It’s widely acknowledged that Karl Benz invented the first motor car in 1886, but it took another 36 years before in-car entertainment became more than just admiring the view. Chevrolet were the first manufacturer to fit a ‘car radio’ into one of their vehicles.

It cost the customer a whopping $200 (just under $3,000 in today’s money), had an aerial that covered most of the roof, and batteries that could barely fit under the front seats. It’s also reported that the speakers were ‘virtually unusable’. A little different to the In-car Entertainment (ICE) that we know today.

But that’s entirely the point – even with today’s automotive technologies, future generations will look back and laugh at what we call in-car entertainment.

From simple car radios to mobile technologies

We’ve gone from car radios that can only receive one bandwidth and took up enormous space, through to multi-bandwidth radios, 8 track players, cassette players, CDs and auxiliary ports, and although some of that technology is still available, it’s about as outdated as Chevy’s first offering.

The car is now considered as a third living space, behind the home and office, and as such, we expect to be able to plug-in to our usual array of entertainments – media streaming being the main party in all of this, whether that’s audio or visual.

Technological advancements mean that whatever systems or services we have in the home, we can take them with us anywhere, without the need for a raft of specialist equipment, in fact most of us have all we need in the palm of our hand, in the form of a smartphone or tablet.

In-car infotainment these days

Whether you’re looking to go on long drives, driving with children or just commuting, we can access a whole world of “everything” at our fingertips. Many cars now have Wi-Fi built-in, along with Bluetooth and car connectivity in the form of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and it allows our vehicle to be one giant media centre.

Traditional radio stations are falling by the wayside as drivers listening to music can choose from their very own playlists, subscribe to a satellite radio provider, or even stream direct from a music service. Also, with cars being equipped with intelligent multi-screen systems, you can even catch up on your favourite shows on Netflix, Amazon and other digital providers. The only real question is: what will autonomy bring?

The future of ICE 

Automotive technologies have advanced way beyond industry predictions, and while self-driving cars are becoming a reality, we’re not even close to reaching their full capability at the moment. But with automotive companies such as Valeo investing over €1.3bn in future tech, and employing over 82k specialists to work on future projects, that reality is getting closer.

Every manufacturer is pushing forward with solutions for road safety, full autonomy, and the self-driving reality, and it’s only when we have that full autonomy will we really be able to enjoy the kind of in-car entertainment that we dream of.

Ford, for example, have recently patented an autonomous vehicle entertainment system which uses the whole of the windscreen as a viewing platform, while other manufacturers are working on AR (Augmented Reality) projected glass for side windows, gaming systems using holograms and of course control-free gesturing – already available with some brands to control comfort systems.

BMW are believed to be working on holographic dashboards and centre consoles, which will free up room inside the vehicle, meaning that any manufacturer could offer something more akin to a ‘lounge’ rather than vehicle cabin, and that in itself opens up the possibilities of new in-car entertainment opportunities.

Tech galore coming soon

You could argue that today’s world is perhaps one of the most exciting times to be part of when it comes to the automotive industry – we’ve seen a car launched in to space, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything) systems, self-driving become a partial reality, electric vehicles and yet there is still so much to discover.

It’s clear that the in-car entertainment systems of the future will be about as far removed from what we know today as the humble car radio is to us, and technology breeds technology. Think of Leonardo Da Vinci with the helicopter – he could dream it, but the technology simply wasn’t available to make it a reality. We don’t have that problem.

Whatever the future holds, you can be sure that it will give motorists a whole new way to travel, without any discomfort or boredom that we currently have.