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Connected devices: Will Android be at the center of it all?

Android-in-the-car

CES 2014 is in full force, and we are seeing a handful of interesting launches and updates from different companies. We have a recap of Day 1, with my colleague Adrian Diaconescu highlighting the good parts from a handful of major manufacturers, plus some areas in which the brands are quite lacking.

What is interesting to note, so far, is that connected devices are on the rise, and Android could be at the center of it all. For example, we have seen our fair share of smart watches and connected accessories that either run Android or interface with Android devices. And then there’s the Open Automotive Alliance, a project that Google has spearheaded in partnership with Audi, GM, Hondia, Hyundai and NVIDIA.

The ultimate mobile computer

Connected cars are not exactly new, as we have seen embedded interfaces in cars for a few years now, which include BMW’s iDrive, among others. What’s exciting, however, is that the OAA is likely to bring in a better level of standardization than with the current iterations. And users can perhaps be assured of in-car computers that are more intuitive to navigate and operate than existing systems that often have a steep learning curve.

Android could soon be driving your car.
Android could soon be driving your car.

IHS Automotive estimates that there are about 23 million automobiles around the world connected to the Internet somehow, in various capacities. By 2020, IHS Automotive estimates connected automobiles to number about 152 million. Here’s where Android and the OAA might be able to gain traction. Cars are, after all, the “ultimate mobile computer,” says Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of NVIDIA. “With onboard supercomputing chips, futuristic cars of our dreams will no longer be science fiction.”

Just like how Android has provided a solid platform for smartphones of all specs and sizes, the same can also be said for automotive tech  — quite similar to how the Open Handset Alliance helped catapult Android to its level of usage and market share today. In the near future, onboard computing interfaces will no longer be limited to luxury vehicles or premium add-ons. Even budget cars could come with Android pre-installed onboard.

Interfacing the human body

Another theme at CES that I find interesting is the advancements in virtual- and augmented reality, as well as wearable technology. While the idea of wearable glasses like Google Glass has gained some ground in 2013, there is still some doubt as to how mainstream the actual product can become in 2014 due to its forecasted price point. One area where AR and VR technology can potentially gain traction is in gaming, however.

At CES, Oculus VR is demonstrating its latest version of virtual-reality glasses Oculus Rift, which aims to improve the immersive gaming experience with a more responsive device — an update that can resolve the latency issue that reportedly causes discomfort during use. Sony is also introducing its own head-mounted display as part of its future portable- or home-theater lineup.

Almost everyone has smartphones today, but soon we would probably be walking around town in this get-up.
Almost everyone has smartphones today, but soon we would probably be walking around town in this get-up.

Perhaps even more interesting is how companies like YEI Technology are likewise introducing motion-capture devices that can interface with these AR and VR technologies for an even more immersive gaming experience. Current motion-sensing technologies use some form of visual cues for tracking movement. YEI’s PrioVR is actually a full- or half-body suit that can more accurately track motion through accelerometers and other sensors, intended for game control. The company already offers this technology to the military and entertainment industries, and will be bringing the same accuracy to the consumer market.

Oculus Rift will work on PC and Android, according to developers. At CES 2014, in Las Vegas this week, YEI and Oculus VR are going to present a live demo combining the PrioVR mo-cap suit with the Oculus Rift, which enables the player control and visual access to the game environment as if it were the real world. In the future, of course, this combination will not be limited to mobile gaming, but can also extend to other applications that require an immersive VR experience and precise motion-based controls. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next few decades, we would be completely ditching the touchscreen devices that are currently in fashion today, for a combination of devices we will actually wear.