Chrysler provided us with an exclusive walk-through of their 2009 200C Concept at the Detroit Auto Show and we were most impressed by the integrated next-gen Uconnect system. Unlike Ford, who merely provided video evidence of their in-car media system (creepy avatar included), Chrysler built a fully functioning Wi-Fi enabled proof-of-concept into the 200C.
Brad Gieske, a designer at Chrysler, provided us with an in-depth look at the system from the user provided "smart phone" that controls all of the cars auxiliary functions; the concave glass surface that replaces a typical centerstack and cluster; to the pull-out tablet style control interface for passengers. While there were a few bugs in the system, mostly from an ultra-sensitive touch surface, the Chrysler team really provided a clear indication for the future of the Uconnect system.
The "smart phone" that acts as the car's key fob looks a whole hell of a lot like an Apple iPhone, but Gieske tells me that the system can be configured to any phone through a simple download service. It controls the typical key fob functions like lock/unlock and panic, but provides much more beyond just that. The phone/fob is capable of locating your car via GPS and an on-screen map; it can also raise/lower the windows, turn the lights on/off, turn on the AC/heat and it can also snap images/video of the vehicle's interior if the car is ever stolen or your horny teen is making a pass on his girlfriend. These are pretty cool features that seem to be possible today, so hopefully we won't have to wait for long.
The Uconnect system itself is designed into the 200C Concept's IP surface and features a concave, black glass surface with a projected image from the backside. The surface itself is controlled via a touch surface that seemed to be a little temperamental on the day that we were given the demonstration, but not enough to distract from the overall usability of the system.
In order to start the car, a large green power button glows on the center stack area of the touch panel, which when touched, illuminates the rest of the display surface. The main control area is designed to simulate a trackball of sorts with different icons set on a rotatable axis, all virtual of course. This control surface allows the manipulation of many of the cars different configurations like the audio, media, navigation and user settings.
A secondary auxiliary tablet-style display is carefully hidden in the passenger-side IP and when removed reveals an Apple Coverflow-like display. This secondary controller is set up for any passenger of the vehicle to listen to music, watch video and it can even serve as a route planner with transferable navigation data being sent to the in-dash Uconnect system.
Steve Holmes, Chrysler Component Design Manager, had this to say about the system:
This is what’s so different about Chrysler, we strived to make this work. It’s to show that we can do this, that the technology is there. It’s easy to show videos (referring to Ford). We really busted our ass to get this system to work. The curved surfaces, we didn’t want to have it be rectangular, we wanted it to fit in uniquely with the surface. We wanted the images to project all the way out so you weren’t looking at a bunch of squares.
And that they did. It worked and it worked well though we thought it was a little humorous when Queen/David Bowie's, Under Pressure, came on during our demonstration. Chrysler, you really were under pressure for this years Detroit Auto Show and while you showed us more vaporware EVs and the exterior of the 200C was nice, it really was the next-gen Uconnect that was the star of your display. We hope to see a version of this concept in the near future.