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In Pictures: The Automotive Technologies We Saw At CES 2013

Tom's Hardware's Road Trip To Las Vegas

The Consumer Electronics Show is the stepping-out event for many different types of products. Although mobile audio vendors are long-time veterans of CES (and they usually introduce new offerings at the show), automotive manufacturers are much more new to the  game. It was only a couple of years ago when Alan Mulally gave his first CES keynote address, even as other manufacturers were busy prepping for the Detroit Auto Show, shying away from the more electronics-oriented event.

This year was different, as more automotive manufacturers embraced CES, building large extravagant booths, which we roamed the halls to cover. 

Typically, Tom's Hardware editors from around the country (and indeed the world) fly into Las Vegas, Nevada, while our esteemed editor-in-chief, Chris Angelini, drives in from Bakersfield on his own. This year was different, though. Since we're covering automotive technology more often, we gave our friends at Nissan USA a call to set up something a little flashier for the ride.

The company graciously agreed to loan Tom’s Hardware a 2013 GT-R Black Edition for our week in Sin City, though we're saving the details of that car for a complete write-up coming soon.

Nvidia: Next-Generation Gauge Clusters

Nvidia had swath of its booth dedicated to Tegra-based automotive efforts, next to the Project Shield display. This particular exhibit shows off one potential customized 3D-rendered gauge cluster an automotive manufacturer could use through the power of its Tegra SoC.

Nvidia: Next-Generation Center Stack

Nvidia also had a faux center stack on display to show off the potential of Tegra. Unlike the bland aesthetics common to most user interfaces, Nvidia's Tegra reference platform has a very distinct look (one that we wouldn’t mind seeing in production vehicles).

Nvidia: Audi S7 With Tegra

Audi is one of the vendors with Tegra powering some of its production vehicles, and Nvidia proudly displayed as much with a stunning S7 at its booth. The vehicle employs Tegra 3 for its Google Maps-based navigation. The new MIB infotainment system should reach U.S. vehicles for the 2014 model year, and is currently available in the next-generation Audi A3 in Europe.

Nvidia: Visual Computing Module

One of the benefits of integrating Tegra into a vehicle is what Nvidia calls its visual computing module. The VCM is a self-contained module that allows manufacturers to design an infotainment system based on the current-gen SoC, but easily upgrade to newer hardware by swapping out the module.

Audi and Tesla Motors have taken advantage of this feature. They originally started designing their infotainment systems around Tegra 2 and swapped in Tegra 3-based VCMs when they were available. This approach opens the doors to potential hardware upgrades for aging solutions, arming drivers with the latest and greatest platform without trading in a vehicle. Of course, we haven't heard anyone suggest this, but it's an interesting idea for PC enthusiasts.

Audi: R18 e-tron quattro

Audi had its own booth in the North Hall with some of the other car vendors. Its R18 e-tron quattro was right up front in the company's display, representing its racing development prowess.

The R18 e-tron quattro takes hybrid technology to the race track with a kinetic energy recovery system, or KERS, designed by Williams Hybrid Power. The car receives power to the rear wheels from a 3.7-liter turbo diesel and relies on the KERS to deliver power to the front wheels equipped with an electric motor, effectively making the vehicle AWD.

Audi: R18 e-tron quattro Interior

There are a lot of switches and buttons inside Audi's R18 e-tron quattro. You're able to select any of six modes available that automatically change the engine, AWD system, and driving dynamics for relevant race conditions.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a grocery-getter setting, so don’t expect to see the R18 e-tron quattro at your local Audi dealer anytime soon.

Ford’s big announcement for CES 2013 was its new App Developer Program that opens up the SYNC AppLink protocol to eager developers. The new program enables those folks to take advantage of the SYNC AppLink API on Android- and iOS-based platforms. Apps developed using the software have to be run through Ford's screening and approval process. 

If you're expecting an Angry Birds port to SYNC AppLink, you'll be disappointed. Ford is only encouraging apps that "…enhance the driving experience by minimizing distractions caused by hand-held usage of smartphones," according to Julius Marchwiki, global product manager for Ford SYNC AppLink.

Ford announced new app partners at the same time too, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Kaliki, Amazon, Aha Radio, Rhapsody, Greater Media, Glympse, and BeCouply.

Unfortunately, SYNC AppLink support remains limited to vehicles with SYNC, SYNC with voice-activated navigation, and SYNC with MyFord. Drivers with Ford’s SYNC with MyFord Touch, which we reviewed previously in the 2012 Ford Focus, are left out.

General Motors didn’t want Ford to have all of the SDK-announcing fun during CES, so it launched its own SDK and API for the MyLink platform, which includes Chevy, Buick, and GMC (Buick and GMC are badged IntelliLink).

Unlike the Ford AppLink SDK, where apps rely on a driver’s smartphone, the GM MyLink framework allows apps to download and run directly on the infotainment system. Some of the apps potentially available at launch will include iHeart Radio, Slacker, TuneIn, and The Weather Channel.

The official roll-out will begin with select 2014 model year vehicles. Whether or not existing MyLink owners will receive an update is murky. Although some of the hardware is the same, there are too many differences depending on build date, the version of MyLink, and its supplier, according to GM representatives we spoke to. As with any vehicle purchase, you may want to wait and see if the app platform is coming to the model you're considering.

Hyundai: Next-Generation Infotainment Via CloudCar

Hyundai had plenty of upcoming Blue Link concepts at its booth. This particular display relies on technology from CloudCar to project a smartphone screen onto the infotainment display, while all of the vehicle's buttons maintain their functionality.

The system is still in its infancy, but Hyundai expects a smooth 30 FPS with less than 30 ms of latency through a secure wired or wireless link. Android 4.1 or later is required to take advantage of the CloudCar platform.

Hyundai did not mention when or if this technology will arrive in a production vehicle.

Hyundai: Next-Gen Genesis Sedan Infotainment

The Genesis sedan received a mid-cycle refresh for the 2013 model year, but Hyundai is already busy on the next-generation model. That version will receive a premium navigation system, and it was on display. Hyundai says to expect a large 9.2-inch multi-touch widescreen LCD with a 720p resolution. The system will have Jukebox, Gracenote, Pandora, SiriusXM, and HD Radio features, as well as Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities. Premium audio from Lexicon will also make a return in the upcoming Genesis sedan.