Coolest new car tech that could be in your next ride

Mike Wehner
Tech It Up!
Car tech
View photos
The BMW heads-up display gives driving statistics on the windshield. (Image via Mike Wehner)

Smartphones, tablets, and computers seem to evolve at a breakneck pace, but the personal technology in cars has consistently lagged behind. That may finally be changing, though. Touchscreens, futuristic dashboards, and Internet connectivity options are all currently being worked on by automotive manufacturers, and you’ll be seeing these features on new car models starting this year.

A smartphone-inspired experience
Chevrolet is poised to refresh its MyLink media navigation system to act even more like the tablets and smartphones you already own.

Rather than static icons arranged in a specific order, as they are now in Chevys, you'll be able to edit and rearrange each set of apps, much like an iPhone screen. The MyLink update will support streaming radio, weather reports and hands-free calls, and allow you to save GPS directions. The smartphone-inspired software is scheduled to launch with the 2014 Chevy Impala later this year.

Heads-up display

If a touchscreen dashboard just isn't your style, you might be interested in something a bit more futuristic. Several car companies have produced their own versions of virtual display technology that overlays information onto part of your windshield, while still allowing you to see the road without difficulty. These systems can give drivers information like speed, direction, and navigation guidance without taking their eyes off the road.

BMW, Hyundai, and Cadillac are a few of the companies working on similar systems, which should make it to consumer models of new vehicles within the next couple of years. There are also a handful of third party companies, like Pioneer, working on their own heads-up displays that can be added to practically any car or truck.

Moody music
Good music can make a long commute bearable, and ensuring that the tunes pumping into your car meet your mood is paramount. To make the process of striking the perfect note more easy and intuitive, music technology company GraceNote built the MoodGrid. It’s a program that can generate musical playlists based on your feelings.

The grid provides 25 different mood squares which you can tap to activate. The sides of the grid act as specific moods such as Positive, Calm, Energetic, and Dark. Each time you touch a square, the system applies more of that feeling to its musical choices. If you're positive and energetic, the system will play upbeat, fast-tempo tunes, and the opposite is true if you're feeling a bit more mellow. If you’re in no specific mood, tapping towards the center of the grid will provide more of a mix.

Constantly connected
The days of finding an address on the Web and typing it into a GPS unit are ending. Porsche's new Harman Aha Web search technology streamlines the process and lets you type your destination directly into the vehicle's interactive dashboard instead of fumbling around for your smartphone. The system then searches the Web for the most relevant results based on your location and presents them to you in an easy-to-browse list.

For example, you want to try out that new Chinese restaurant across town and can't remember the name. Rather than reaching for your iPhone at a stop light, you can simply type the relevant keywords into the Aha system and it will find it for you. It will even automatically program your vehicle's navigation system to get you there. This technology is just one step away from letting your car actually drive you to your destination on its own, but that’s coming too.

Hands-off driving
Car and technology companies like Audi and Google are getting closer to self-driving cars that could outsmart slow traffic and find a parking spot without human input. The vehicles use radar and camera sensors to avoid accidents and humans alike.

However, driverless cars are legal in only three states Google has pushed California legislators to allow its fleet of autonomous map-making cars to hit public streets, but that's a small victory in what is a long legislative process nationally. Still, most automakers are confident self-driving technology will reach consumers before 2020. Cadillac hopes to launch its "Super Cruise" automatic highway driving option by 2015.

Whether any of these new features make it into your next vehicle, they too will be replaced by something even wilder and unimaginably cool. Or think about it this way: In the 1950s, everyone thought we'd have flying cars by 2000, so maybe touchscreens and connected cars are OK for 2013.