Five tech tools that would greatly improve functionality of cars

11/22/2013 9:20 PM

11/22/2013 9:22 PM

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.

• 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.
• 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.

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.

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