It’s hard to think that only a decade or so ago having an auxiliary connection in your car was a luxury of in-car technology, and the idea of connecting via Bluetooth was only for the most premium of vehicles. Now most cars come with Bluetooth connectivity at least as an optional extra. And yet in comparison to the rest of the technological world, cars are very much lagging behind. While smart phones can offer navigation and maps complete with local information and live traffic updates in one device, a car requires sat nav, radio traffic updates and local information limited to whatever locations, if any, were loaded on the last map update. But the automotive industry is confident that they are fast on the heels of the rest of the technological market, and that by 2020 in-car technology will be just as cutting edge. So what can we expect/ hope for in hope to see in the next few years?
Driverless In-Car Technology
When it comes to in-car technology, one of the most talked about areas of development in the automotive industry is the concept for fully or semi-autonomous vehicles. With almost every company researching and developing driverless vehicles, it’s clear that this is the way of the future. Unfortunately, despite the enthusiasm shown in the industry, fully-autonomous cars a still quite a way off, not so much in terms of technology, but legislatively and morally. But the in-car technology used, such as LiDAR sensors and cameras, is already coming into play. Systems like Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) already provide a form of semi-autonomous action or, in some cases, driver override. This system has the brakes prepared to apply maximum brake force as soon as the driver applies the brakes, or failing driver intervention, self-brakes to prevent a rear-end collision.
Cruise control is a common feature in many vehicles, and is now being taken a step further to adapt the speed to the car in front. Lane departure technology is already being adapted to not only warn the driver if the car begins to drift, but also self-correct. Self-parking has been rolled out as an optional add-on by several manufacturers. And let us not forget Tesla’s autopilot system being an optional extra on all models going back to 2014.
So what does the future hold for driverless technology? If the concept cars revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show 2015 are anything to go by, the future is all about fully-autonomous vehicles dominating the road. The in-car technology is almost there already, and combining the sophisticated sensor systems already used in modern vehicles with car-to-car communication (we’ll talk about that in more detail in a minute), driverless cars have the potential to make the roads safer and journeys smoother than ever before. But it’s not just the technology. The moral quandaries surrounding driverless vehicles makes every step forward a battle legislatively and socially. For those of us used to being in control, letting a machine do it for you may be a step forward that some are just not comfortable making.
That being said, the next few years will certainly see cars including more and more semi-autonomous or driver override systems.
Safety and Security
At the forefront of automotive development for is increased safety and security, and there are several ways that in-car technology could be added and adapted to make driving even safer:
We touched on this earlier, but one of the big innovations likely to roll out in the coming years is car-to-car communication. This would mean that a vehicle a few meters ahead could communicate to your car of an accident causing traffic to stop, and allow the car to react and adjust before you’d even be able to see the accident. Car-to-car communication would create an even wider range of perception going way beyond the limits of your individual car’s sensors.
Fobless entry and start
Keyless entry and start is already becoming a common as-standard feature in new cars, but there’s a step further. Like most smart phones, car companies could introduce in-car technology like biometric entry and start, removing the need for a key fob and reducing the risk of theft. If the car was programmed to only allow access and start up for certain fingerprints, it would make car theft a near-impossible endeavour. The issue with fingerprint entry and start is how to decide who should set up and monitor who is granted access to the car. Should this be the responsibility of the driver, the dealership, the DVLA? And there would still need to be some form of override in the case of an emergency, which poses the same issues of access and data control as the fingerprints themselves.
Remote Vehicle Access, Shutdown and Tracking
Systems like OnStar are already beginning to offer this kind of remote access and control, however it’s likely that this in-car technology will become as-standard. Remote shutdown and tracking would allow police to easily intervene in cases of theft and put an end to car chases before they’ve really begun.
However there’s a downside to this kind of vehicular surveillance. Insurance companies could exploit this in-car technology, using it to adjust prices down for those who opt-in, or up for those who opt out. And it’s not unlikely that once this optional system is introduced, it will be changed to a standard requirement.
Aside from crime prevention, there’s another plus to monitoring systems like OnStar. In the event of an accident, the on board system can detect when an incident has taken place and contact the emergency services with a location.
And this leads nicely on to our next safety feature…
Using sensors in either the steering wheel or seatbelt, or even just by connecting with the sensors in wearable tech like smart watches, cars could anticipate a medical emergency and prevent an incident.
Say someone has a heart attack. The in-car technology could be alerted to this by changes in heart rate, put the car into autonomous mode and pull over to the side of the road. As it does this, the cellular technology could contact the emergency services and use the GPS tracking to provide a location.
This is an extreme scenario, but shows the obvious benefits to a monitoring system. A less extreme, but more frequent issue is that of drowsy drivers. An estimated 20% of accidents in the UK include driver fatigue as a contributing factor. Through monitoring things such as heartrate, body temperature, hand position and eye movement, cars could monitor if a driver is losing concentration and if this is likely to cause an accident. Like lane departure technology, it could alert the driver, or if something more serious has cause the driver to become unconscious, it could perform the same manoeuver as in the case of a heart attack.
Electronic Sun Visors
Sun visors, particularly for those of us with shorter stature, are frankly never quite good enough. If the sun is low, it is often difficult or impossible to block it completely, and the visor often blocks large portions of the windscreen as a result. But Volkswagen is working on an anti-glare system that could make this hassle a thing of the past.
By having an electronic matrix across the glass that connects to a computer, the car could monitor the sun and driver’s eye line to detect when this sun will get in the driver’s eye. It would then create ‘dark spots’ on the matrix to block the sun, which could move with the sun as the car moves.