Audi demonstrated why they’re a leader in connected car technology at the Detroit Telematics show last week. The German car maker shared its booth with Google Earth and gave one of the most talked about demos at the show. Most impressive was that Audi was demonstrating technology you can expect to see for the 2011 model year. A customized Google Earth mapping system is a first for a production automobile. But the 3D Geometric GPS system was only the tip of the topographical map.
A mock-up of the 2011 Audi A8 in-dash electronics system dazzled visitors to Detroit Telematics show with a deep, multipurpose system on a platform developed by QNX. It included GPS and 3D maps by Google Earth. But Audi also demonstrated on-demand news, weather and entertainment. Part of what made the system so inspiring was the ease and speed of navigation. Sure, the display was hard-wired to a LAN, giving the demo added reliability that the real car won’t have with a wireless digital network, but the system was intuitive and simply a pleasure to navigate.
Audi’s digital wireless system will let you turn your car into a wi-fi hotspot, but it also has a variety of local storage options for media. Audi stores its road-mapping system locally and overlays it onto a customized version of Google Earth’s 3D topographical maps. To call it a mere GPS shortchanges what Audi has created – Google’s maps are stunning in detail, allowing you to explore and zoom in to see all the physical details of terrain through the head unit.
Exploration mode is a feature that lets you scroll around your pinpointed location, and will highlight points of interest, which can be selected for more information about your surroundings. Rendered images that include details about the stop will pop up when a point of interest is selected, perfect for cross-country road trips. The mode will even locate local gas stations and download the gas prices at those locations.
Voice Activated or Touch Pad / Scroll Wheel
Interacting with Audi’s voice-activated system gives drivers access to news and local weather information. The voice-recognition interface accepts voice commands through microphones embedded throughout the interior. Text-to-speech will read back text information, mitigating distracted driving. The voice interface extends to the in-car entertainment system, so you can ask for preset radio stations or files from your locally stored music library.
Audi’s slick manual interface includes a combination touchpad / scroll-wheel accessible to both driver and front-seat passenger. With the scroll wheel you can navigate menu items while the touch pad lets you spell out words by writing individual letters with your fingertip. This is convenient when voice control fails to recognize a song title you’re asking for. The chance of voice recognition failure is generally proportionate to the library of words you’re asking it to recognize. So it becomes more likely as your on-board music library grows into hundreds or thousands of song titles.
Overall, the Audi A8 telematics system has a pleasurable, addictive quality to operate – like getting your hands on an iPhone for the first time. The touch pad / scroll wheel combo is slick and easy to use. Luxury sedan buyers in the Audi A8 price-range can be sure they’re getting one of the most advanced systems included in any production vehicle.