GM's OnStar has given the world a sneak peak at the future of in-vehicle technology with a variety of announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show. This year, it will open its ATOMS platform to third-party developers, allowing for drivers and passengers to have access to new vehicle-specific apps. The company is also showing what the next generation of in-vehicle technology may look like with a Verizon 4G LTE-equipped research vehicle.

The automotive market is increasingly keen to embrace broader emerging technologies beyond those found under the hood. In the past several months, we've seen announcements about futuristic vehicle enhancements like laser headlights and biometrics-infused human-vehicle interfaces.

GM OnStar, however, is putting the focus very much on communications technology, announcing several new in-vehicle offerings not from this week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit but from across the U.S. at the Consumer Electronics Show.

OnStar will open its ATOMS application programming interface (API) to third-party software developers in the first half of this year, ATOMS standing for Advanced Telematics Operating Management System. The company believes that it can enhance its 6 million subscribers' driving experiences more effectively by letting outside developers design apps to run on ATOMS.

RelayRides, a car-sharing company that has a partnership with GM, is OnStar's first software development partner. It will build an app that makes the car-sharing process easier. Renters will use the app to find and reserve vehicles in their area, navigate to the cars' specific location, unlock the doors and drive off.

OnStar hasn't offered any details on the other types of apps that subscribers may see in the future, but cites internal research indicating that its customers value emergency and security services the most, followed by navigation, vehicle information and diagnostics functions. With the help of outside developers, OnStar should be able to address these and other areas more effectively.

Third-party apps are the most imminent new offering from OnStar, but they're not the only thing that the company is showing at CES. OnStar also has a Chevy Volt research vehicle equipped with a Verizon 4G LTE mobile connection. The Volt is the second-generation research vehicle developed by OnStar and Verizon, following a similarly equipped Buick LaCrosse from last year's CES show.

If OnStar's vision comes to fruition, calling "shotgun" may quickly become a thing of the past. The Volt research vehicle features several advantages for rear-seat passengers. A dual-zone infotainment management system lets both passengers access streamed and cached content including music, videos and games. Rear passengers can also enjoy Skype video-calling.

All passengers will have the ability to stream content from a home computer or cloud-based content provider, as well as share content with each other.

The other half of the Volt's new capabilities relate to smart grid technology. Drivers will get more information like charging status, remaining drive distance, vehicle diagnostics and nearby charging stations through a Diagnostics and Eco Routing system. With the help of the Home Energy Management System, drivers can use their car to control their homes. Specifically, they can manage energy settings like home thermostat temperature and light settings through the in-vehicle system.

Some of the connected-vehicle functions sound like they could distract drivers at least as much as talking or texting on a cell phone, but OnStar claims it will implement any such systems in a way that maintains the highest level of safety. That's why some functions are limited to rear-seat passengers. Similarly, some of the functions on last year's Buick research vehicle only operated when the car was in park.

The Volt research vehicle is just that - a research vehicle - and the functions that OnStar has equipped it with are a conceptual look at the types of things that are possible with a dedicated 4G connection. They may or may not actually make it to market, and OnStar has not given any time frame for when we might see such systems at the dealership.

The video below is a walk-through of the RelayRides app that shows how both the renter and owner can benefit from it.

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