With increasing consumer adoption of technology and gadgets in general, a solid in-car telematics/infotainment system that integrates well into an owner’s lifestyle is going to play some weight in car purchasing decisions in the future.

We don’t see many of these systems here in Malaysia but in-vehicle systems are getting more and more advanced with carmakers offering systems like GM OnStar, Ford SYNC, MyFord Touch, Kia UVO, Lexus Remote Touch, BMW iDrive and Mercedes-Benz COMAND. In Malaysia, we usually start to see such systems included only in higher end vehicles, so we are familiar with COMAND and iDrive.

Volkswagen has the RCD510 here in Malaysia (some owners are retrofitting RNS510 too), but it doesn’t stop there. They’ve just opened a new Electronics Research Laboratory in Belmont, California, a 40,000 square feet R&D facility for advanced automotive telematics with a US$20 million annual budget. The R&D center will have 100 designers, engineers and psychologists, and will focus on the areas of driver assistance, human-machine interface, multimedia and connected vehicles. The new Belmont facility is the largest Volkswagen research center outside of Germany.

Technology developed at the US center will be used in VW Group cars worldwide – this includes the more expensive marques like Audi and Lamborghini. Volkswagen will be collaborating with technology partners like Oracle, Nvidia and Google and there are a few projects on the cards:

  • A car that can navigate itself through a parking lot to find a spot, and return to the structure’s entrance when summoned by the driver’s smart phone. Car jockey would be rendered redundant!
  • Driving awareness systems that detect traffic-signal and speed limit changes and can accelerate or decelerate the car as conditions warrant.
  • A car monitor that tracks driving patterns that can be uploaded to a smart phone or computer, allowing a driver to make more efficient driving decisions in his commute.
  • Improving the readability of the instrument panel, using fiberoptics to stack multiple readouts within the same cluster without becoming confusing.
  • Making the human-machine interface more elegant, using haptic clicks and an intelligent mouse so navigating telematic menus is more predictable.
  • Using Google Earth as a navigation aid, including using “street view” so that a driver knows what the destination looks like, not just its address. This can be used proactively show nearby electric vehicle charging stations if the vehicle knows it is running low on a charge. The latest Audi MMI already uses a lot of Google technologies.
  • A center console that can wirelessly charge smart phones, similar to “power mats” now on the market for home use. The project, in development with Qualcomm, could use magnetic near-field resonance to power rear-seat entertainment or ambient lighting systems as well.
  • Floormats where the car’s logo is illuminated. Engineers need to make sure the electronics don’t short out when stomped on wet shoes.
  • An interactive version of “Fast” that can communicate with the driver, as well as with other nearby VW drivers as a social network beacon.