DETROIT – Engineers and developers at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Show here say they are working on improving the interface between vehicles and the multitude of personal electronic devices that are part of most people’s everyday lives.

Just don’t expect a standardized connection any time soon for cell phones, personal digital assistants, iPods and other manner of aftermarket electronic gizmos.

The makers of these personal electronic devices know the components will be used in vehicles, but it appears the onus is on auto makers and suppliers to devise a vehicle interface that will make it as easy – and the least distracting – to use these devices in vehicles.

The primary job, says a conference panel discussing “Creating a Better Interface,” is to first find a connection that will be as useful and universal as possible. Currently, there is an astounding matrix of potential methods, multiplied by the ever-growing variety of devices.

Gangolf Hirtz, Lear GmbH product manager-Smart Power, says he was convinced several years ago that a standardized connector, or port, through which all personal devices would interface with a vehicle, was a certainty. He says the mind-boggling number of today’s competing systems proves he was mistaken.

Hirtz says the best near-term bet is that iPods, cell phones and other devices will “speak” to the vehicle’s onboard electronic systems either through a Bluetooth (short-range wireless) connection or, perhaps a high-speed connection commonly known in the computer industry as “firewire.”

Others on the panel agree Bluetooth seems to be the best bet, particularly considering a new generation of high-speed Bluetooth is looming, including the ability to handle video transmission.

John Kipper, vice president-OEM sales for Parrot, the world leader in vehicular Bluetooth connection components, says his company currently has a Bluetooth system capable of handling the video stream from an onboard reversing-assist camera.

This technology eliminates the need for a hardwire connection from the dash-mounted screen (typically doubling as a navigation/entertainment-system display) to the rear-mounted camera.

Kipper, too, believes Bluetooth will prevail as a default interface.

He and others on the panel also say a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port – again, familiar in the computer industry – soon will be a common sight in vehicle interiors.

“It will be like a cigarette lighter,” Kipper says. “It will be standard in every car.”

Not all devices incorporate a USB connector, however, particularly those that are very small or otherwise not suited to the stubby USB prong. Most on the panel suggest that is why a wireless connection could prevail.

But given the history of the consumer-electronics industry, there is no reason to expect any single format to emerge as a standard, Hirtz insists.

The staggering variety of devices and makers in the consumer-electronics industry makes it unlikely that sector could – or would – agree on a common communication interface, he says.

The good news for auto makers is that as mobile devices increase in functionality and hike their memory capacity, trouble-prone devices – such as compact- and digital-video disc players – that currently must be built into the instrument panel no longer will be needed.

A vehicle would require only a display screen. Occupants would supply their own digital video or audio, cutting vehicle cost and complexity, and freeing valuable packaging space.

bvisnic@wardsauto.com