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The month in tech: Google readies Android invasion

Google executive Matias Durante at I/O developers' conference. (Stephen Lam/Getty)

Google executive Matias Durante at I/O developers' conference. (Stephen Lam/Getty)

A monthly roundup of the biggest technology stories in the automotive industry and beyond.

Your infotainment system just got Googled

At its recent developer conference, Google launched its Android Auto system, which brings the world's most ubiquitous mobile operating system directly into vehicles. Android Auto allows drivers to access navigation, music and communications through voice commands and steering wheel controls. The system also brings certain Android apps into the car, albeit in modified form, and is open to developers to create new apps. Google has partnered with roughly 30 automotive manufacturers to bring the system to market, relieving carmakers of development costs associated with creating their own infotainment system back-ends. Apple's CarPlay system, meanwhile, will be available in many carmakers' 2015 models, among them Hyundai, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

An unlikely Harley-Davidson debuts

(Harley-Davidson)

(Harley-Davidson)

This month was a monumental one for Harley-Davidson as it kicked off a US tour of its first electric motorcycle, dubbed Project LiveWire. Harley said the tour, which will travel along the country’s storied Route 66, is intended to gauge enthusiasts’ feedback ahead of a possible production run. The bike generates 74 horsepower with 52 pound-feet of torque, has a maximum range of 55 miles and will accelerate from zero to 60mph in less than four seconds, according to the manufacturer, which is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Breaking with Harley tradition of a rumbling exhaust note, the purely electric bike has been tuned for an sound signature that mimics a jet fighter.

Aston Martin Racing goes solar

(Aston Martin)

(Aston Martin)

The British sports-car manufacturer has teamed with Hong Kong-based Hanergy Global Solar Power to test thin, photovoltaic solar cells on its racing cars. The gathered energy would be used to power air conditioners during races, a task usually performed by the engine. Under FIA World Endurance Championship regulations, racing teams must keep cabin temperatures below 32C (roughly 90F). The solar cells can be fitted to the roof or rear windscreen, relieving any power draw from the engine or battery resources. Aston Martin expects to use the solar system on its Vantage GTE at the recently constructed Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. If all goes to plan, the company will add solar technology to its V12 Vantage GT3 and V8 Vantage GT4 racing cars.

Ford does legwork

(Ford Motor)

(Ford Motor)

Ford engineers saw room to improve the efficacy of knee-level airbags. Instead of a traditional bag that shoots down out of the dash during a collision, the knee air bag in the 2015 Mustang (above) is placed behind the outer glovebox panel. When the bag inflates, the plastic door panel extends towards the passenger's knees, with the airbag behind it, allowing the impact to be spread across more surface area. This results in an airbag 65% lighter and a gas inflator 75% smaller than comparable solutions, Ford claims. The carmaker is considering adapting the tech for other areas of its vehicles.

Toyota finalises new fuel cell vehicle

(Toyota Motor Sales)

(Toyota Motor Sales)

The final exterior design and pricing of Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the FCV, were revealed this month. The FCV will go on sale in Japan first, in April 2015, for the equivalent of about $70,000, with US and European launches planned for the summer. Toyota said the pricing for those two regions had not yet been set, and that the FCV would only go on sale in areas like California and Germany, where adequate hydrogen refueling stations and delivery infrastructure existed. The company says the sedan's performance is on a par with that of gasoline-fuelled cars, and has a cruising range of 700km (about 435 miles). Toyota is betting on FCVs rather than all-electric vehicles, owing to compressed hydrogen’s higher energy density and its ease of storage and transport. The vehicle refuels in just three minutes and only emits water vapor.