CES: Audi Partners With Google to Integrate Android Operating System

8:47 PM PST 01/07/2014 by Michael Walker

Audi chairman Rupert Stadler details the carmaker's continued push into technology: "Tech and cars are intertwined," he said in his keynote.

LAS VEGAS -- Professing his love for Audi -- he claimed he bought a TT with his first paycheck from The Big Bang Theory -- Kunal Nayyar hosted the carmaker's keynote at the 2014 CES International that seldom strayed from tub-thumping the ascendant German automaker's focus on all things tech.

Over the course of the hour an Audi A7 drove itself onstage, highlighting advances in what Audi calls "piloted driving" and what Nayyar called "what once was called a chauffeur doing his job," and Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro joined Audi chairman Rupert Stadler onstage to announce that "cars have become mobile tech platforms -- cars can be connected." (Stadler endured an awkward moment when just after he declared that "tech and cars are intertwined" his teleprompter failed; he completed his remarks reading from note cards -- never say Audi isn't prepared.)

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Auto manufacturers are obsessed with tech -- no fewer than nine of them, including Mercedes, Ford and Chevrolet, which announced it was baking 4G-LTE connectivity into pretty much its entire line in 2014 -- were at CES this year. They see tech as a lure for buyers who increasingly care less about horsepower than being able to have their Android device or iPhone synch seamlessly with a car's infotainment and navigation systems. In one survey, nine out of ten young consumers said they could imagine life without a car but not without a smart phone -- a sentiment that strikes fear deep into the hearts of auto executives from Detroit to Stuttgart.

Audi has been particularly aggressive about stuffing connectivity into its cars -- in November it unveiled an A3 with built-in 4G-LTE wireless capability; AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega came onstage during the keynote to announce the company would partner with Audi in the service on other models. At a press conference Tuesday at CES, Stadler announced that Audi would partner with Google to integrate the Android operating system into its cars as part of the new Open Automotive Alliance that includes Google, Audi, GM, Hyundai and chipmaker Nvidia. The confederation is stark evidence that carmakers, smartphone manufacturers and service providers share a deep co-dependence upon each other's products; by allowing Android to be imbedded into its proprietary infotainment systems, Audi is acknowledging how crucial it has become to give drivers a seamless experience with their personal tech devices when they get behind the wheel.

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Stadler said the accelerating state of the art and breakthroughs by its own engineers have cut the time it takes to introduce new tech features -- the LED headlights that were not long ago a pricey premium on Audis are now standard on nearly all of its cars, while the technology that allowed the A7 to drive itself onstage fits on a circuit board the size of an iPad; Nayyar, who plays an astrophysicist on Big Bang Theory, pointed out that the same tech had at last year's CES filled the trunk of the car. Laser headlights, three times stronger than LEDs with a reach of five football fields, introduced last year on Audi's R18 e-tron Quattro race car, will soon trickle down to Audi production models.

Stadler closed the presentation with a vision of a near future in which smart roads and other traffic infrastructure are embedded with integrated electronics that communicate with connected cars in real time, improving efficiency and safety. Drivers, today and in the future, "want to be connected," he said.

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