Hard-Drive Cars Coming

There are some hard-driving automotive industry executives who will tell you that the future of the automobile lies in vehicles equipped with hard drives. In the United States, Chrysler is leading the way with the innovative MyGIG information and entertainment system, but around the world other manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon. While providing convenient storage space like cubbies, consoles and cup holders was once where the competitive battle was won or lost, soon the same battle will be joined in terms of vehicles' data storage system. We're not far from the day when cars will not only have audio and video entertainment systems, but computer storage system will allow them to carry full music and movie libraries. 

Vehicles have had CD players for more than two decades and more recently, DVD has come on the scene. But the future seems to reside with hard-disk storage, the preferred method of data storage and access for personal computers and flash memory, the "solid state" storage system often used in MP3 music players like iPod's Nano and Shuffle.

Consider, if you will, the features of the multi-faceted infotainment unit in the 2007 Chrysler Sebring. The Harmon/Kardon information, entertainment and safety navigation audio system features a 6.5-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display with a touch-screen panel that can support 65,000 colors, providing a three-dimensional appearance to graphics and animation capability, as well as multiple font sizes and styles. The system follows voice-activated commands and includes features for music, sound, movies and personalized picture displays. At its heart is a 20-gigabyte hard disc drive that includes Music Juke Box for organizing music and pictures. Music, photos and movies can be loaded to the unit via a Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection that provides both MP3 connectivity and downloading of WMA, MP3 and JPEG files onto the hard drive. To make things even simpler, GraceNotes databasing is installed on the hard drive, providing song identification, including title, composer, artist and the system offers playlist creation capability to provide easy access to songs and other files.

Tired of listening to others? You can record yourself with voice memo recording. This allows a message (or song) of up to three-minutes long to be recorded using the microphone integrated into the rearview mirror. And if you tire of even listening to yourself, you can view movies when the car is in park on the multi-use navigation screen. So now your favorite drive-in movie can be anywhere you drive.

Automotive experts expect the market for such systems to grow exponentially in the next few years as consumers seek the functionality they enjoy with personal computers in their vehicle. Toshiba Corporation has already shipped more than four million automotive-grade hard drives, primarily for aftermarket installations. Telematics Research Group, Inc. (TRG) says there are 75 automotive models globally that will have factory-installed HDD systems in the coming months. More than a dozen of those are expected to be sold in North America.

So be prepared for endless runs and re-runs of "SpongeBob SquarePants" off your vehicle's hard-drive. You can take also take solace in the fact that you can have every record you ever owned aboard your car.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the automotive industry, popular and unpopular entertainment and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.