Home Start Your Engines! Connected Cars at CES

Start Your Engines! Connected Cars at CES

As each year passes, the connected car makes more of a noise at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This year several car manufacturers were touting new features, including Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Audi. The term “connected car” refers to the integration of smartphone apps and content into the car. Typically this is done via the car’s dashboard, enabling you to listen to online music, access Web data, stream video to the car’s passengers and more. In this post we’ll look at three such systems: Ford Sync, Mercedes-Benz mbrace2 and Audi Connect.

What all three of the above car manufacturers, and others like General Motors and Toyota, have in common is that they are leveraging the rapid evolution of smartphone technology – rather than trying to build new Internet devices into their cars.


Today Mercedes-Benz announced “mbrace2,” which connects web apps and smartphones to its vehicles. It will include new apps for Facebook, Yelp and Google Local Search. There will also be iPhone and Android smartphone apps that enable users to track car usage, control door locks, see diagnostic information and more. Mbrace2 is expected to be available in 2013 editions of Mercedes-Benz cars.


This week at CES, Audi announced new features for its Connect system. Audi defines Connect as “networked mobility” for its cars. The new features include a seven-inch 3D screen, improved control wheel and integration of LTE (Long Term Evolution, designed to handle large amounts of data). The A3 will be the first car to get these upgrades, but not for another 18 months or so.

What’s more interesting is the next generation of Audi’s heads-up display (HUD), which can project information onto the windshield just below a driver’s normal field of vision. it reminded the New York Times of the film Minority Report. The system can be used by passengers as well as the driver, for example to look at travel routes.


Perhaps the car company doing the most with web and smartphone app integration is Ford. The American firm first introduced Internet technology inside its cars with Sync, launched in 2007. Sync is voice-activated technology which connects your smartphone and MP3 player to your car’s dashboard and steering wheel. There are currently 4 million Ford cars in North America that have Sync running. The latest evolution of Sync is called MyFord Touch, a “cabin tech” system which we covered at last year’s CES. Ford recently announced free upgrades for MyFord.

At CES, Ford announced a new hybrid car called the 2013 Fusion. One of the main features in this car is the integration of Sync and MyFord Touch.

According to Ryan McGee, a technical expert at Ford interviewed by Technology Review, “with Sync we empowered the driver [and] our next leap is into empowering the vehicle.” It hopes to do this using Internet technology. In other words, making cars smarter. Use cases include fuel optimization, predicting your travel route on-the-fly, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication (which could help reduce crashes, among other things).

Smartphone as Car Component

All of the systems we discussed above – mbrace2, Audi Connect and MyFord/Sync – are enablers of smartphone applications and content. In other words, the smartphone becomes a component of the car via its connection to the dashboard system.

It still feels like early days for these technologies, but Audi’s futuristic heads-up display is an indicator of where the car manufacturers will eventually take us.

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