Android car radio
Parrot's Asteroid brings Android OS into your car.

Sure your car can go from 0 to 60 in less than four seconds, but can it play Angry Birds? French wireless specialist Parrot has developed a break-through in automotive accessories: the Android- powered car radio. Known as Asteroid, the system uses 3G, Bluetooth, and GPS to provide you with internet radio, hands-free calling, maps...and apps. With its Android OS Asteroid will be able to run a variety of smart phone applications, as well as some developed specifically for in-car use. Parrot has already demonstrated Android apps for locating the lowest gasoline prices, closest parking, and even speed cameras. The Asteroid was on display at this year's CES, and its capabilities are shown off in the cool promotional video below. While pricing is still unknown, the radio will be available in the EU in the beginning of Q2, and in North America starting in Q3 of 2011. Looks like we'll have Android cars on the road pretty soon.

Like many of the latest car radios, Asteroid is designed to be as hands free as possible. You can make outgoing calls simply by pushing a button and stating the name of someone in your address book. Do the same with an artist in your playlist, and you'll be given some of his or her music. Or, you can listen to that person on Pandora. There's an external double microphone that sits on your windshield to pick up your commands, and of course the audio plays through your car's sound system.

All of that is well and good, but the real innovation is seen through the 3 inch screen on the right side of the radio. Users can select different apps from their library, and employ them on the road. Maps are the clear first application, but there are so many others. I personally like Coyote, the app that allows you to avoid speed cameras (or at least slow down for them) and that will alert you if your path is bringing you towards an accident or other traffic jam. Third-party developers will be able to build apps for Asteroid, and the radio will likely be able to access many of the ones already on the Android market. That's going to mean a lot of versatility, but will also mean you're likely to incur other costs along the way. Coyote, for instance, has a subscription fee. Also, many of Asteroid's web-based functions will require you to use your phone or plug a 3G USB key into the radio.

Lest you worry that your iPhone will miss out on all the automotive fun, Asteroid is compatible with any Bluetooth enabled phone. The back of the device is full of access ports to allow you to hook up the Asteroid to pretty much any device currently popular on the market. It's clear that Parrot wants their radio to work for as many users out there as possible.

Android car radio - back
Asteroid looks ready to connect to most of your modern devices.

When I see Asteroid I see an idea that is going to be repeated many, many times over. Car radios with smart phone capabilities that tap into the growing market for apps? That's a no-brainer isn't it? Android is probably much easier for a company like Parrot to develop, but if this idea catches on, I'm sure we'll see an iOS version as well. Or perhaps we'll have radios that simply interact with smart phones via Bluetooth so that they can better use apps. Either way, the Android market is going to be in your car (Apple App store too at some point, I would presume).

New technologies in the car raise the potential for an increase in auto accidents, as texting certainly has proven. Yet Android applications could also avert accidents by alerting you to dangers on the road, helping you control your driving, or making it easier to interact with media without getting distracted. We've seen other pushes to bring driver-assisting technologies into the car, and I think that under the right influences devices like the Asteroid could serve a similar purpose. As I've said before, these helpful automotive techs will pave the way for fully automated cars. Whether it's behind the wheel or behind the stereo, it looks like Google is going to be a part of your driving experience. From search engine to car engine, who knew?

[image and video credits: Parrot]
[source: Parrot]