Auto Show's hottest tech? It's in your hand

Many people go to the Chicago Auto Show to see what's new in technology on the show floor.

But those attending the 109th show, set for Feb. 11-20 at McCormick Place in Chicago, may find the coolest technology in their own pocket.

The Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which hosts the annual gala, is beefing up its technological offerings to make the show experience even better, according to Mark Bilek, CATA's senior director of communications and technology. For starters, the entire show floor - more than 1 million square feet - will have high speed Wi-Fi available to the public for the first time.

"We're the only show to offer that across all of the show floors," Bilek said. "That's a huge boost for people coming to the show."

The improved Wi-Fi network will allow showgoers to better utilize the other treats CATA has planned. A new, more robust Chicago Auto Show app is available, which not only offers a $2 discount on a show tickets, but also keeps the ticket in the app - much like how an airline app can hold a boarding pass.

Bilek notes that, in addition to containing a map of the show floor and schedules, the app provides integral notifications that will allow exhibitors to send messages to attendees as they pass by, offering anything from contests to more information on a product. This year, Bilek said the app also offers a contest to win $20,000 toward the purchase of a Buick Envision or GMC Acadia SUV.

"It's a great virtual companion," Bilek said.

The app itself is free and available for download at the Apple's iTunes Store or Google Play.

And if that's not enough, this year's show launches a program called epass, which allows attendees to register their ticket or app, which then can instantly send and receive information from exhibitors by just swiping a bar code.

"For example, you're interested in a new Fiat and you walk up to the product specialist and first thing she says is give me your name, your email and ZIP code," he said. "Imagine if all you had to do is scan your badge and all that information is shared instantly."

In addition, epass also lets you quickly register for test drives, ride-alongs on any of the show's indoor or outdoor test tracks, or other special features at the show.

"It's a great way to connect at the show, so people don't suffer 'attendee fatigue,'" Bilek said.

He added that epass is also a useful tool for the exhibitors, as the data that can be culled from it can get into fine detail on attendees' interaction, like how long they shopped and where they shopped.

"Auto shows are No. 1 for (return on investment) for auto exhibitors, and 60 percent who come to our show are in market (for a new car)," Bilek said. "Using epass, we can show the automaker their ROI and they are able to trace sales."

All this reflects the tech-savvy audience that the show attracts. The Chicago show was the first of its kind to offer online ticketing, according to Bilek, and today about one-third of tickets sold is done online.

"It's about the consumers," he said. "They love it, they use it and we want to offer it to them."

What's in the car? Think safety, better app integration

While tech-savvy attendees will have their smartphones full at the 109th Chicago Auto Show, all will see a trend toward safety and app integration in the vehicles on the show floor.

Mark Bilek of the <a href="">Chicago Automobile Trade Association</a> said systems such as autonomous braking or forward collision warning are becoming more common on all affordability levels.

"It's a trickle-down effect," he said. "They are now on even the most affordable cars because consumers are demanding it."

Andrew Krok, associate news editor for <a href="">Road Show by CNET</a>, adds automakers will play up safety at the Chicago show because of its family-friendly nature.

"A lot of it will be, as it has in the past, safety, because that is one of the driving forces for those out in the market now," Krok said. "And with so much foot traffic coming through Chicago, that is something (automakers) will want to tout."

Likewise, automakers are focusing on integrating apps into automobiles to improve driver interaction with the vehicle, as well as lessening distractions. Bilek notes that beyond connecting your phone to your car, manufacturers are using apps to help owners better understand their vehicle, as well as help to diagnose problems and even schedule service appointments.

Some cars, like Hyundai's <a href="">Genesis </a>luxury line, even has its owners manual on an augmented-reality powered app.

"All you have to do is open your app and point the phone at the thing you don't understand on the car, and it figures out what it is by the picture and tells you how to use it," Bilek said.

Krok and Bilek added more automakers are adopting <a href="">Apple CarPlay</a> and <a href="">Android Auto</a> into their infotainment systems to lessen confusion for drivers who are used to their phone's operating systems.

"Distraction is still very much a problem when it comes to vehicle safety, so doing anything you can with the two most popular phone operating systems on the market to reduce distraction and put the drivers' eyes back on the road is the main thing," Krok said.

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