Real-Life Car Pinball Showcases Ford’s New Technology

As a tech blog we receive hundreds of emails each week, mainly from marketing companies asking us to review their client’s latest product. We would therefore consider ourselves quite proficient in “marketing speak” but we have to confess that “brand pillars” is a new one to us. The four “pillars”, based on different technologies, over at car giant Ford are: Quality, Green, Safe and Smart.

To showcase these technologies, the company has created a number of videos and tests. For example, to demonstrate the effectiveness of their 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine and to prove how powerful it is, they took one to Nurburgring track and compared it (with favourable results) with a Ferrari Enzo!

This time around, they are keen to demonstrate their Active Park Assist technology, which helps steer you in to even the tightest of spaces. You simply push a button to kick in the car’s sensors which then, as you drive around, locate a big enough space to park in. It will then steer to you in to the space and all you have to do is follow the on-screen instructions and audible signals to operate the accelerator, gears and brake.

To put this to the test they went to the centre of Paris, where parking is notoriously hard to find and often very tight when you find a space. You can watch the video here:



These are just two of the technologies being put to the test. To fully demonstrate Ford’s other remarkable technologies, they have filmed a series of dramatic digital films which test the technologies in amazing ways. You can view these and find more information by heading over to Ford.

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Garmin nuvi Satnavs: Getting Real Behind the Wheel

Garmin-nuvi-basic

100 years ago Rolls Royce cleaned up at the Alpenfahrt Rally through the Austrian Alps, taking the first three places. Enthusiasts will be celebrating the centenary with another mountain rally, covering 1850 miles and tracing the original 1913 route. Only this time instead of trying to make out details in unwieldy map books they’ll be using Garmin’s latest premium satnav on their journey through the mountains. Garmin invited us to play with the nuvi (and to ride around the streets of London in a vintage Rolls Royce).

There’s a lot more traffic on the streets of London than the Austrian Alps and that’s when Garmin’s free real time traffic alerts come in handy. The Digital Traffic service is subscription free thanks to updates via a built in DAB technology which does not require an internet connection. Digital Traffic is available on the new Garmin nuvi Advanced and Premium series. The virtual route marker changes to red to highlight traffic congestion up ahead.

Rolls-Royce

Garmin have also made it easier to follow directions with the introduction of ‘Real Directions’. So, instead of “turn left in 200 metres”, you’ll now get “turn left at the church” or “turn left at the traffic light”. The system is updated four times a year in case churches and traffic lights move or disappear.

Garmin-nuvi-Premium

The premium model has a 5 inch screen, Digital Traffic capability, lifetime maps and Bluetooth connectivity. With an aluminium casing and a convenient magnetic mount it’s priced at £299.99.

You can still get a 5 inch screen on the advanced model for £149.99, but you’ll have to do without lifetime maps and Bluetooth and settle for a plastic casing. If you’re happy with a smaller 4.3 inch screen you can pay £139.99 and still get the Digital Traffic navigation features. There’s also an ‘essential’ model which excludes Digital Traffic.

For more info head to www.garmin.co.uk

Carrot Car Insurance: Driving Costs Down for Kids

Carrot-Car-Insurance

First timer drivers face a Herculean task when it comes to getting insured on their first car. At the moment the Bank of Mum and Dad is the easiest way to get a son or daughter insured on a reasonable car without paying a fortune on insurance premiums – but this also means Mum and Dad’s well earned no claims can also be on the line.

But there is another way: Carrot Insurance; and the clue is in the name. Carrot Insurance utilises a unique carrot-and-stick model whereby young drivers are rewarded by safe driving with monthly cash rewards reducing the overall cost of insurance depending on how safe their driving has been every 3 months.

Using a telematics unit – the i-box – Carrot has created a bespoke driver feedback platform that offers total transparency and a genuine opportunity for the customers to feel fully engaged in the process of driving safety.

The i-box is supplied and fitted to your car at no additional cost by a member of Carrot’s expert mobile installations team, making sure the box is installed within two weeks of your policy start date. And as soon as it’s done and the i-box is activated, the Carrot send customers an exclusive Carrot Card prepaid MasterCard, which is loaded with a £20 welcome bonus – and the card is then used by Carrot to pay cash rewards to drivers depending on your quarterly driver score.

Carrot-Insurance-Laptop

Drivers using the system have access to their Driving Style score via an online dashboard, meaning you can see the impact on every journey has on the overall scoring and value of cash rewards you can earn. Carrot has also implemented a social media focus, meaning users can post their Driving Style scores across on Facebook and see how they compare with their friends and family.

The way the score is a worked out is by monitoring driving style such as acceleration, braking, swerving, and the number, and length of journeys, made. This information is then compiled into three categories – speed, smoothness and usage – those are then combined to an overall Driving Style score, from which quarterly rewards are calculated, with customers being able to earn up to a maximum of 15% off their annual premium via cash rewards.

“We’re finding that the combination of lower premiums, generous Driving Style cash rewards, refer-a-friend rewards and further cashback from our retail partners offers something really refreshing and genuinely appealing to young drivers.”

Ed Rochfort, Carrot Insurance

At the outset, policyholders choose their annual mileage – between 3,000 and 7,000 to start with – but can buy Top-Up miles should they need more. This enables them to pay only for the miles they need, helping them get on to the road much more affordably in the first place.

A £20 welcome bonus is paid to every customer that receives a Carrot Card at the inception of his or her policy and is paid subsequently as a reward for having their i-box installed and activated. If the policyholder improves on their Driving Style starting score, cash rewards are paid on to a Carrot prepaid MasterCard card at the end of each quarter.

The Carrot Card enables the holder to earn cashback when used at a network of high street retailers, including Topshop, Debenhams, House of Fraser, Halfords and Zizzi – making their cash rewards go even further.

A £40 cash reward is also paid to the customer for each friend that goes on to buy a policy as a result of Carrot’s unique Facebook App

SuperTooth HD Voice: Hands on the Wheel

SuperTooth-HD-Voice

On December 3, 2003, the UK government made it a criminal offence for motorists to drive a car whilst talking on a mobile phone. Since then no company has really come up with an inexpensive after-market solution that allows drivers to safely talk on their phone whilst driving.

At the moment almost all-new cars sold in the UK come with a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, but what about those of us who don’t have Bluetooth? Well SuperTooth, a leading manufacturer of portable audio accessories, believes their recently released HD-Voice Bluetooth hands-free system could be the ideal solution for drivers who want to add the Bluetooth connectivity to their cars, but don’t want to spend several hundred pounds.

SuperTooth’s HD-Voice is a small, inexpensive device that clips on to a car’s sun visor, once it’s securely in place you simply pair the device to your phone and bingo, you’ve got a fully functional voice-controlled hands-free kit.

A spokesperson from SuperTooth reckons that the call quality on the HD-Voice is so good, that many drivers will end up choosing their system over a car’s native hands-free phone system.

A bold claim, but under closer inspection they might actually have a point. The HD Voice comes with two built-in speakers, two microphones and clever voice recognition software. This means the system can pick up simple voice commands really well, especially impressive when it’s fighting against the noise of the engine or road.

SuperTooth-HD-solo

Once the driver has gone through the simple pairing procedure the system is ready to. When an incoming call comes through you simply says “OK” to start the call. The HD-VOICE also indicates the battery level of the device, the bluetooth connection status, and can even announce GPS instructions direct from your smartphone.

One of the reasons why the system is so robust is it comes equipped with voice recognition software which means a driver never actually needs take their hands off the wheel, which can’t be said of some systems, as they usually require a couple of button presses on the dashboard or on the steering wheel to answer or make a calls.

The HD-VOICE is compatible with all mobile phones and smartphones boasting Bluetooth technology. And there’s no need for a lengthy or complicated installations as once it is clipped to the sun visor it is pretty much ready to go.

The battery life is rated by SuperTooth at an impressive 20 hours talk time and 1,000 hours standby, so it can easily sit in a car for a long periods of time without the need of a recharge. To recharge the device it uses a simple USB charging cable, and it can also be plugged into a car’s 12-volt power point with the use of an adapter.

The HD-Voice also supports A2DP audio streaming over Bluetooth, which means it can play music in stereo over the devices’ two speakers. A nice touch, but in reality music playback isn’t its strongest suit especially compared to a car’s built-in audio system, and you can’t actually route the audio back through your car’s system via an audio-out, which is a bit disappointing.

The HD-Voice is capable of recognising 12 languages including – British English, American English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Polish.

For more info head to SuperTooth.

Geneva Motorshow: Best In-Car Entertainment Systems

MWC-Spotify

It’s the Geneva Motorshow this week and rather than bore you with power-to-weight ratios and torque figures of the new cars, we thought we’d round up some of the best in-car entertainment systems that are on show this week. We’ve got cloud streaming from Ford, iPad Minis in Ferraris, and the world’s most over engineered soundsystem in the all-new Rolls-Royce Wraith.

Ford SYNC AppLink

Ford’s SYNC AppLink is the American motor manufacturer’s new futuristic in-car entertainment system, and this week they announced it is making its way to Europe, with 3.5 million Fords expected to get the system by 2015.

Ford announced that their EcoSport compact SUV will be among the first Ford vehicles in Europe to offer their clever SYNC AppLink technology, which sees the car manufacturer partnering up music streaming service Spotify.

Basically Ford, and almost every other car manufacture, is betting that when 4G becomes widely adopted motorist’s will want to use their phone’s mobile broadband to stream music, radio, podcast, and maybe even one day: TV and film.

The Ford SYNC AppLink integration of Spotify is the first proper collaboration with an automotive manufacturer, and will see all future Fords streaming music via the Swedish music streaming service.

By leveraging a smartphone’s capacity to receive a high-speed internet, Ford drivers will be able to control Spotify via either voice-control or physical controls which are located on the steering wheel.

In addition, Ford announced partnerships with Kaliki, Glympse, and Aha who will offer various content services to Ford drivers in Europe.
Kaliki Audio Newsstand provides audible playback of newspaper and magazine articles with radio-talent voices. They’re expanding into European languages with content from news sources like Agence France-Presse and entertainment titles such as: Public and Première.

Glympse will allow Ford drivers to share their location and estimated time of arrival with friends and family, all in real-time on a dynamic map, directly from their vehicle using simple voice commands.

Finally, Aha will deliver more than 30,000 stations of audio entertainment and information to the car, allowing drivers to safely access web-based music, news, their Facebook and Twitter feeds, personalised restaurant recommendations, hotels, weather reports and much more.

LaFerrari

Ferrari

Ferrari wowed the world with their new LaFerrari (yes, the name is terrible, but just look at it). It’s the Italian’s new 6.3 litre V12, 950 horsepower supercar (sorry, but 950 is just too bigger a number not mention). As well as the car the Italian sports car maker announced that they’ve teamed up with the Ferrari of the tech world: Apple, to bring their products to a range of sports cars.

Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo said the company is now “in talks with Apple about broadening a partnership on in-car entertainment.” Whilst that might not sound too concrete just yet, Ferrari also confirmed that its new four seater FF coupe will come with iPad minis for backseat passengers, so they can presumably play Angry Birds whilst traveling sideways in a plume of burning rubber.

Rollys-Royce-Wraith

Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce unveiled a brand-new car at the Geneva Motorshow. The Wraith is Rolls’ answer to the Bentley Continental GT. Priced at a sensible £200,000 the credit crunch Rolls is obviously very fast, but we quite like the sound of it’s incredibly over engineered sound system, and something Rolls is calling “the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller”.
Audio experts in stereo and multi-channel audio have specially optimised the bespoke audio system. So – naturally – this means you can enjoy the Dark Knight in 18.1, or you could listen to the Arches in a way you’ve never experienced before.

As well as the usual stuff, the Wraith houses a couple hundred gigs worth of storage for music. Passengers, or the driver, can make music searches via what Rolls is calling “the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller” (you just can’t make this stuff up) where you can search by artists, album, genre, or use the car’s in-built recommendation engine.

But it’s the sound quality itself that places the Rolls-Royce Wraith at the pinnacle of in-car audio. The fully active 18-channel amplifier delivers surround sound through 18 speakers, including two bass speakers in the boot, seven tweeters, seven mid-range and two “exciter” speakers.

Overall the Wraith is chucking out 1,300 watts. But that’s not all: Rolls has included a microphone that measures the ambient exterior noise, then with a digital processing unit uses the information to adjust volume and tone settings, ensuring the system is always perfectly set-up.

Then there’s a system called DIRAC that uses frequency and phase correction for individual speakers to eliminate dead spots caused by reflections from the windows.

Auto Trader ignition iPad app

Working in tech I’m promised “the future” about once a week. I love my tablets and do think it’s crazy the amount of things I can do on slim slate of glass that pops easily in my bag. But I’ve always found the slow uptake of magazines disappointing. When the iPad was first unveiled I thought “well I guess I’m never handling another physical comic or magazine again”. Yet two years later (has it just been two years) publishers are still hesitant to fully commit to the platform.

ignition-

Auto Trader, who are no stranger to innovative apps, have decided enter the tablet market, unveiling a new monthly interactive tablet publication “ignition”. Auto Trader is the UK’s number one digital marketplace to buy and sell new and used cars so it’s an encouraging step for digital publishing in general that they are embracing tablet-living.

“Mobile is an extremely important and growing channel for Auto Trader. With over one million unique users per month accessing the Auto Trader website on an iPad (via an internet browser or Auto Trader iPad application), we wanted to create an interactive and innovative publication that the audience can engage with at their convenience.

Auto Trader’s Director of Mobile, Nick Gee

ignition is designed to make life easy for readers looking to buy a new or used car rather than just a pdf of the magazine with a few hyperlinks tossed in (no need to name and shame but those publications know who they are). There’s in-app search functionality to load dedicated search results from Auto Trader’s online market place. There’s also a live Twitter feed with information about the different vehicles for sale via Auto Trader and readers can even post straight to their own Twitter or Facebook profiles from within the app.

“ignition is a chance for Auto Trader to become more relevant across other parts of our audience’s motoring lives. Having a publication full of thought-provoking and entertaining content, plus a seamless link into the UK’s biggest marketplace for new and used cars, will offer something unique to the car-buying public.”

Editor-in-Chief at Auto Trader, Jon Quirk

ignition is available initially on iPad devices with a launch price of £1.49.

Piqued your interest? The first issue of ignition is available to download now from the Apple Newsstand.

Mio Spirit 695 LM and 697LM: Free map upgrades for life

There’s no getting around the fact that Navman and Tom Tom have dominated the satellite navigation market for some time now, mainly because they have consistently managed to improve their product offerings, a strategy that has left them with an even firmer grip. This is key in a market like this, where we continually demand more from these little boxes of tricks and in many cases have come to depend on them.

Mio-Spirit

Mio has made a name for itself primarily with bikers, where its Cyclo range has become almost legendary. Someone at Mio has clearly decided there is ample opportunity within the in car sat nav market for an alternative product that can compete not just on price but also in areas where the big boys have perhaps missed a trick.

The Mio Spirit 697 and Mio 695LM cover both of these bases with a promise of free map upgrades four times a year for the life of the unit and some novel new features which include an option to find your car when you’ve forgotten where you left it, (how many times does that happen in the car park at Asda) as well as an expanded route choice  that adds ‘easiest’ or ‘most economical’ to the usual duo of ‘quickest’ and ‘shortest’.

The 5 inch colour screen 695 together with its higher end 697 stable mate, which also includes hands free Bluetooth and voice activated  input also contain other useful features, including IQ Routes (additional data from other drivers)  LearnMe Pro (where your short cuts will be remembered for next time), Lane Guidance, Parking Assistance and a very useful Pedestrian Mode.

Spirit 697 LM: £169.99  Spirit 695 LM: £119.99

Mio also has a range of entry level products which have also had a makeover and a software upgrade; the Mio Moov 410, 413 LM, 610 and 613 LM.from £69.99 to £99.99.

www.mio.com

Auto Trader Goodwood Festival of Speed app

Auto Trader invited us to have a play with their new Festival of Speed app and have a general chat about the world of app development.

Auto-Trader

The first ever official Goodwood Festival of Speed mobile app is a free-to-download app and is the UK’s first augmented reality racing game. If you’re familiar with area you’ll recognise the iconic Goodwood hill climb. The app is also a good example of event driven app design and is a great way to enjoy the festival (if you’re actually going to the festival you can win an Alfa Romeo MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde at the Auto Trader stand).

We had a quick play of the game (which incidentally I am *terrible* at) and were impressed by the app design. You place the camera over an image of the track and it becomes a 3D race course. Whilst the game play is fairly simply, the augmented implementation is pretty impressive and it’s quite handy to be able physically move youself when trying to negotiate a corner.

But the app is not all fun and games and also guides visitors around the Goodwood Festival of Speed, taking place 28th June to 1st July 2012, with the latest information on timetables and events. I have have zero interest in cars but am fascinated by good app design and the event planning functions of the app are really smooth, with maps, reminders and information layed out in an incredibly smooth manner that I’d like to see employed on all all festival apps.

“As well as the stand at the show, we developed the app to ensure visitors had an interactive experience of the show as well as some fun with the augmented reality racing game which is also great to play with a couple of friends.” Jonathan Williams, Consumer Marketing Director at Trader Media Group

The official Goodwood Festival of Speed iPhone app from Auto Trader is available to download for free from the Apple App Store.