The hundreds of thousands of people entering the Tokyo Motor Show are getting a chance to see more than just the latest cars -- there's a whole section of the mammoth exhibition devoted to the gadgets and gizmos that are increasingly becoming part of motoring in the 21st century.
There are, of course, lots of new car navigation and entertainment systems -- so complex that today's top-of-the-range products combine both in-car theater with navigation and a strong tie to the cellular network so that all sorts of information can be downloaded. This includes where to find cheap gas, the closest parking lots and information on delays.
Japan's Sanyo stressed safety with its all-round-view system for trucks and other vehicles. Signals from up to five cameras mounted around the vehicle are mixed together to provide a virtual bird's-eye view that makes parallel parking and reversing the vehicle easy and much safer. And Panasonic showed a digital recorder that keeps a constant record of your driving for use if ever you are involved in an accident.
Without a doubt the most impressive use of technology was in the concept cars that automakers love to roll out at the motor show and the best came from Nissan.
Nissan Pivo 2
The Pivo 2 is a pretty impressive concept car: Fully electric, it has a cab that can rotate through 360 degrees and can also twist its wheels around so that it can move into parking spaces sideways. Equally impressive is Pivo-kun, the robot embedded in the car's dash. Since Pivo-kun is equipped with voice recognition, the driver can ask questions like the location of the nearest parking lot. Its facial recognition has an important safety aspect: It monitors the driver's face for signs of tiredness and suggests a rest if one is needed. More than that, it provides virtual companionship to the driver and that should mean safer roads -- Nissan research shows happy drivers have fewer accidents. Look for cars like Pivo 2 on city streets around 2015.
Toshiba HD DVD Recorder
Toshiba is turning up the heat on the Blu-ray Disc camp with the launch of an HD DVD recorder that can record high-def video to regular DVDs. The Vardia RD-A301 will hit Japan in mid-December and can transcode high-definition MPEG2 broadcasts on the fly to the more efficient MPEG4 compression format. That means the unit's built-in 300G-byte hard-disk drive can store 159 hours of HDTV from 39 hours without transcoding. Recording high-def video to commodity DVD discs is possible thanks to HD Rec, a recently standardized format from the DVD Forum. HD Rec allows up to two hours of transcoded high-def video to be stored on a 4.7G-byte DVD-R disc. Toshiba estimates that the RD-A301 will go on sale for under US$875. It will be available in Japan only.
Samsung WiMax terminals
Samsung Electronics has four new WiMax terminals for use on the KT network in Seoul. At the top-end is the SPH-P9200, a 5-inch ultra portable computer that runs Windows XP and includes a fold-out keyboard. It combines WiMax, Wi-Fi and HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) wireless networking and has 30G-bytes of embedded storage. It will cost around US$1,500. The SPH-M8200 is a PDA (personal digital assistant) that supports both WiMax and EVDO (Evolution-Data only) wireless networking. The Windows Mobile 5 device has a 2.8-inch touchscreen display and also includes mobile digital TV and a camera. It will cost US$750. Then there are two USB (Universal Serial Bus) WiMax data adapters for laptop computers: the SWT-H200K and the SPH-H1300. Both run under Windows XP and Vista and the latter model also includes HSDPA support. They will cost US$90 and $180, respectively.