Even though the auto industry has tanked, electronics manufacturers clearly are optimistic about the next generation of consumer car technology — including retrofitting older vehicles.
At the International Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, opening Thursday in Las Vegas, nearly 5,000 square feet of exhibitions display in-vehicle technology. In the center is a 1959 black Cadillac Eldorado with ruby-red leather seats. When it rolled out, an AM radio was about as advanced as the technology got. But the vintage Caddy is surrounded by technology that could transform it into a 21st century vehicle.
Future computer technology is going to be increasingly integrated into the car: Safety features such as night vision cameras make it easier to see in darkness. Digital television screens entertain the family in the back seat. Stereo speakers rival those of any home entertainment system.
Companies seem to be hoping that even if you don't want to buy a new car, you'll be interested in upgrading the old one.
"With used cars, the first areas that people refurb ... [are] wheels, tires and audio systems," says Rich Coe, manager of research and development for Eclipse. The company makes a dashboard device that has a CD player, GPS, an iPod connection and a DVD player that connects to screens in the back of the vehicle. On display are two systems that range in price from $850 to $1,000.
The displays only hint at what's to come. Coe says we may be able to get into our cars and say, "Hi, it's me." And the car will recognize the voice the way it would a fingerprint.
"All you have to do is say, 'Boot the house!' Now you have your car talking to your home," Coe says. Your car will be able to turn on the lights, turn up the heat and read your e-mail aloud.
According to Coe, the technology already exists for communication between car and home, and it might be on the market in five years. "It's a matter of somebody taking the risk of investment," Coe says. But, he concedes, the current economy could slow it down.
The trade show also features plenty of big TVs with better pictures than last year, plus smaller laptops and mobile devices with new features.
CES, which promotes itself as the world's largest consumer technology trade show, runs through Sunday.