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CES: Audi Readies Mobile Technology For Rapid Motion

Having partnered with NVIDIA and formed a joint venture to create software for its in-car infotainment platform, Audi is rethinking mobile technology to make it work better while on the move.

In his keynote address at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Audi chairman Rupert Stadler argued that the most exciting innovations in mobile technology can be found not in homes but in cars.

"These technologies have the potential to change the way we drive, making you safer in every driving situation," said Stadler.

The ability to link the way we drive with the way we live -- surrounded by data and devices -- used to be separate. Today, says Stadler, the Internet is becoming increasingly mobile.

"We are redefining what it means to be a really fast computer," he said.

Toward that end, Audi has been developing an in-car hardware platform, the Modular Infotainment System (MIS), and has formed a jointed venture with a Finnish company under the name e.solutions GmbH to develop MIS software. Stadler likened Audi's approach to Apple's, in terms of making sure that its software and hardware work well together. He said he wanted to "move Audi to a position of doing rather than demanding [technology from suppliers]."

This approach, he suggested, will help free in-car systems from being locked into six- or seven-year product cycles. Necessarily long automotive product cycles just don't fit the mobile device development cycle. Stadler observed that the rapid obsolescence of in-car systems ends up hurting the resale value of vehicles.

Stadler rejected the suggestion that drivers just need a way to connect their existing mobile devices. Mobile phones and tablets are "are designed to capture a user's attention and in the automobile you want the opposite," he said.

Pedestrians looking at their mobile phones instead of potential obstacles on the sidewalk are mostly a nuisance; drivers trying to read text messages on their mobile phones are much more dangerous. In 2008, 16% of fatal crashes in the U.S. were caused by driver distraction, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Stadler described Audi's work with Oracle and Stanford University to create an autonomous TTS coupe. The car recently drove up Pike's Peak without a human at the wheel. "We don't want to take driving away from the driver," he said. Rather, Audi aims to use technology to make driving safer. As an example, he noted how some Audi models can notify drivers that they're drifting into an adjacent lane by vibrating the steering wheel or that they're too close to a nearby car.

Audi has partnered with NVIDIA for its expertise in low-power, high-performance graphics. Stadler invited NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on stage and showed off next-generation dashboard controls rendered using 3D graphics rather than physical dials and gears. Audi is using NVIDIA's just announced Tegra 2 processor in its new A8.

Stadler also showed off the new Audi A7's full-color heads-up display and predicted further innovation in the way information is presented to drivers. "In the future, drivers will be able to experience a laser-projected, augmented reality display," he said.

"The car of the future is part of the mobile world in every sense of that word," said Stadler. "That is the future that we at Audi are driving towards."

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