Audi is about to roll out Audi Connect, an infotainment system that combines an in-vehicle Wi-Fi link with what amounts to a navigation system on steroids.
Audi Connect debuts in the 2012 Audi A7 this spring. It will be available on the 2012 A8 this summer and optional on the 2012 A6 sedan when it goes on sale this fall.
Audi Connect creates a password-protected Wi-Fi link within the vehicle. In tests during the 2012 A6's launch in Sicily, passengers surfed the Web on an iPad and had full use of smartphones.
Audi Connect does not directly enable voice communications, as a cell phone does. But smart devices running programs such as Skype can be used to make phone calls over the Audi Connect data network.
Higher quality, quantity
A main goal of the system is to increase the quality and amount of information available on a vehicle navigation system.
"We've heard from our customers that map and point-of-interest information on DVD-based navigation systems is frustratingly out of date from the day they take delivery of their car," says Filip Brabec, Audi of America's general manager of product planning.
Audi's solution: access the Web for real-time updates using a cell phone data-link module that is engineered into the vehicle.
When a destination is set in the navigation system, "The visual is actually a layered graphic that's using information stored on board, mixed with live information brought in," Brabec says. The base layer is a graphic map display. The second layer is a topographical satellite map provided live by Google Earth. Software blends the two.
The resulting map on the high-resolution liquid crystal display screen presents a better visual than navigation systems using illustrated graphics. Nvidia of Santa Clara, Calif., supplies a graphics card to handle Audi Connect's complex graphics.
A third integrated layer shows Sirius traffic data in three colors that quickly identify congested areas. The fourth layer shows point-of-interest information provided by Inrix of Kirkland, Wash.
Drivers request information using a scroll wheel or a touch pad with character recognition: Users draw letters with their fingers and the computer recognizes the letters. Smart word completion speeds text inputs.
To help avoid driver distraction, text-heavy point-of-interest functions are disabled when the vehicle is in motion. But fuel prices and some other information are accessible at any time.
Different from OnStar, Sync
T-Mobile USA will be the data provider for Audi Connect in the United States.
Audi Connect differs from the two connected-vehicle leaders: General Motors' OnStar and Ford Motor's Sync. OnStar uses a built-in cell phone to communicate with the outside world, usually through live operators.
OnStar users also can make voice calls using their vehicle's built-in phone using minutes supplied by Verizon and resold by OnStar.
OnStar's traditional focus has been on safety, security ,and concierge-type services. Audi Connect does not offer those specific services.
Ford's Sync connects to the outside world by linking the vehicle's infotainment system to the user's brought-in cellular device. The latest versions of Sync include some emergency services that are initiated if the vehicle is in an accident.
(Source: Automotive News)