LAS VEGAS -- When it comes to CES, most people think of small portable devices and other electronic gadgets.
But this year the hottest new gadget at the giant consumer electronics show may well be the car.
Automakers are embracing smartphone and mobile computing technologies, and looking into ways to safely integrate our digital lives into our driving experiences.
The big news from nine of the big automotive firms appearing at the show is a plan to make new vehicles a little more like the smartphone with a big push toward “an industry standard” for connected cars and “in-vehicle mobile app ecosystems.”
Many of the car companies showcasing at CES say they have opened up their in-car systems to encourage outside developers to create apps that add functionality to their cars – similar to the way apps let users do so much with smartphones.
BMW demonstrated a way of controlling its new i3 electric car with Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch, using Bluetooth wireless technology.
But don't count on sending voice commands through the watch to blast the air up in the i3. That feature is still in the works.
General Motors executives say the company will offer weather and music apps, viewable on an in-dash screen, plus a vehicle health app for troubleshooting problems with the car. Executives say they have plans to give their vehicles built-in 4G high-speed broadband.
Ford also said it's putting intelligent systems in its cars and trucks that work with smartphones to enable drivers to listen to music and stay in touch while on the go.
A number of automakers also announced they are planning to bring Android’s open development concept to their vehicles, countering Apple's iOS in-car strategy, with the announcement of the launch of a new Google-led group called the Open Automotive Alliance.
The alliance consists of Google, GM, Honda, Audi, Hyundai, and chipmaker Nvidia, and will focus on allowing automakers to easily bring cutting-edge technology to their drivers.
The Open Automotive Alliance will be working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in order to ensure the system is safe for in-car use. Its primary goal is to "bring the best of Android into the automobile in a safe and seamless way."
On Monday night, Audi's Rupert Stadler boasted about the future of driving and how the automaker plans to place a built-in 4G high-speed broadband into its vehicles.
Both Lexus and Audi made announcements about their future efforts to develop self-driving vehicles. While these cars are not out yet, Audi will be demonstrating its test vehicles at CES, and the Los Angeles Times will be there to test how the future car will drop off its passengers, then go find a parking spot on its own.
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