The most interesting technology in cars these days isn't living inside the engine bay. It's inside the car! These are the futuristic car gadgets that will land in your lap over the next five years.
Vehicle To Vehicle Networks
It starts with a blind spot: a corner you can’t see around. You’re rushing towards your holiday destination, kids on-board and your luggage in tow. What you don’t know, however, is that there’s someone exactly like you with kids in the car about to blast across your path at the blind T-junction ahead of you. All of a sudden, your proximity alarm goes off, and you slam on the brakes before you slam into the front of another vehicle. You couldn’t see around that corner, but your car could. This is Vehicle-To-Vehicle technology, and it’s going to save your life one day.
Sure, it’s “experimental” right now, but it doesn’t take a scientist to realise that something needs to be done to make the roads a safer place.
Despite the fact that more cars than ever are now being awarded five-star safety ratings, people are still being killed on our roads. It’s not enough that cars should protect us when we hit into other road objects at speed: it’s time to start preventing the accident altogether.
That’s where Ford’s Vehicle-To-Vehicle communication experiment comes in.
The idea is simple: The V2V tech sees a car broadcast its speed and position data to other cars nearby via Wi-Fi. This information is then relayed to a driver so that they can make more informed decisions while driving.
Say a car is speeding its way into your blindspot, for example. Existing RADAR and LIDAR systems will be able to tell you when the car is actually in your path, but the V2V network will be able to tell you that it’s approaching before it even enters your vision, or the vision of your scanning tech so you can be better informed about the road conditions around the vehicle.
Cars with V2V will also be able to interpret the information they get from other vehicles, and decide whether or not there’s a risk of collision on the current heading, and one day, they may even be able to take precautions to augment your reaction time. Ford already makes technology that can move your car for you, or even prime the brakes so you’re not slamming them cold, costing precious seconds. A combination of technology can be formulated based on the information coming in from V2V tech that could one day save hundreds and thousands of lives.
The Shoulder Tap
Cyclists and drivers ought to co-exist on the roads, but sometimes it's problematic, given that one can't always see the other coming. Jaguar is looking to use its considerable smarts to save the lives of cyclists on the road with a new system called Bike Sense that will "tap" drivers on the shoulder when there's a cyclist manoeuvring around the vehicle.
Here's how it works: if your fancy Jaguar's sensors spots a cyclist behind you, it tracks that object as it moves towards you. When it's in your blind spot the car seat vibrates at your shoulder and makes a noise like a bike bell to alert you.
On top of that, the Jag will prevent you from accelerating into cyclists you can't see at crossings by vibrating the accelerator when its front sensors detect a bike.
And finally, the Jaguar will flash a light on the door frame and vibrate the handle if it senses you're about to open your door on a cyclist.
No word on when this technology will make it to cars, but hopefully it's soon.
21st Century Dashboards
Kenwood's new dashboard concept has seen the car audio company strip the gorgeous 650S down to its carpets and completely replace the instrument cluster, console screen and other buttons with an array of screens, cameras and tablets.
The central idea is that everything you need is projected in front of the driver, with all the relevant information from the mirrors, screens and instruments being placed within a 45-degree wedge of vision.
The traditional speedometer has been replaced by a 10-inch TFT screen which shows anything from RPM through to speed and even navigation and entertainment information.
Above that is a series of three screens that are fed by cameras mounted around the car. There's no rearview mirror or side mirrors on Kenwood's McLaren 650S. Instead, there are cameras on the aerodynamic wings, as well as two cameras up front, two underneath and two on the back. Those front, back and rear cameras are particularly handy: you run a risk with a car this low that you'll catch it on a gutter or a pebble and injure it at great personal expense.
Those cameras also allow for night vision to see what's ahead of you, as well as a cumulative top-down view of the car when you try to park it.
Finally, the Christmas tree of screens is topped off with a 6-inch head-up display that shows you your speed and other relevant information.
The screens change based on the mode the driver's in, be it road, sport or track.
Kenwood haven't said they'll ship this exact system in future, rather it's something they've built as a proof-of-concept to show what they're working on. Now all you need is a McLaren 650S to put it in.
Futuristic dashboards are one thing, but contextual dashboards are a step above the re-engineered competition.
The award winning designers at ustwo (of Monument Valley fame) believe that the instrument cluster can be so much more than a readout for speed and RPM. It needs to embrace new ways of thinking as well as new technologies – in its current form the dash is feature rich but context poor. For example, a modern digital dash could help increase a driver’s situational awareness with alerts and other situational updates.
Of course it needs to do it in an intuitive way that reduces driver distractions, so ustwo have built a system that carefully selects the right information to show at the right time.
Digital dashboards also have the possibility to use new face tracking technologies. For example your dash could analyse your sitting position and adjust the view for each individual driver. Check out the interactive face tracking demo for yourself here.
An example of proposed upgrade is a dash that shows you the most contextually relevant information to what you are currently doing. For example, when you get in the car it would show the range you have remaining and if you can make it to your next destination.
When you shift into gear, the range information is moved over (but remains visible) in favour of a large graphical speed indicator. Slippery road conditions or speed warnings can be shown by altering the colour and texture of the speed indicator, showing a safe speed.
The maximum speed for the area is always the top number on the display and if you exceed this the indicator shifts through orange and red, depending on the potential danger. Switch into reverse and the screen automatically shows a camera feed to help you safely back up.
It sounds almost simplistic, but watch the video below to see how intuitive it is in action.
In the not-too-distant future, eye-tracking technology will be a run-of-the-mill feature in many high-end vehicles, helping keep drivers' eyes on the road. But Jaguar Land Rover has patented another use for the tech that allows cars to automatically trigger the rear window's wiper so it's always clean and clear when needed.
The patent uses the same eye-tracking technology designed to keep a driver safe and awake. But in this case, since it's able to determine exactly where a driver is looking (even while wearing sunglasses), it serves a more practical purpose to minimise wear and tear on a vehicle's components.
The wiper itself already has to be turned on and working intermittently, but the patented system means it doesn't have to be running as frequently as the wipers on the car's windshield are. And if the driver happens to glance back at the same time the rear wiper has just finished a pass, the system is smart enough to know it doesn't need to trigger that additional wipe, and assumes the window is already clear enough.
Now if only the same technology could be used to automatically clean bugs off a windshield. Jaguar, do that next, please.
Soon you'll be able to order your car around with a smartwatch, much like BMW and Samsung demonstrated at this year's CES.
To do it, a BMW barked commands at a a smartwatch, telling it to come out of the garage and pick him up outside. After a short delay — Wi-Fi in the Las Vegas Convention Center is a disaster — the smartwatch processed the command, and the car lurched forward. No driver. It just moved.
The toe-headed German BMW rep jumped out in front of the moving vehicle, like a man with a death wish. And to my surprise, our German friend did not die. The car stopped short of clipping his legs.
The car stopped because of the ultrasonic sensors in the front of the vehicle. In fact, all of the technology being used in this demo already exists, the only thing that needed to be built for CES was the voice and smartwatch integration. Of course, you're not likely to see a car that picks you up outside your house any time soon because of the law and lawsuits. But hey, maybe one day you'll be able to drive a car with the smartwatch on your wrist — hell maybe one day smartwatches will actually be good enough to wear. Pshhhhhh. Let's not get ahead of ourselves..