If you've ever kicked around the idea of adding a video game system to your car (or just wanted to bring one along on a long road trip to keep the kids entertained), it's about to get a lot easier. In the past, you could either stick to portable handhelds or go the route of wiring in an inverter, installing some type of mobile video screen, and then plugging in your console. Thanks to the relatively low power needs of the Wii U, there's now another middle-ground option available.
The Wii U is Nintendo's "next gen" console that was released last fall. The console is significantly under-powered in comparison to the upcoming consoles that Microsoft and Sony are expected to release within the next year, but it has a couple things going for it that make it almost perfect for an in-car gaming system. The first is the unique controller, which contains a touchscreen LCD. Some games use this second screen to display asynchronous information, but it can also be used for "off screen play" in many cases. Basically, that means you can hook up your Wii U in your car and play certain games without worrying about a TV.
So, what about power? That's the other thing that the Wii U has going for it. Since it doesn't use as much power as some other consoles, you can actually run it off a 12v accessory outlet or cigarette lighter jack. That means you don't have to worry about how big of an inverter to buy, and you also don't have to go to the trouble of wiring one in. Peripheral manufacturer Maxbuy now makes a power supply that includes one port for a Wii U power cable and another one for a USB cable, which can be used to power a Wii U gamepad or any other USB device.
Of course, there's a reason I said the Wii U is almost perfect for an in-car gaming system. The main drawback of the Wii U in comparison to, say, the PS3 or Xbox 360, is that the Wii U can't play DVDs, digital video files, or, in the case of the PS3, Blu-rays. So while an Xbox or a PS3 can function as a pretty comprehensive in-car multimedia entertainment system if you go to the trouble of hooking it up right, a Wii U can't do anything but play games (and stream video if you have a mobile hotspot.)
You're also limited to single player games, so don't expect to get any couch co-op going on in the back seat of your mini van.
Image courtesy of Doug Kline, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)
The golden age of the rhythm game game genre (with all of its delightful plastic instruments) has drawn to a close in our living rooms, but could it possibly make a resurgence in our cars? One man thinks so, and he's hoping that the general public agrees. The basic idea is that people already tap on their steering wheels in time to their radios, so why not hybridize a steering wheel cover with a Rock Band drum kit, marry that with a smartphone app, and Kickstart the whole thing?
That the project launched towards the tail end of distracted driving month doesn't seem to be lost on the Smack Attack Corporation, which addresses the issue of driver distraction head on both in the body of the Kickstarter and in the FAQs. In fact, Smack Attack argues that their RITW (Re-Inventing the Wheel) steering wheel cover might actually help fight "highway hypnosis." The National Safety Council might disagree with that assertion, but the answer probably lies in whether playing a rhythm game is a thinking or non-thinking task.
There is an argument to be made for any product that can fight driver drowsiness, and there are some pretty goofy, low-tech solutions that actually (sort of) work. Countless OTR truckers will attest to the fact that simple ear-mounted devices that sound an alarm when your head slumps to a certain degree have saved their lives, and a number of companies are working on high tech solutions that do basically the same thing.
So could a rhythm game mounted on your steering wheel help fight driver drowsiness? Common sense says that it probably could, but common sense also indicates that it would do so by engaging your brain in a thinking task other than driving. And according to the National Safety Council, our brains just aren't capable of focusing properly on two thinking tasks at once. In fact, the above-linked infographic states that people talking on hands-free cell phones have slower reaction times than people whose BAC is over the legal limit for intoxication.
Of course, it's ultimately up to the driver as to how he or she uses any technology in his or her car, and modern cars are full of well-intentioned electronic distractions. Smack Attack also points out a co-op features that seems like it would be a blast at tailgates. Rock Band and Guitar Hero always shined brightest when you could get a whole band together, and taking the party on the road (in a responsible manner) just might scratch that old rhythm game itch for anyone who has been lamenting the decline of the genre.
Image courtesy of J Cornelius, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)
When I was called for jury duty last month, one of the lawyers asked a couple of questions about alcohol and driving during voire dire. First she asked if anyone thought it was "okay" to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol, and nobody raised a hand. Then she asked if anyone had ever driven after drinking any amount of alcohol, and at least a dozen tentative hands went up around the courtroom. The fundamental disconnect between what's okay for us but not okay for other people can be striking at times, and it's not just limited to drunk driving. According to a recent report from the NHTSA, a similar gulf exists between public opinion and personal behavior when it comes to another vital car safety issue: distracted driving.
Like drunk driving, distracted driving ruins (and ends) lives every day, but people continue doing it anyway. According to the NHTSA report, at any given moment in the US, there are over 600,000 people who are both driving and using various electronic devices. That's a staggering number, but it doesn't even take other distractions (like kids and other passengers) into account. And the results of an NHTSA poll about distracted driving are just as staggering. Almost 75 percent of respondents supported bans on cellphone use while driving, but 50 percent said that they answer incoming calls from behind the wheel. Another 25 percent admitted to actually placing calls. A lot of those people are probably (hopefully) using handsfree devices, but that doesn't completely eliminate the issue of distraction.
Modern cars are full of distractions, from infotainment systems to ADAS like intelligent speed adaptation that are actually meant to make you safer, so cellphone use is only one small part of the picture. Other factors, like drowsiness, can result in distracted driving that's arguably even more dangerous than talking on a phone or fiddling with text messages, and research from Australia found that kids are one of the biggest offenders of all. According to one study, the average parent's eyes were completely off the road for over three minutes over the course of a 16 minute drive.
April is National Distracted Driving month in the US, so this is a good time to think about the various distractions in our cars and trucks and how we can pay a little more attention to the road. The National Safety Council has a great infographic that highlights the dangers of cellphone use when you're driving:
It's worth sharing if you know anyone who still harbors any lingering doubts about the dangers of distracted driving.Infographic courtesy of the National Safety Council
NVIDIA and AMD are the titans of the GPU world, and they have battled over market share for everything from PCs to smartphones and even video game systems. AMD has a lock on the next generation of video game consoles, but NVIDIA hasn't exactly been left out in the cold. Some of the most powerful smartphone and tablet platforms out there are running on Tegra chipsets, and NVIDIA is targeting a growing market with its newest development platform: automotive infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems.
The new platform, which is named after your favorite retro-futuristic cartoon family, is a modular box that packs a powerful, automotive-grade Tegra 3 processor, CUDA-capable discrete GPU, and a 64 GB mSATA Drive. The platform also comes with all of the main connectivity options that you'd expect out of an infotainment system, including WiFi, Bluetooth, and a GPS antenna.
This all-in-one development platform is designed to allow rapid prototyping of both infotainment systems and ADAS, and the processing power is apparently more than enough to handle complicated tasks like image recognition in order to do the heavy lifting for collision avoidance systems and other life-saving technologies.
If you're starting to think that a platform like NVIDIA's Jetson would make for the perfect DIY carputer hardware, you're probably right. The platform is compatible with both Linux and Android, so it would probably be pretty easy for an imaginative DIYer to rig up something pretty special (the built-in connectivity means you could probably interface directly with anything from an ELM327 Bluetooth device to your phone.) Unfortunately, Jetson is intended as a prototyping platform and while it's available this month, only NVIDIA-approved developers will actually be able to order kits.
A guy sure can dream, though.
Image © 2013 NVIDIA Corporation
Our cars are chock full of safety features and advanced driver assistance systems that are designed to make them safer and easier to drive, but we're still a ways away from driverless cars (unless you're reading this from Mountain View, CA.) Car safety technologies still rely on skilled, attentive drivers to work properly, and there are a ton of ways they can be defeated. Your ABS controller isn't exactly Deep Blue, and checkmating it can be simple as pumping the pedal at the wrong time.
Check out the five best ways to wreck your car after the jump. (Or, if you're so inclined, five things not to do when you're driving. Seriously. Don't do any of these things.)
Apple made some lofty claims at WWDC 2012 last summer regarding Siri integration in new cars, and six months later we're still waiting to hear from most of them. While logos from automakers like BMW, Landrover and Jaguar all flashed on the giant-sized screen, and Scott Forstall spoke about Apple's drive for a Siri-fied automotive industry, some pundits doubted the 12 month timeline. Then after the dust had settled, a number of automakers went on record with the fact that their company visions for Siri integration didn't exactly mesh with Apple's promises. However, six months later a handful of automakers have already jumped on the Siri train.
Mercedes actually integrated Siri into its new A Class in 2012, and GM was the first to announce an initial adoption of the technology post-WWDC 2012. GM's approach seems to be hedged against its youth-aimed models, since only the Spark and Sonic will offer the feature in 2013, but a recent press release from Honda's indicates that the Japanese automaker is even more on board with the tech than either Mercedes or GM. According to the press release, Siri-integration will be available in the Honda Accord and Acura RDX and ILX models. The Accord is definitely bigger for Honda than the Sonic and Spark are for GM, but Honda's Siri integration will only be available as a dealer-installed option.
That still leaves a whole laundry list of names that were mentioned at WWDC last summer, but at least a handful of automakers are clearly interested in the hands-free Siri tech, especially in the face of accusations that infotainment system controls are more of a distraction and nuisance than anything else.
Of course, Siri isn't the only hands-free game in town. While OEM implementations of voice controls might not be playing in the same league as Siri, the functionality has been available from a number of automakers for years, and it's often possible to use the bluetooth/voice button on your steering wheel to control any paired phone (which means some cars technically already have a "Siri button" that can also be used with handsets running Android or whatever else). Custom carputers can also be put together with voice control in mind, and Siri might end up left in the dust altogether by up-and-coming natural language virtual assistants like Nuance's Nina Mobile.
Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee
At one time, radio was the only game in town for car audio systems. If you wanted to listen to music on the road, you tuned into your favorite AM radio station, and that was that. Then FM radio came along, Ford foisted the 8-track on us, and the compact cassette revolution dominated for years. At one point, someone even tried to shoehorn a record player into the dash of a car. (With rather predictable results.)
A number of formats have come and gone over the years, but we currently have more options for listening to the radio in our cars than ever before. There's regular old AM and FM, HD radio, satellite radio, and even Internet radio.
I listen to a lot of Internet radio at home, but I'm still partial to my regular old AM/FM radio in the car. So while I could pair my phone to my head unit (or use an FM transmitter) to pipe Internet radio through my car audio system, I still like to stick with the local stations that I've listened to for years. HD radio also has a lot to offer if you live in an area with good coverage, though, and I do have a head unit with that functionality in one of my vehicles.
So, how do you listen to the radio in your car? Or do you forgo radio (or even Internet radio) altogether and just pop in a CD?
Image courtesy of alexkerhead, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)
Analysts have been predicting the death of the CD for years now, but the 30-year-old format is still managing to hold in there. But what about CD players? The record companies can keep pumping out discs, but where are people going to play them? Ever since the CD finally started overtaking the cassette tape in popularity, CD players have become increasingly ubiquitous in car audio systems. So what happens if that all goes away?
The reality of the situation is that the OEMs are starting to push for mechless head units, which will eventually mean the end of the CD player as a factory option in new cars. GM cited consumer demand as the root of its decision to ship new models like the Spark and Sonic without a CD player option, but the reality is that the OEMs are probably looking to cut costs wherever possible. Optical media drives cost money, so why include one if you can sell a car just as easily without it?
In addition to the drive toward mechless head units, some OEMs are experimenting with other infotainment-related cost-cutting measures. The basic idea is that a lot of people are already carrying around a device (in this case, a smartphone) that includes entertainment and navigation functionality, so why not just tap into that?
These phone-dependent infotainment systems seem like a good idea on paper, but there are a couple of glaring issues. For one, not everyone has (or wants) the latest iPhone or Android handset, so it's hard to see these phone-dependent infotainment systems gaining much traction in the immediate future.
In that same vein, there are a lot of people out there with huge CD collections, and not all of them are interested in digitizing their collections. Ripping and encoding CDs isn't that hard, but it does require a certain level of technological savvy. (And while some infotainment systems, like Kia's UVO, allow you to pull music off CDs for storage on the built-in hard drive, you have to rip and burn your CDs with a computer first.)
At any rate, so long as there are people are out there who want to listen to their collections on the road, it's hard to envision a future where the CD player goes away. It took the OEMs until just a couple years ago to finally stop offering tape decks, and that technology has been on life support for a long time. So regardless of doomsaying analysts or OEM pushes for mechless infotainment systems, the CD player is far from dead.
And even if the OEMs do move to completely mechless head units, CD fans will still have a whole universe of aftermarket head unit and accessory options.
How do you listen to music in your car? I'll admit that I listen to a lot of HD radio when running errands around town, but I do like to burn a couple good driving mixes for long road trips.
Image courtesy of dddike, via Wikimedia Commons
Winter is well underway in the Northern hemisphere, and by now you're probably sick and tired of bundling up and trudging out to your car, under a still-dark sky, only to be faced with iced-over windows and steering wheel cold enough to give you frostbite. And let's face it: nobody likes looking at their own breath for the first ten or so minutes of their commute.
So what can you do to kill the chill on those cold, dark, winter commute? Glad you asked! Check out eight great ways to stay toasty warm after the jump.Read More...
If you're already intimately familiar with the workings of Bluetooth, forgive me a moment while I fill everyone else in. Basically, Bluetooth is wireless technology that allows devices to be connected together. It can be used for a lot of different things, but in cars and trucks it's most commonly used to wirelessly connect cellular phones and head units via a very specific radio frequency. When you connect two devices with Bluetooth, you "pair" them. Then, depending on which "Bluetooth profiles" the devices support, they can share different types of data back and forth.
So, now that we're all on the same page, there has been a huge push for Bluetooth connectivity in recent years. Most of the current crop of infotainment systems provide Bluetooth connectivity, and just about every smartphone (and a lot of non-smartphones) include a Bluetooth radio. Some of the ways Bluetooth is used in cars include:
- hands-free calling
- sharing contacts
- remotely control of either the phone or head unit
- streaming music, audiobooks, Internet radio, etc
- wireless headphones and headsets
Those are some of the main uses of Bluetooth, but there are others, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were engineers out there right now trying to devise more. As far as aftermarket products go, you can even pull diagnostic data from your OBD-II system via Bluetooth via the magic of ELM327.
So, if you're not using Bluetooth in your car yet, why is that? Does your head unit (or phone) not support it, or is this sort of technological creep just not necessary? After all, we did get along just fine without being able to wirelessly connect our phones to our cars for a really long time.
If you are interested in hands-free calling (or streaming music, or etc), but your head unit doesn't support it, there are a lot of Bluetooth car stereos available out there from the aftermarket. The other option is even cheaper, since you can add hands-free calling, streaming, and other features with a Bluetooth car kit.
If, on the other hand, you think all this Bluetooth stuff is just too much, you might be out of luck. Just about every OEM out there is pushing for greater integration with new and emergent technologies, not less (just look at GM's Siri button, if you have any doubts).
Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen.
Image courtesy of Manuel Iglesias, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)