CES - Car tech 2.0: Way beyond GPS and booming stereos

A new generation of car technologies promises to add more fun and functionality to motoring.

The Web has been in 2.0 mode for a while now, and in-car tech is starting to follow suit.

One of the noticeable trends at this year's CES in Las Vegas was the emerging next generation of in-car technologies, from GPS unit/social networking mash-ups to heads-up night vision displays and collision avoidance systems, to the holy grail of in-car entertainment systems. The entire North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center was devoted to cars and in-car technology this year.

Here are a few of the most interesting products we saw:

Scosche Industries: BlueLife Do-it-Yourself Bluetooth Car Kit

Now you can take advantage of Bluetooth wireless - and hands free - operation of your cell phone without having to wear a headset. If you know how to plug into your cigarette lighter, you can have Bluetooth wireless in your car.

There is a very, very powerful reason for going hands-free when doing calls in your car: it is rapidly becoming illegal in many states to hold a cell phone and drive at the same time.

The BlueLife Bluetooth Car Kit (DIYBRH) includes a receiver and 3.5mm connector. The receiver has a built-in microphone that simply plugs into any vehicle's 12-volt charger. It then connects to a vehicle's auxiliary jack allowing music or hands-free cellular calls to play through a vehicle's speakers. It will work with any radio that has an auxiliary input jack, but if you don't have that, the company offers a direct connect add-on auxiliary accessory, the DCAXUV, that will allow anyone to use the new Bluetooth car kit.

As a call comes through to a Bluetooth enabled cell phone, a user can either manually answer the call using the push-to-talk button included on the microphone, or a call can be automatically answered. Once the call is answered, all music mutes, and users will hear the caller through their car speakers. When the call is complete, the call is disconnected, and the music will automatically turn back on.

The product is offered thru Scosche dealers or directly from the company.

Dash Express: A 'living' GPS unit

Billed as the first GPS system that can send and receive data over both Wi-Fi and GPRS connections, Dash Express looks like it could be the future model for in-car nav systems.

It has real-time traffic information, which is nothing new for GPS units, but what's special about Dash Express is that it culls traffic information together from other cars that have a Dash Express unit installed. This living on-road data swarm is used to calculate the best route on the fly, based on traffic flow rather than just accidents and road closures.

Here's where it gets even more interesting: using its dual Wi-Fi and GPRS connectivity capabilities, the Dash Express unit will always stay connected. The unit can pull in real-time data for gas prices by station, nearby dinner specials, and addresses sent to the unit by friends and family over a Web browser or Microsoft Outlook. That means you don't need to input destinations manually or pull over to write down an address told to you over the phone.

Borrowing a page from Yelp and other social networking sites, Dash Express also lets you sync lists of your favorite restaurants and locations from your computer or cell phone and send that information to the in-car unit. You can also pull in other peoples' favorite lists -- a trusted friend's picks of sushi places in the vicinity, for example -- and the addresses and driving directions will show up on the unit.

According to company representatives at the CES booth, Dash Express is slated to be available as early as February. The pricing structure will be tiered; there will be a base price for the hardware unit itself, but to get the full package of features, it will be US$9.99 per month for a two-year plan or US$12.99 per month for a straight month-to-month plan.

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