Imagine a car that can drive you to work while you're finalizing a report on your laptop. Or a vehicle that can sense a collision and in addition to deploying internal airbags, also deploys external airbags to offer more protection. Or a car that displays information about the road and traffic ahead at eye level on your windshield.
Like many things in today's world, automotive technology is entwined with innovation. And with the rapid developments of the past five years, what and how we drive is becoming increasingly safer and connected. Let's take a look at some of the advanced features already available for cars, as well as the most promising technologies we're likely to see emerge over the next few years.
It's no surprise the most recent generation of luxury cars sport sophisticated technology which makes driving them safer, easier and more fun. Mercedes, always a pioneer in vehicle safety, now offers undercarriage airbags that lift a vehicle up and use friction to slow it down when a crash is inevitable. Other safety features include steering assist, which uses external cameras to keep the car in its lane, and adaptive cruise control, which utilizes radar to determine the speed of vehicles ahead and automatically slows the vehicle down if necessary. Other advanced features include 3D maps and GPS, as well as voice command systems that work for both navigation systems and in-car entertainment.
Remember the awesome virtual computer screen in the movie Minority Report? Well, we're likely to see something similar in our cars. Augmented Reality (AR) windshields will project data onto the windshield at eye level so the driver never misses it. The data's likely to include the usual dashboard information, but also situational data the driver needs to know, such as exceeding speed limits or a traffic issue ahead.
The driverless car is, of course, next on the list. Google's driverless car is perhaps the best known prototype, and it uses radar, laser and scanning for data processing at speeds we humans can't even imagine. A number of these vehicles are already in test use in the U.S., and in this Google video, you can see how a visually impaired driver gains a lot of freedom by driving one.
Perhaps the most exciting developments of all are those that have to do with connectivity. Machine to Machine (M2M) allows your car's equipment to communicate intelligently with external machines. For example, eCall allows your car to send an emergency call, no matter where it is. And M2M will be able to find parking spots, gas stations without long waiting times and even routes with only green lights. But more interestingly, M2M combined with Long Term Evolution (LTE) will allow vehicles to send big data to the cloudeven when there's no cell phone coverage. All of this big data can be processed to improve road and driving conditions, reduce congestions and shorten overall travel time.
Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) is another promising development. V2V allows vehicles to communicate intelligently with each other on the road. For example, engineers are currently working on technology which can calculate the best evasive tactic in the event a vehicle unexpectedly comes onto another vehicle's path. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when widely adapted, V2V has the potential to reduce 80% of target vehicle collisions involving non-impaired drivers.
Last but certainly not least, there's Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I). This will allow vehicles to communicate with road signs, traffic signals and other infrastructural elements, thereby greatly reducing the margin for human error.
Our primary expectations for our vehicles remains keeping us safe while getting us to our destinations. And our cars of the future are clearly on the road to doing just that, only better and with more ease than any vehicle before them.