Auto Show accelerates into the future lanes of technology

By Elizabeth Bacharach

While Back to the Future’s Doc Brown might be disappointed by the lack of flying cars at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, he’d likely be impressed by the breadth of technology packed into this year’s event.

The smart cars at the Chicago Auto Show give you eyes at the back of your head—and all around your head—while infotainment makes cars more fun and cell phones become the drivers of all the applications you want your car to use.

The auto show, open through Feb. 21, once again transforms McCormick Place into an exhibit on the future of driving seen through nearly 1,000 featured vehicles.  Event goers who are up to the task can explore more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space. They will be able to see and compare  technological advancements such as bird’s eye camera views around the car, infotainment interfaces and car apps.

Multiple safety cameras can even help you park

In April 2000, Nissan introduced the Rear View Monitor—a back-up camera that transmits an image to an LCD screen on the center console—in its 2002 Infiniti Q45. That changed the driver’s reversing experience forever and provided the security of knowing you wouldn’t hit an unseen something or someone.  Today, however, back-up cameras are leaping beyond the rear view.

Shortly before the 2016 Chicago Auto Show doors opened, Nissan debuted its 2017 Armada, which includes the newest version of Nissan’s Around View Monitor (AVM). The AVM processes video from not one but four cameras that are placed on the front, rear, left and right sides of the vehicle to create a panoramic view.

That can help a lot with parking.  The AVM “gives you the ability to see the passenger side right down by the wheel, so you know where you’re parking in relation to any structures there or any obstacles you might have to work around,” according to Peter Luttenbacher, manager of truck and SUV product planning at Nissan.

Nissan Armada 2017
The 2017 Nissan Armada has four cameras to give drivers a panoramic view all around the car. (Elizabeth Bacharach/MEDILL)

Like Nissan, Hyundai presented similar advanced parking systems. The South Korean company introduced event-goers to its Multi-view Camera System in the 2017 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport.  This four-camera imaging technology, in addition to other features in the SUVs, interested Mark Mascillino, an annual visitor of the Chicago Auto Show.

“I think [the Multi-view Camera System] is fantastic,” said Mascillino, a corrections officer from the northern suburbs. “It’s good that all these car companies are getting into the technology features for safety of the driver, for safety of other people on the road.”

Infotainment taps smart phones

Infotainment—media that provides a combination of information and entertainment—rocks on the show floor as automakers presented updated smartphone-mirroring systems that engage with applications like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

When an iOS- or Android-equipped device is plugged in via a USB port, the infotainment system mimics the phone’s operating system and provides drivers with hands-free use of maps and applications like text messaging and streaming radio.

At the Chicago Auto Show, Volkswagen emphasized its smartphone mirroring system, App-Connect, available in all 2016 models and pairs with Mirror Link in addition to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

VW App Connect
VW’s updated infotainment system mirrors drivers’ smartphones. (Elizabeth Bacharach/MEDILL)

William Gock, product communications and senior specialist at VW, said VW was “the first to market to bring a platform that supports all three of the major smartphone platforms.”

But some consumers see a down side.  “I’m not so sure I would want my screen to become my phone. I think that would become distracting and it might actually take eyes off the road more,” said Debbie Tatarowicz, a nurse from Hinsdale.

Gock said that distraction should not be a concern for drivers because App-Connect does not have to be “initiated by taking eyes off the road,” and does not support all applications, such as Facebook.  He added that drivers can only text through the infotainment system by using voice control.

Apps to connect driver to vehicle

Advanced infotainment systems are not the only way drivers can access applications, as automakers like Ford offer their own in car applications.

The American automaker will launch a new application called Ford Pass for both Ford-owners and non-owners.  The option will be available in the 2017 Ford Escape, which will debut at dealerships this spring, said William Mattiace, SUV communications at Ford.

Ford Escape 2017
The 2017 Ford Escape offers drivers the opportunity to connect with the vehicle through applications. (Elizabeth Bacharach/MEDILL)

Ford Pass will allow users to talk to mobility assistants to help resolve a range of driving challenges from finding an efficient way to navigate to booking parking prior to arriving at a destination, according to a company press release.  In addition, the 2017 Ford Escape will offer access to the application Ford SYNC Connect, through which owners can start, lock, unlock and locate their vehicle.

Don Gentile, a corrugated display designer from the southwest suburbs of Chicago, said he found the application technology  “interesting.”

Other event-goers like to maintain their driving legacy.  “I’m not really interested in that type of technology in a car,” said Mark Kurth, a product designer from Chicago.

The 2016 Chicago Auto Show through Feb. 21.

Photo at top: The 2016 Chicago Auto Show showcases nearly 1,000 of the latest cars and thousands of people to McCormick Place. (Elizabeth Bacharach/MEDILL)