restaurant based on a driver’s habits or sense when they are tired by recognizing facial expressions and tone of voice.

Software-based infotainment systems and UI solutions are rapidly propelling the current wave of developments in automotive electronics, but perhaps the industry will need to explore other opportunities in order to take this technology to the next level. Specialized hardware may provide the increased speed and reliability needed to make the truly intelligent car a reality. In fact, I believe there is huge potential for telematics and UI advances to be driven largely by hardware innovation in the coming years. We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible, and I for one, can’t wait to see (and contribute to!) the next “car of the future.”

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