Many of us first encounter new car tech such as GPS systems when we pick up a rental at the airport. It'll pay to make note of these futuristic new features that are already under development so we'll be prepared. Even for those who don't buy high-end vehicles, features such as advanced driver assistance systems are arriving in family-oriented SUVs and even economy hatchbacks. There's plenty of wow-factor here, lots of safety improvements and enhancements that make driving less stressful, and some features that, like most tech, could raise concern that convenience becomes an intrusion into our lives. What do you think about the future? Would you rather be a stick shift and analog instruments driver or a Top Gun pilot with steady data feeds and guidance systems? Be prepared for change!
Even a few years ago, driving your Audi in cities like Ottawa and Las Vegas had a few surprises. A system called GLOSA, for Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory, popped up a traffic light symbol in the instruments with a countdown timer, advising drivers how much time remained before the light changed. Newer versions also suggest a good speed to get you to the next light just in time for it to change. It's part of the V2I or vehicle to infrastructure communications connection that is designed to carry all sorts of information about the road ahead, to enhance safety and driveability.
Lidar stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and one of the most familiar uses is traffic speed enforcement, along with radar. As part of your car, it provides fast, accurate descriptions of what's around you, painting a picture that can be used to calculate stopping distances, evasive maneuvers, and speed adjustments. It's already available in some 2021 and 2022 SUVs from Mitsubishi, Volvo, Lexus, Nissan, and others. Lidar is part of the instrument package for some autonomous, self-driving vehicles, though notably, Tesla is shying away from using it. Lidar is an expensive tech technology now scaled-down, one of many arriving through commercial production by companies such as Bosch.
Car fans usually note that headlights used to be more intelligent than they are today. Both American and European vehicles had features such as steerable lights and automatic dimming. Many of the features of new adaptive headlight systems are modern versions implemented with LEDs and steered electronically rather than physically. Adaptive Driving Beams or ADBs as of 2020 were still in the works for US drivers, as this system adds more intelligence to keep high beams on as cars approach, but dim only the sections of the light that project towards the other vehicle. Along with physical and electronic curve-adapting lights and lighting that temporarily projects side lighting during a turn, drivers are getting a much better and less blinding view of the road.
Basic rear-view cameras are universal now for parking and people protection, but forward-view systems offer a host of intelligent interpretations of the road ahead. Fleet systems installed in trucks already have proven the advantages of AI that analyzes what's in the driver's field of view, from people and animals to stop signs, speed limits, and even passing zones. They can seem a bit like a back-seat driver, but for a long, solo drive or a drowsy trip home, this technology can be a lifesaver.
Self-driving cars and even trucks are already on the roads and proving themselves, but gradual introductions of assisted driving leading eventually to full autonomy are most likely. Problems like drivers setting their Tesla on autopilot and taking a nap are showing that the transition will be a cultural one as well as technical.
If you've seen a self-parking car in action then you've probably thought, why not take it a step further for valet parking? As a subset of self-driving technology, cars will slot themselves into spaces and return to the valet stand on command from a smartphone app, smartwatch, or fob.
Why put on a pair of military surplus night vision goggles when your car has everything you need? Implemented as a forward-looking display using night vision technology, this system can identify hazards, signage, and obstacles clearly even when there isn't much visible light available, and see beyond the range of the car's headlights. Eventually, a night vision overlay will likely be incorporated into the windshield-based AR heads-up display for safer night driving while still keeping eyes on the road.
Driver assistance features are helping with emergency braking, maintaining the car in highway lanes, and keeping clear of cars that intrude into your lane. Side collision avoidance takes on more complex challenges than highway driving. It covers 360 degrees to help avoid blind spots and damage from too-tight cornering in parking lots, backing out of driveways, and other challenging maneuvers, especially for SUVs.
Using technology similar to the Xbox Kinect and smart speakers combined, the car will respond quickly to multiple types of directions. The simple use of gestures and voice commands instead of control manipulation can make a big difference in dangerous situations. For instance, a hand gesture over the steering wheel to shut down the engine can quickly secure the vehicle after a crash, and a voice command to lock the doors can protect the family when an unknown person approaches.
Using the same technology used for computers and smartphones, cars can manage who has access to them in a personalized way. Once it's possible to identify the driver, the car can report that information if queried remotely, and even limit teenage drivers' access to certain hours and days of the week.
Many cars and trucks with internal cameras can monitor the driver for signs of sleep-impaired driving such as head tilting and slow reaction times. The driver health monitoring system also watches for signs of physiological problems such as heart attacks and employs self-driving features to bring the vehicle to the side of the road and park, perhaps even calling for help.
Going beyond what's available in features like On-Star, vehicle tracking and control can seem somewhat intrusive, but it also offers accountability. It's used in trucking fleets to comply with environmental regulations such as engine idling time and to shut down vehicles that are identified as stolen. Controversial proposals have been made by insurance companies and government agencies to use vehicle tracking data for rate setting and taxation purposes. It's basically adding cars to the internet of things.
As seen on the premiere episode of The Grand Tour, advanced energy-recovery hybrid technology created for supercars could raise the mpg of the family car to amazing levels. For example, the Porsche 918 Spyder, with 887 horsepower, can reach up to 78 mpg when all of its regenerative braking and other hybrid features are working together.
Virtual and Augmented Reality are already playing important roles in military aviation and used as information overlays in training environments of all kinds. Appearing as an active part of the windshield, data and graphics are displayed so that the driver can see them safely while also seeing the road clearly, simply by focusing the eyes near or far.
Remember the BMW that James Bond drove using a pocket gadget? All that and more is being combined into smartwatch technology. It will provide a proximity key to let the wearer enter and start the car, summon it using the self-driving valet service mentioned above, and provide a wealth of detailed information and controls.
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