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Google poised to have strong presence in connected car

BMW's i Remote app for the i3 electric car will be available on the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch (shown).
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There will be more Google in your next car. That was the clear message automakers gave at the recent International CES, the world's largest consumer electronic fair. Google Maps with street view function make in-car navigation systems a lot more precise and easy to use, Google Glass could help to increase safety while driving and smartwatches using Google's Android operating system might come first from an automaker rather than a computer maker.

That could be just the beginning because one of the top stories from last month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was the announcement of the Open Automotive Alliance, whose members include automotive and technology companies that want to expand the use of Google's Android-based systems in vehicles.

That means Google, which is developing its own self-driving vehicles, will influence the driving experience of cars from Audi, General Motors, Honda and Hyundai. Audi Chief Technology Officer Ulrich Hackenberg said his company teamed up with Google for a simple reason: "Eighty percent of smartphones in the world are Android-based."

The new Audi TT's reconfigurable instrument panel also will display navigation information (shown).

Don't forget Apple

The virtual cockpit that Audi debuted at the CES shows how a car's navigation system could benefit when assisted by Google Maps street view. This enhancement promises to make navigation nearly foolproof.

While Google and Android are gaining traction, automakers are not ready to commit to just one solution, which is why Honda, Hyundai, and GM are also partners in Apple's Siri Eyes Free program. In June, Apple said Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ferrari, Infiniti, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Acura, Jaguar, Opel and Chevrolet would offer its technology starting this year.

Siri Eyes Free permits motorists to perform several tasks – such sending an e-mail or text – without taking their eyes off the road. BMW is taking an open approach. "I think it would be dangerous to only work with Google, and there are alternatives to consider. Apple clearly is one, then Microsoft, IBM and also Nokia. Having most of the worldwide street data in hand, they are possible partners," BMW development boss Herbert Diess told Automotive News Europe.

Glasses for safety?

Hyundai and Mercedes also announced at the CES their plans to integrate Google Glass into their infotainment systems this year. And Harman International is tinkering with an app that would use Google Glass to display collision warnings. To receive that warning, a driver never has to take his eyes off the road, Harman Vice President Alon Atsmon said, adding that he sees Google Glass as a low-cost alternative to head-up displays. Harman is prepared to market its solution as original equipment or via the aftermarket.

Hyundai and Mercedes, meanwhile, view Google Glass as a device to be worn before or after a trip – not while driving. Last month, Hynundai announced plans to integrate Google Glass with the infotainment system of the 2015 Genesis, which debuts in the spring. The Korean automaker assigned Covisint, a software company headquartered in Detroit, to integrate Google Glass with Hyundai's Blue Link infotainment system.

Auto smartwatches

Smartwatches are poised to be the next must-have item for tech freaks. These watches let you quickly check e-mails and even make calls without the hassle of having to pull your smartphone out of your pocket. Automakers such as Nissan, BMW and Mercedes want to be at the forefront of the potential craze. Nissan last year announced its Dick Tracy-like device; BMW and Mercedes unveiled their smartwatches at the CES. These smartwatches offer some special auto-focused features. Nissan's is designed for use in its performance NISMO models and will provide the owner data such as vehicle speed, fuel consumption and even the driver's heart rate.

Mercedes' smartwatch has special functions for use inside and outside the car use, including the possibility to help locate your car in a parking lot. BMW's i Remote app for the i3 electric car soon will be available on the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Currently the app is only on the Apple iPhone. The i Remote app keeps drivers connected with their BMW i3s at all times, offering information on the battery charge and available range. The app also allows users to adjust the on-board climate in preparation for a trip.

David Sedgwick contributed to this report

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