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The view from CES: The top 10 trends in technology for 2012

4. Car companies embrace technology

Car companies showed up in full force at CES, with companies like Mercedes-Benz and Ford showing off the latest in connected car technology. While the consoles inside these machines don’t quite represent full-fledged computers or do everything a smartphone can do, they can now interact with our smartphones and give us all sorts of smart extras, whether it’s to talk out directions or listen to our voice commands to change the channel.

Mercedes-Benz head Dieter Zetsche debuted the mbrace2 console, which connects the dashboard to the cloud for over-the-air software updates and gives the owner access to Facebook, Google, news highlights and more from the dashboard. The mbrace2 solution will also have 3G Internet access, but it’s unclear if you’d need to purchase a data plan to use it and what limitations it might have. The Tesla Model S, pictured right, has a huge touchscreen display in its dashboard.

Another highlight of the show was Ford, which showed its Sync technology growing up with more apps for AppLink, its program in the console that interacts directly with iPhone and Android apps when the phone is connected via Bluetooth or USB. AppLink already lets you voice control apps like Pandora, Slacker, iHeartRadio and Stitcher, and now it works with a new NPR app that lets you create on-demand listening of your favorite NPR programs.

VentureBeat contributor Rocky Agrawal rightly points out that car and phone integration has a lot of road for improvement, but we believe they are at least headed full-speed in the right direction. –Sean Ludwig

5. Gadgets for measuring our lives are proliferating

From sleep monitors like Gear4 to heart monitors such as the Basis Band, we can now get data about every facet of our lives. The trend was spearheaded by researchers who wanted a “quantified self,” or self-knowledge through numbers that measure things such as how long we sleep or how many stairs we can climb in a day. We don’t know where it will end.

The new Striiv pedometer told me that I walked more than 17,000 steps, or more than seven miles, in one day at CES. When I got back home and walked just 7,000 steps in a day, I felt like a slacker. The Gear4 Sleep Clock will use radar to calculate the exact number of minutes you slept in a night, how many minutes it took to fall asleep, and when is the ideal time to wake you up. After a year of such data, it will be much easier to wake up at exactly the lightest point in your sleep cycle. All of this is useful data, and we’re going to want to store it somewhere. And once you collect it, companies will be more than happy to bribe you in order to purchase that data from you.

This shift to quantified self gadgets is also coming with a change in attitudes about privacy, or at least it seems that way. There’s a tension between personalization and privacy. George Orwell, the author of 1984, the seminal novel about Big Brother watching you, couldn’t have planned a better way to capture everything that we do in a day. But because of the potential benefits, many people seem eager to be measured, as long as their privacy is protected. The space where you can operate privately is becoming more and more constrained. –Dean Takahashi

6. Sensors are everywhere

If we’re going to quantify our lives, we need sensors to do it. And CES clearly showed that sensors are proliferating. Some of them aren’t new. They’re just getting better. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) sensors will soon be able to detect your location indoors. The Kinect motion-sensing system for games on the Xbox 360 is expanding to uses such as virtual shopping (Bodymetrics) and games on the PC. Since you can hack Kinect, you can also turn it into a home security system. LG showed off a smart refrigerator that can sense what kinds of groceries you have purchased and what you will need to order soon. Microphones can be used around a city to detect the exact location of a gunshot. You can stick a sensor in the ground to determine whether the soil is perfect for growing your favorite vegetable, or maybe it will recommend something else. Accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, touchscreens and voice recognition sensors are built into our phones. Those phones are sending all sorts of data about your activities to a data center. Rear-view mirror cameras and motion-sensing alarms alert us to hazards or thieves. Cameras are mounted on everything from flying drones to ski helmets. It’s much easier to put inexpensive surveillance cameras up to detect crime or capture a license plate for someone who speeds through a red light. Heart rate and sweat monitors add more information to motion-sensors about how fit we are. At the airport, your entire body can be scanned in the name of security. Say goodbye to the analog life. Everything analog is going digital. –Dean Takahashi

7. There’s no more excuse for getting lost

The global positioning system (GPS) has made it a lot easier for us to find out where we need to go without printing out a Mapquest page. Just about every phone comes with Google Maps or some other way to get around. Siri on the iPhone 4S will help you find your way by letting you give it voice requests for destinations while you’re driving the car. But until recently, navigation only worked outdoors.

Now a company called CSR is going to make it even harder to get lost by introducing chips that do indoor navigation. Satellite-based GPS has always been too weak on this front because it requires a line-of-sight to the user. But the SiRFstarV GPS chips use a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi signal triangulation, and motion sensors such as gyroscopes in your phone to get a better reckoning on where you are. SiRFstarV fuses various radio signals, sensor inputs, and other location data to provide reliable and accurate positioning inside buildings. Using a cloud-based back-end service dubbed SiRFusion, the technology pulls together the various inputs to figure out where you are and where you are moving.

Companies such as Micello and Google are working to create indoor maps of big spaces such as airports or convention halls so that you can navigate from one indoor landmark to another. CSR demonstrated a working indoor navigation system at CES, and it will only be a matter of time before these things are used in smartphones. People who are chronically late will no longer be able to legitimately claim that they got lost in a maze on their way to an appointment. –Dean Takahashi

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