Five tech features that need to come to cars

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

LOS ANGELES — Most of the cars on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show have all the basic tech functionality you’d expect, including radios, voice command capability and Bluetooth to connect phones.

Many cars have audio jacks and USB ports. Some have navigation systems and back-up cameras. A few even have CD or DVD players.

But there are at least five useful tech tools that rarely appear or don’t exist at all.

—Dashboard cameras. From beautiful shots of sunsets to unattractive selfies taken while in motion, drivers can’t help but pick up their phones to take photos. These drivers could be tamed with a bidirectional camera that sits atop or within the panel behind the steering wheel.

Voice commands or yet another button affixed to the steering wheel could trigger the shutter. The photo could be saved via Bluetooth to the user’s phone, from where it could be safely posted to Instagram or sent through Snapchat at a later time or immediately if voice commands are eventually developed.

—Improved radio information. Most new cars receive no-cost HD radio signals and a free trial of SiriusXM satellite radio. Both of these systems can transmit data about what song or program is on air at that moment. This information is displayed when tuned to a specific station.

But it’s unclear why car makers can’t develop a listing of what’s on air across all the stations. In other words, there’s nothing comparable to a live television guide for radio. Instead, radio users are left to scan through the stations as they always have.

Though there’s an argument that providing too much information could distract drivers, car makers might find that a guide leads to less fiddling with the radio overall.

—Liberate camera data. Rear-view, or back-up, cameras are great, but someone else not paying attention might still smack into your car. In those cases and many others, it might be useful if the cameras saved images of the last few back-ups to a hard drive in the car. Once more cars are connected to 4G LTE mobile broadband networks, the video instead could be saved automatically online.

Creating and storing a video record isn’t something automakers have emphasized. Liability could be an issue. As more cars start to drive themselves, the video and sensor data could be held against the manufacturer if something fails.

—Action shortcuts. BMW appears to have a unique feature in shortcut keys, eight numbered buttons in the center of the dash that can be programmed as shortcuts to nearly anything. A BMW spokesman said he sets up the first three shortcuts to immediately launch directions to his three recurring destinations — home, work and the airport. Two others could launch favorite radio stations. A sixth might turn off the screen completely. The last two could fire up a phone call to the spouse and launch Facebook to have your feed read out to you.

BMW’s other gem is a split-screen mode that allows two apps to be displayed at once, meaning the navigation doesn’t have to disappear when someone wants to scroll through an iPod playlist. The screens in Ford models equipped with Sync with MyFordTouch is about the only rival.

—Multitouch gestures. Anyone accustomed to using a smartphone or tablet has probably tried to swipe or pinch at the navigation screen in a car. But the screen just stares back without a flinch as it wonders why it’s being touched with so many fingers.

Except for Tesla, screens that can understand actions such as pinch-to-zoom have been absent. The 2014 Honda Civic is hopefully the start of a new trend. Though it was unavailable for testing, the new Civic promises to accept gestures, at the very least in the navigation app.

Bonus: Props to Volkswagen for the easy-to-tap “Mute” button on the new eGolf.


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