Digital technology and your car

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Inventors and engineers have been consistently coming up with ways to enhance driving safety and comfort. Many of these technical advances - air conditioning, intermittent wipers and power steering to name a few - are now expected by drivers as standard car equipment.

Recent times have seen a host of products released that can be loosely grouped under the heading digital technology. These products may be available as manufacturer supplied accessories, after market accessories or, in some cases, standard inclusions.

Global positioning

Even though built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation systems are not yet a standard feature of all cars, for many drivers GPS devices have replaced traditional road maps.

Understanding how a GPS navigation system works is relatively simple. The GPS device uses a series of satellites that are in orbit around the earth to pinpoint your location. That information is used in conjunction with the maps and associated data on the GPS navigation unit to guide you to your chosen destination.

Since their widespread consumer adoption, GPS navigation systems have advanced dramatically. Significant recent enhancements include the addition of both historical and real time traffic data. Real time data can even include information transmitted back from other road users. To make your drive even more interesting, driving instructions of some GPS units can be set in celebrity voices such as John Cleese and Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie.

What's even better is the fact that the operation of this navigation system is not confined to country boundaries. Even if the road signs are in another language, your GPS unit can still instruct you in English!

GPS devices can receive live traffic updates and help you stay on track (Image source: TomTom)

On-board computer systems

Interactive on-board car computer systems can provide functions to allow a driver to better concentrate on the task of driving.

Voice recognition allows the driver to control car accessories by speaking rather than using buttons and dials. This ensures the driver can keep their eyes on the road. An example of this is mobile phone voice control which allows you to dial numbers or answer callsi.

On-board computer systems can also track vehicle status, with alerts to the driver for problems such as fluid levels and notifications for when car maintenance is required. The systems can also take interior comfort to a new level with control over car's internal temperature and updates on traffic and weather conditionsii.

Bluetooth or media ports built into your car may enable you to connect devices such as MP3 players, iPods, phones and more. When combined with steering wheel-based controls, this can allow you and your passengers to enjoy your entertainment without having to take your hands off the wheeliii.

The future: Car connectivity

While many cars have on-board computer systems, the next big advance looks set to be improving in-car connectivity and making your car fully Internet-enabled.

For instance, in the United States, Ford's SYNCiv platform is an innovative system that allows you do things like access online travel booking services or get a personalised vehicle health report. SYNC functions by connecting your car to the Internet via wireless hotspots or a mobile broadband device such as your smartphone. It even creates its own wireless access point for you and your passengers.

Also available in the United States, the Toyota Entune systemv is comparable to Ford's SYNC and offers easy access to multiple mobile features via the on-board computer interface. Connected via Bluetooth to your smartphone, the system is able to access popular phone applications such as Pandora streaming music or Microsoft's Bing search.

BMW has its own creation known as the ConnectedDrivevi with similar features as those from the Ford and Toyota systems mentioned above. Worth noting is ConnectedDrive's BMW Remote Appvii. Vehicle-phone connectivity is enhanced with this iphone application which allows drivers to remotely locate their vehicle, check whether the car has been locked or even set its internal temperature before they re-enter their vehicle.

BMW offers on-road infotainment, keeping you updated no matter where you are (Image source: BMW)

Protect your investment

As outlined above, digital technology for cars is advancing at a rapid rate. Although it may enhance your safety and comfort levels, it does not eliminate the possibility of motor accidents or car thefts. Approximately 90 people are seriously injured during car accidents on Australian roads every dayviii and more than 56,000 motor vehicles were stolen in Australia from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. Considering these statistics, it's vitally important that you take out car insurance to protect your investment.

i BMW Technology Guide: Voice control system

ii 2012 Audi A7 Review - Watch CNET's Video Review

iii HowStuffWorks "5 Bluetooth Car Accessories"

iv SYNC | Features For SYNC: See All SYNC Voice-Activated Options & Learn How
   To Customize SYNC |

v Toyota Entune First Impressions | Toyota Entune

vi BMW ConnectedDrive: overview

vii BMW ConnectedDrive: My BMW Remote app

vii Australian Transport Council: National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, p. ii