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Car Tech: Coolest New Systems on Four Wheels

Automakers big and small are building computer systems into their cars to make driving safer, smarter, and greener.

Car Tech: Coolest New Systems on Four Wheels

Consumer technology companies continually churn out new ideas, cool innovations, and mesmerizing high-tech gizmos for our homes and everyday lives; and after a short interval, many of those same ideas follow us into the vehicles we drive. In this photo gallery, we've brought together some of the coolest high-tech features showing up on the road today, as well as several outrageous concept innovations that may grace the cars and trucks of tomorrow.

Also, don't miss "The Car-puccino: A Car That Runs on Coffee," "How to Buy a Bluetooth Headset or Car Speakerphone," and "The iPad: A Great Car Accessory?"

2011 Tesla Model S

Innovation and high-tech crop up everywhere in the upcoming 2011 Tesla Model S, an electric vehicle that can travel 300 miles on a single charge, and is priced at just under $50,000. This image shows the incredible driver's cockpit in a preproduction Model S; the huge, bright, center-mounted 17-inch LED "infotainment" touchscreen display integrates a Web browser, Google maps, a rearview camera, and much more. Many of the car's operating controls, such as those for heating and air conditioning, are adjustable via the touchscreen rather than with traditional knobs and buttons.

(Photo courtesy Tesla Motors Inc.)

Tesla Model S LED Display

This image shows the Tesla Model S’s vertically mounted 17-inch LED display in its radio, heating, and air conditioning controls mode. At the top of the split screen is the on-board Web browser (with always-on connectivity), including a row of touchscreen buttons for fingertip control of the various features. The radio controls are in the center, and the climate controls are accessible in the screen below. All of these options rely on digital controls, not mechanical switches. And we haven't even looked at the on-board GPS yet.

(Photo courtesy Tesla Motors Inc.)

Say Goodbye to Cramped GPS

You get incredible map and GPS data in the 2011 Tesla Model S all-electric vehicle. The car's 17-inch LED monitor delivers spectacularly large maps that you (or your passengers) can view as you drive to your destination. No more squinting at a tiny GPS screen. In addition to satellite views of the data, plans call for topographical, street, and combined-data images, all perfectly illuminated on the automatic brightness-controlled monitor.

(Photo courtesy Tesla Motors Inc.)

Mercedes-Benz SplitView

The innovative SplitView system in Mercedes-Benz S-Class and CL-Class automobiles provides personalized visual content to the car's driver and front-seat passenger. While the driver adjusts the radio, navigation system, or other controls on the left side of the SplitView screen, passengers can watch a DVD video on the right side of the screen; a special filter permits each screen to be viewed only from certain angles so the driver is not distracted by the passengers' movie or show. SplitView's 8-inch active-matrix color display is integrated into the vehicle's navigation, audio, and entertainment system.

(Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz)

GM Pause and Play Radio

Are you disappointed when you receive a cell phone call in your car while a favorite song is playing (or favorite ranter is blathering) on the radio? The Pause and Play radio system from General Motors ensures that you'll never have to miss that song (or fulmination) again. Just hit the Pause button on the High Navigation Radio in your new Chevrolet Equinox, Buick LaCrosse, GMC Terrain, or Cadillac SRX vehicle, and you'll be free to take your call without missing a minute of the broadcast. The Pause and Play system stores the radio content on an embedded hard drive, so you can catch up right where you left off.

(Photo courtesy of General Motors)

Chrysler FLO TV

The FLO TV Auto Entertainment system--available in various Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram vehicles from Chrysler Group LLC--supports live television broadcasts from up to 20 channels, as shown in this image of a ceiling-mounted entertainment system in a Dodge Grand Caravan minivan. Among the bundled broadcast options are college and professional sports, breaking news, children’s shows, primetime sitcoms, reality TV, and daytime dramas, from such networks as CBS Mobile, CNBC, Comedy Central, Fox News, MSNBC, MTV, NBC 2Go, and Nickelodeon.

(Photo courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC)

Future Car Connectivity by Chrysler

Chrysler plans to unveil additional high-tech vehicle innovations in the future. This image shows some cool ideas that are in the works, including capabilities for communication between your vehicle and your home (so that, for example, you can instruct your home to turn on the lights as you approach, as depicted in the center of the illustration). The features shown in the foreground--from GPS to video to TV broadcasts and weather reports--are already available in many Chrysler vehicles.

(Photo courtesy Chrysler Group LLC)

F800 Style Research Vehicle

New ideas are everywhere in the F800 Style Research Vehicle concept sedan from Mercedes-Benz. Here, a multifunction display on the dashboard works in concert with a human-machine interface (HMI) touchpad in the center console so that the driver can operate controls for in-car temperature, wireless phone, stereo, navigation system, and Internet access--all by touch.

(Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz USA)

Nissan Leaf

Nissan's Leaf Concept electric car includes an intriguing system that connects the vehicle to a global data center that offers support, information, and entertainment for drivers 24 hours a day from the on-dash system shown here. The display inside the steering wheel includes a battery temperature gauge on the left, a Power Usage/Regenerative Braking Meter across the top, and a State of Charge meter and a range meter on the right.

Also, check out Nissan's prototype iPhone car remote control app.

(Photo courtesy Nissan North America Inc.)

Subaru Hybrid Tour

In this image from the Subaru Hybrid Tour Concept, the company has jettisoned traditional automotive dashboard design in favor of fresh ideas and layouts. Here, the center console offers tire pressure readings and the upper left dash display depicts cell phone communications laid out on a map. Very cool.

Got your engine revved up for car tech? Don't miss our "CES 2010 Car Tech Roundup."

(Photo courtesy Subaru of America Inc.)

(Todd R. Weiss is a freelance technology journalist who formerly wrote for Computerworld.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TechManTalking.)