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There's A Car In There Somewhere

Clearly, the pods, pads and portables that keep us constantly connected are not enough. And automakers know it.

Source: Nvidia

So they’ve jumped in by integrating all manner of new technology into their vehicles. While it's safe to say people don’t generally buy a car just for its cool technological amenities, you’d never know it by Detroit's latest offerings.

In fact, the 2011 North American International Auto Show will showcase just how technology-driven the industry has become. It's no longer just a DVD player for those stuck in the back of the vehicle. Truly, getting there with all the comforts of home is just as important as getting there in the first place.

How intertwined have technology and automobiles become? Audi chairman of the board Rupert Stadler and Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally both delivered keynote addresses at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Yes, that CES, the expo dedicated to all things technology. CES even featured several panel discussions based solely on car technologies, including one on in-vehicle tech opportunities and another on consumer electronics and the connected vehicle.

There are basically three ways automakers have brought new technology into their vehicles: telematics, which includes in-vehicle technologies likeOnStar orSync; smartphone apps like AutoBot, which allows users to control several car functions; and technologies users can control with smartphones, like Toyota'sEntune.

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All are designed to be hands free, but remember, even though you're not fumbling to change music stations or dial a friend, your attention is still not on the road when you're using them.

Just the same, here are the new and improved in-vehicle technologies you'll find in showrooms this year.

Ford has been at the forefront of in-vehicle technology with its Sync System, developed in partnership with Microsoft . The Sync System is now in 3 million vehicles and features hands-free calling, turn-by-turn directions, 911 assist and a music search. Sync also offers improved voice-recognition as well as audible text messages and a vehicle health report.

General Motors is leveraging OnStar, its geolocation service, to provide automotive Internet access, featuring a connection with Verizon’s4G LTE service. In addition to Facebook connectivity, the system will read status updates and text messages to you.

More importantly, GM is expanding OnStar beyond its own models by offering the service to non-GM vehicles or older, pre-OnStar GM vehicles via a special rear-view mirror replacement.

Toyota introduced its Entune Multimedia System at CES. Users download an application onto a smartphone and, in turn, use it to control the Entune infotainment and navigation system in the car.

The voice recognition means you don’t actually have to touch the phone no matter what you intend to do. The system also offers several valuable apps, including Bing, iheartradio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable.com and Pandora Internet radio. Entune will be available for select models this year.

Honda's HandsFreeLink allows users to make calls without taking their hands off the steering wheel, and includes a voice-activated navigation system and a program called Song By Voice that lets users verbally select songs they want to hear, whether on the car’s built-in hard drive or the driver’s iPod. Selections can be made by artist, playlist, album or composer.

Detroit Auto Show 2011 - A CNBC Special Report
Detroit Auto Show 2011 - A CNBC Special Report

Nissan has created a form of environmentally responsible social networking, with its Carwings system, designed specifically for the Leaf. The system connects Leaf drivers to a network and consolidates all their travel information on a central server, where it ranks them according to driver efficiency. Should you be so inclined, you can even win a virtual gold, silver or bronze medal.

Hyundai has been advertising its new Equus, by telling people it has anApple iPad for its owner’s manual. That in itself is not a reason to buy a Hyundai, but the Korean carmaker also has a new technology called Blue Link that lets your Facebook friends know exactly where you are at any given time, unless you’d prefer they didn’t.

Media Interface Plus, MIP, from Mercedes-Benz, enables drivers to retrofit their cars to control Pandora, as well as other streaming content from a Smartphone, through the vehicle's audio system. A Sony Bluetooth link controls audio from an iPod, iPhone or other compatible device. And when connected via video cable, the MIP enables customers to play iPod or iPhone video content on the vehicle display.

Not to be outdone, luxury automakersBMWand Tesla have teamed up with chipmaker Nvidia on futuristic new systems that offer high-resolution visuals, real-time traffic and navigation, and a 17-inch, high-resolution touchscreen with advanced 3D graphics and vehicle data, respectively.

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