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Fuel apps

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Car manufacturers offer plenty of optional upgrades – heated leather seats, high-spec audio systems, pearlescent paint, go-faster stripes – which, depending on your taste and budget, you may find more or less tempting. But at last they’ve come up with something which must be on almost everyone’s wishlist: a device which tells you where to get the cheapest fuel.

Audi Connect, on offer with the company’s A3 models, is a hard disk sat-nav and mobile phone set-up introduced in May, and will be added to other models over the next few months. At almost £1,800 for the high specification version needed for the fuel app, it’s hardly a cheap option, but Audi have seen the advantage of mobile phone apps, and plan to roll the technology out over their whole range over the next year or so. It will identify the driver’s location, and the closest and cheapest filling stations (which can be listed either by price or distance) and then direct him or her to them.

The firm clearly anticipates that online services and information – now central to almost every other area of life – will become just as vital while you’re on the road, and are planning accordingly. The other day, at the Telematics Detroit Conference, Audi announced that it was also adding a parking app to their dashboard system.

This addition, based on existing smartphone apps, will provide drivers with details of the nearest carparks and real-time updates on spaces available. The sat-nav will direct them straight to the entrance and – if they want to be sure they don’t miss it – they can also call a picture of it up on Google Street View. Audi’s system also allows drivers to use their own photographs of destinations.

Like the fuel app, these services have the advantage that they can be upgraded, and the data which they provide updated, instantly. And like other apps designed for motorists, from maps and Google Street View to dashboard cameras, alerts for speed cameras and real-time traffic updates, they are mostly already available (for a considerably lower cost) for your smartphone. Even so, we can expect this technology to be built in to new many cars in future.

Audi’s system is an indication that – like smart televisions which bring together the data and entertainment from broadcasters, app developers and the internet – vehicles will increasingly take advantage of wireless technology and apps. And, as they become more integrated with in-car systems, the usefulness of these technologies will be limited only by the imagination of app designers, and the readiness of manufacturers to exploit them.

Fairly soon, motorists can expect their cars not only to give them information and directions to the cheapest filling stations, and to get them there by the least congested route, but to reset the vehicle’s cruise control and electronic systems to maximise fuel efficiency on the way there, and even get it into a tight parking space for them.

All the technology for this already exists, but now it is being brought together. The prophet of cyberspace, William Gibson, once declared: “The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed”. But it’s starting to be built into almost everything you can think of as standard, and it’s coming to your car dashboard soon.

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