11 Technologies That Will Make Your Next Road Trip a Whole Lot More Fun

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Image: Alice Truong for Discovery Channel

Living in California comes with its perks: The temperature’s fantastic all year round. The tech scene is lively and bustling. You have access to some of the greatest parks in the world. Thanks to a decade-old trusty Honda Accord, I’ve seen some of California’s greatest treasures: the widest Sequoias, the tallest redwoods, the most powerful waterfalls, and even a coyote up close and personal.

But when I got the opportunity to try out the Chevy Volt for a weekend in December, I jumped on it. Though it was hard to reach the vehicle’s infamous 100 mile-per-gallon efficiency, it happened a few times on the highway. This very quiet car handles well on city and mountain roads. The new technologies in cars astound me, evolving leaps and bounds since the Accord I drive came out. In addition to the Volt, we’ve found some practical and cool products to make road trips a better experience.

Apps to enhance the driving experience

Image: screenshot

1. OnTheWay

A little bit of planning goes a long way. OnTheWay shows you routes toward your destination and culls data from Foursquare, Yelp, Google Places and Lonely Planet to find interesting stops en route to your final destination. The pit stops can be added to your trip itinerary to create custom maps.

2. GasBuddy

Thousands of people regularly post gas prices on GasBuddy.com. This data fuels the website and its smartphone apps (for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows devices) to help you find the cheapest gas nearby. No more second guessing yourself when you’re on the road wondering if the station you just passed is too expensive or actually a fair price.

Image: iOnRoad

3. GasHog

It’s great to see new places, but I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt every time I fill up. It’s not just my wallet that hurts, but the gas-pumping ritual makes polar bears sad, with their world melting underneath. I try to remind myself to drive efficiently. The surest way to know your hypermiling is working is by tracking your miles per gallon. It doesn’t get simpler than the iOS app GasHog, which keeps tabs on costs and offers tips to improve fuel economy.

4. iOnRoad

When your smartphone is mounted above the dashboard, the iOnRoad Android app, pictured left, uses your phone’s built-in sensors and camera to map objects in front of the vehicle while calculating speed in real time. When you might be in a precarious driving situation, the app will display visual and audio alerts.

5. Pandora

Do you have the time to burn a CD? Do you even have a spindle of blank discs lying around? Didn’t think so. Every road trip needs an awesome playlist. That’s where Pandora comes in handy.

READ MORE: Get Fit: 51 Songs to Pump You Up for Your Workout

Gear to outfit an older car

Image: Bracketron

These days, new cars are outfitted with infotainment systems that parallel a tablet experience. But if you’re like me and drive a car reaching clunker status, automatic windows and a multi-disc CD player are your car’s bells and whistles. A few simple accessories can offer small but noticeable updates.

6. Smartphone window mount

If you don’t have a dedicated GPS device, it’s probably time to get one. After all, it’s 2012. But smartphones do a pretty decent job too. Using navigation while fussing with your phone on the freeway is a lousy idea. An easy solution? A smartphone mount. Bracketron’s universal GPS window mount, pictured left, fits most handheld devices and includes a 360-degree rotating head.

7. USB car charger

Cars have adapted to meet our changing needs. Practically a staple in all newer cars, USB ports are sorely lacking in older models. USB car chargers, such as XtremeMac’s InCharge Auto Series lets you power up devices by way of the cigarette lighter when you’re on the go.

Cool things in development

Image: GM

9. Interactive backseat window

If you think driving can be boring, think about antsy, sugar-fueled kids in the back. A new GM technology attempts to transform the backseat window into an interactive screen. The Windows of Opportunity project produced a prototype that can run various apps, including an app called Foofu, which simulates fogging up the mirror so you can draw with your fingers. Other apps include Pond, which lets you stream and share music with other cars on the road. Screaming “I’m going to turn this car around if you …” might be a thing of the past.

Image: University of Duisburg-Essen

10. Touchscreen steering wheel

A touchscreen wheel prototype from Germany is attempting to make driving safer. Gestures on the wheel’s surface lets the driver control radio or navigate a map. The professor who came up with the device says the wheel could also work in tandem with head’s up display technology, which projects information onto the car’s windshield.

11. Driverless cars

Human error accounts for 95 percent of car accidents. You might not want to accept it, but a robot can drive a lot better than you. Though we’re still about a decade away from seeing driverless cars in dealerships, prototypes thus far have found them superior drivers. Their reaction is a whole lot faster than yours. Can you see 360 degrees? Not to mention that robot cars don’t get sleepy, drunk, or distracted by text messages. Personal chauffer? Yes please.

Follow @alicetruong on Twitter.