The future of car technology is just beginning! Start the countdown…

Ofcourse! We want our cars to be as smart as us and equipped with all kinds of cool technologies so as to give us a fascinating and comfortable driving experience. The ‘SMART’ car is in the making. From advances in automotive safety to enhanced driver experiences, cutting edge car technology is revolutionizing the automobile industry. Many new car technologies are either specifically built for safety or at least have some sort of safety focus to them. Some of the latest car innovations are some truly exciting technologies that could revolutionize not just the automotive industry but human transportation in general. Let’s have a look at some of these fascinating cool technologies.

1. Gesture control technology:

If you want your car to embrace the future as much as possible, the gesture control technology is the way to go. Have you ever been driving and found yourself trying to aim for a button? Any button, whether it be to silence or accept an incoming call, or to change the radio station can be a distraction that takes your eyes off the road. Automakers are working hard to make the way we interact with our vehicles easier. One new technology just appearing in new vehicles is gesture control. With just your finger indications or movements, you can open or close the sunroof of your car or even increase or decrease the volume of the music system of the car. This intuitive operation reduces driver distraction and increases safety. Like it sounds, gesture control allows a driver to perform some kind of task or menu selection without looking away from the road to aim a finger at a button or touch screen spot. Let me take the example of the new 2017 release BMW 530i which offers gesture control as an option. The system works with a camera that is mounted in the headliner above the infotainment system. The camera watches for a limited set of movements the driver can make in that area. Each movement has an assigned function. For example, to change the radio station one simply flicks one’s fingers forward. To turn up the volume the driver makes a circle with one finger clockwise. To turn down the volume the driver rotates a finger counter-clockwise. On testing the BMW 530i, it was found that the system is intuitive and simple to use. Unlike voice commands, it was found that the system worked 100% of the time for which it was tested and that it didn’t have a learning curve. The car recognized the driver’s gestures the first time and every time. Other gestures that the car comes pre-set to understand are a pointed finger at the screen, which translates to “accept that incoming call.” A swipe of the driver’s hand from left to right across the general area of the screen when a call is coming in that one would like to ignore is all it takes to silence that call and send it to voice mail. The system also allows for some other limited gestures and one can even assign a gesture to a function. It is always refreshing when a new technology works exactly as it is supposed to. BMW offers gesture control on the 2017 530i.

2. Autonomous driving:

The world depends on mobility. In fast growing cities, people spend more and more time in their cars. But soon in a not so distant future, self-driving cars will ease this commute. If the self-driving cars will be coming to the roads is no longer a question, the question merely is when? Mercedes Benz has been the leading car company when it comes to autonomous driving. In 2013, the company completed the first ever long distance autonomous drive on country roads and through inner city traffic in Germany. Because traffic rules, roads and conditions are different in different in different countries, the self-driving S-class is now tested on the roads of California. In the US for example the streets are wider, traffic lights are differently positioned, you have right turn on red and 4-way stops. All such conditions that are different or even unknown in Germany. Inspite of so many various road conditions, what is the technology that enables the car to adjust and manage such vastly different situations? Equipped with 8 radar systems and 3 cameras, the S500 Intelligent Drive garners endless information from the environment and processes this information in a split second. In combination with maps and GPS information, this research car knows its way around. Learning its environment is one thing but learning to make informed decisions is a whole other. Take a 4 way stop intersection for example. The rule appears to be simple – the first to stop is the first to go. This is something the autonomous car has to learn as well and in case of any doubt to act defensively. Equipped with the right hard and software, the research vehicle is able to more and more understand its environment and choose the correct maneuver for the situation. Knowing its way around is one thing and learning new traffic conditions is the other. Combining both will turn autonomous driving into reality step by step.

3. Augmented reality changing driving experience:

For those of you who must be already wondering what augmented reality is, I will explain it in simple terms first. The origin of the word augmented is augment, which means to add or enhance something. In the case of Augmented Reality (also called AR), graphics, sounds, and touch feedback are added into our natural world to create an enhanced user experience.

While autonomous vehicles are almost assuredly the future of personal transportation, we are likely many years from seeing self-driving cars become as ubiquitous as manually-driven ones, as the auto industry has a myriad of government regulations and other constraints to contend with. Until then, augmented reality is looking like the next big thing in automotive technology.

The windshield of the car is becoming a screen for heads-up displays (HUD). Augmented reality HUDs are the future of car navigation systems. It would be displaying dashboard readouts such as speeds, RPMs and gas mileage. AR navigation actually improves safety as the warnings and traffic data are placed right on the windshield and this helps the driver from distractions. Safety measures such as weather reports, lane departure warnings and blind spot detection can also be displayed on the windshield. The three main features that can be used on highways and displayed on your windscreens include navigation assistant, adapted cruise control and lane keeping assistant. The navigation assistant helps you visually show which turn to take or how far it is from the next turn. Adaptive cruise control helps you keep the car at a particular speed, accelerate or decelerate keeping a safe distance from the vehicles ahead and also decelerate depending on the distance left for the next turn.  The lane keeping assistant guides you in choosing the best lane on the road depending on the traffic and distance from other vehicles and also keeping in mind the route to be taken. It helps you switch lanes at the right time in order to maneuver smoothly for turning left or right. Other features include obstacle and pedestrian detection on roads. This is very useful especially while driving within the city through busy narrow streets. Moreover, with the rise of self-driving cars and enhanced auto control mechanisms, AR systems will enhance entertainment and communication within the car.

4. Car as a communication hub:

As a Wi-Fi hotspot using 4G LTE, cars can send and receive data for increased safety, driver convenience and passenger entertainment. Passengers can enjoy the convenience of Wi-Fi to stream music, watch videos or surf the internet. Other wired cars can send back reports on traffic conditions such as icy patches, potholes, sharp curves and useful information about number of traffic signals on a particular street and average wait time on a traffic signal.  In the future, traffic signs on the roads could join the communication, sending information like speed limits and stop signals to each wired vehicle. Cars would be able to send car diagnostics to the manufacturer and receive software updates remotely.

5. Smart cars as a part of Internet of Things (IoT):

Smart cars could have the ability to learn driver behaviour and communicate with any number of connected objects. By learning driver preferences, smart cars can set interior temperature and seat position. Now there is no need to program a route, the smart car will know on a weekday that you’re headed to work and also reroute in order to avoid an accident.  Are you running late for an appointment? The smart car knows your calendar and alerts you to send an ETA update. With a smartphone, the driver can lock the car doors, start the engine or check a trip’s statistics.

6. Car- to- X-communication:

This technology expands the horizons of previous onboard sensor systems by exchanging information with other vehicles and is therefore able to warn against impending dangers at an earlier stage than before. With the help of this technology, based on the cellular communications network, information about potential dangers ahead can be exchanged between vehicles allowing a look around the corner or behind obstacles. In this process the vehicle acts as both a transmitter and a receiver. Various critical situations are automatically detected by the vehicle and directly reported to the cloud of the particular car manufacturer. The driver can also send a warning manually. The car-to-X warning messages are shown directly on the navigation map. Certain advanced warnings are also communicated to the driver by voice output which is particularly useful where the course of the road is not clear. The automatically detected hazards include breakdowns, accidents and reports of ice, fog or heavy rain. The cloud can also be used to show information from other data providers for example mobile road works.

7. Energy storing body panels:

Exxon Mobil predicts that by 2040, half of all new cars coming off the production line will be hybrids. That’s great news for the environment, but one of the problems with hybrids is that the batteries take up a lot of space and are very heavy. Even with advances in lithium-ion batteries, hybrids have a significant amount of weight from their batteries. That’s where energy-storing body panels come in.

In Europe, a group of nine auto manufacturers are currently researching and testing body panels that can store energy and charge faster than conventional batteries of today. The body panels being tested are made of polymer fiber and carbon resin that are strong enough to be used in vehicles and pliable enough to be molded into panels. These panels could reduce a car’s weight by up to 15 percent according to Volvo.

The panels would capture energy produced by technologies like regenerative braking or when the car is plugged in overnight and then feed that energy back to the car when it’s needed. Not only would this help reduce the size of hybrid batteries, but the extra savings in weight would eliminate wasted energy used to move the weight from the batteries.

Toyota is also looking into lightweight energy storing panels, but they’re taking it one step further and researching body panels that would actually capture solar energy and store it in a lightweight panel.

Whether future body panels collect energy or just store it, automotive companies are looking into new ways to make our cars more energy efficient and lightweight.

What is the cause of this change?

What has been the driving force behind the future of cars? Two compelling forces: The call for ever greater safety and a significant jump in minimum fuel economy standards set to take effect soon, pushing car makers to make vital changes to reach those limits.

Innovations also result from consumer values. For example, blind-spot detection allows a car to “see” someone in the next lane via radar or camera technology and let the driver know when it’s safe to change lanes.

“What’s interesting is the consumer desire for these technologies,” says Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human machine interface with JD Power and Associates. She says that despite the extra costs involved, the future of cars is being driven by consumers who “are demonstrating the highest demand for those technologies.”

What could a car in the future look like?

The consequence of all these future car technologies should radically alter the interior of automobiles. The traditional dashboard and instrument displays may be replaced by projections on a window or linked to your smartphone, while front seats will no longer need to face forward.

My feeling is that it’s going to be completely revolutionary and passengers are not going to have the frustrations of commuting in traffic every day. All these changes could drastically change the driving experience. So I am eagerly waiting to see how comfortable and pleasurable our drives are going to be after these cool technologies are implemented.

Written by

Pallav Pattnaik