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Future Car Technologies That are Just around the Corner

Photo by BP63Vincent on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo by BP63Vincent on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

As technology steadily improves, today’s cars are turning into futuristic super machines. Modern cars are packed with advanced technologies that would have been science fiction even fifteen years ago. You can download turn-by-turn directions to your touchscreen center console, push a button to have your car park itself, and turn the cabin of your car into an extension of your cellphone. However, even more incredible innovations are waiting just around the corner in the cars of tomorrow.

Smart Assistance and the End of Distracted Driving

As smartphones and tablets have become essential accessories, auto manufacturers have included more options to help drivers stay connected while on the road. Unfortunately, as cars have done a better job adapting to connectivity, distracted driving has skyrocketed. According to a study commissioned by AT&T, more than half of all drivers use their smartphones while driving.

Although many of these drivers are confident in their ability to control their vehicles while using their phones, these distracted drivers cause thousands of accidents every year.

To combat distracted driving, car makers, wireless providers and smartphone manufacturers are collaborating to develop new technologies to mitigate the impact of constant connectivity. For example, heads-up displays could display information directly in the driver’s view, removing the temptation to take their eyes off the road. Other systems could monitor driver workload and prevent new phone calls or texts from arriving when the driver’s attention is spread too thin.

The Interior of the Future

In the future, your car’s interior will become a hub of technology, with your dashboard changing into an interactive control unit rather than a collection of dials. Some cars have already moved into the digital realm, replacing the physical gauges with an LCD screen that can change itself depending on the needs of the car. In addition, many manufacturers are giving new cars the ability to act as a mobile wireless hotspot; current projections estimate that nearly a quarter of all new cars will be connected to the Internet within the next five years.

Today, in order to add a new piece of technology to a vehicle, drivers must have a new device physically installed in their vehicle. In the future, as cars begin to incorporate connectivity and general computers into their standard designs, you’ll be able to add new functionality simply by downloading a new app. In fact, since this is already the way that the computer industry works, automakers will be able to add this feature to vehicles with relatively little cost.

Personalized Settings

When you get into your next new car, you might not have to spend any time adjusting mirrors or positioning the seats. Cars of the future will have biometric sensors, such as fingerprint scanners, retina scanners, heartbeat monitors or interior cameras, allowing them to uniquely identify each driver. When it recognizes a registered driver, it can then automatically load that driver’s preferred settings.

Beyond saving drivers from the annoyance of readjusting mirrors, this technology has several other benefits. Young drivers, for example, could be given a special profile that restricts their top speed. The biometric sensors could double as a driver workload monitoring system, using the heartbeat monitor and interior camera to detect when the driver might be overworked or distracted. Despite the benefits, there are some concerns about this technology. The driver settings and biometric data would need to be stored somewhere, which could expose the sensitive biometric data to identity theft.

Remote Controlled Cars

Several major automakers, including Volvo, Hyundai, Land Rover and Audi, are actively developing smartphone-based remote control systems. Drivers could remotely lock or unlock the car, for example, or engage the climate control system to make the vehicle comfortable before they enter the vehicle. Fuel data or mileage would also be available via the smartphone app, allowing the driver to work more time into her travel schedule if she sees that she needs to get gas.

However, the most compelling feature of this technology is the ability to control your vehicle without being inside, as Audi demonstrated at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. Using a specially designed LG smartwatch, Audi’s head of research and development summoned a self-driving Audi to the stage. With this technology, you can engage an escort mode, allowing the car to follow you at limited speeds when you’re close to it.

Cars That Talk to Each Other

Today’s cars, like all the cars that preceded them, are self-contained entities. However, automakers hope to use wireless communication to network cars together. This communication would allow vehicles to share basic information about themselves, such as their position and speed, in order to improve safety and traffic flow. Linked vehicles would be able to prevent blind spot merges, coordinate vehicle speeds to make merging easier, and even warn drivers to get out of the way of out-of-control vehicles.

However, before vehicle-to-vehicle communication can become a reality, automakers must hammer out communication standards and develop the infrastructure to allow data sharing on a massive scale. Many industry leaders, including General Motors, BMW and Honda, are currently developing these systems in partnership with technology companies and major government agencies. These developers will have to minimize the dangers of this technology, such as data theft or unauthorized access by hackers.

Cars with No Drivers

Google self-driving car. Photo by Don DeBold on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Google self-driving car. Photo by Don DeBold on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Although once relegated to the worlds of science fiction, driverless vehicle technology has been developing rapidly. In 2013, major automakers publicized that they were actively working on this technology. Several manufacturers, including Mercedes, have developed proof-of-concept vehicles that have been engaged in real-world tests on public streets. Google has become a major player in this technology as well, building an entire fleet of driverless vehicles to jumpstart development.

Driverless vehicles rely on a marriage between sophisticated sensors and artificial intelligence to deliver a safe automotive experience. Radar and lidar systems form the basis of most driverless platforms, allowing the vehicle to build a real-time map of its immediate surroundings. When combined with detailed maps and intelligent software, vehicles can drive autonomously, reacting at speeds that no human can match. When combined with vehicle-to-vehicle communication, this technology has the potential to virtually eliminate traffic accidents. In addition, with the burden of driving removed, vehicle owners could turn the commute into a productive or relaxing experience.

There are several hurdles remaining before you hand the wheel to your AI chauffeur.

Today’s sensors don’t work well in bad weather, forcing autonomous vehicles to slow to a crawl in heavy rain or snow. There are many legal issues to hash out, from licensing to liability in the case of an accident. Finally, the transition to driverless vehicles is sure to be tumultuous, and humans may find themselves banned from the steering wheel if autonomous vehicles become better drivers than humans.

In Conclusion

From advanced interiors to driverless vehicles, the cars of tomorrow will be home to a vast array of technical innovations that promise to make driving easier, safer and more pleasant. Driver monitoring and personalized settings help drivers to be more attentive, and remote controls can improve convenience. Once vehicle-to-vehicle communication and driverless vehicles arrive, traffic accidents may change from everyday tragedies to rare events.

Which of these technologies are you looking forward to the most, and why?