Smart technology has come a long way in the last few years. We have smartphones and gadgets designed to make our homes smart, and there are an increasing number of technological features designed to make our cars smart, too. Some of the “cars of tomorrow” are already in production, but what about the future? How smart can cars really get? Obviously, nothing will ever negate the need for drivers to be aware of their surroundings at all times, but the thought of the technology that exists now combined with what’s in the works leads to some pretty interesting predictions and prognostications about what could be in store for drivers in the next decade or so.
The last few years have seen the introduction of cars with built-in Bluetooth and navigation systems. Originally only in higher-end models, it’s now unusual not to see these features available in most vehicles. The newest thing in automotive connectivity is full-blown wifi. Having a car that doubles as a wifi hotspot is quickly becoming the norm. For cars that don’t come with connectivity options, there are third-party offerings that can accomplish the task for you.
In addition to keeping us connected to our digital devices, many cars now possess the ability to help us better see our surroundings via cameras and sensors that can help us avoid backing into objects as well as help monitor our blind spots and check for oncoming traffic as we back out of a parking spot. There are lane-keep alerts now that can let us know if we’ve drifted out of our lane. Many cars also have the ability to help you achieve the near-impossible for many–parallel parking that doesn’t require a space at least twice as long as your car and/or a half hour and a friend on the outside to make it happen.
One of the newest features making headway in the automotive world is a car’s ability to brake before we even see the need for it. Sensors monitor the traffic ahead of us and can engage our brakes when they sense a sudden stop by the car in front of us.
In the next few years, we might see these features to go a step further by becoming networked and working together. Combining these technologies into a single network could allow a reasonable degree of autonomous operation. Imagine an autopilot type of feature that can essentially take over when you’re sitting in slower-moving traffic. Several companies, including Ford and Google, have projected that fully autonomous cars could be on the road as early as 2021.
The biggest challenge, in addition to making sure drivers understand the need to stay engaged, is finding a way to connect all of these cars to a network that allows them to communicate with one another. Instead of just using sensors to “see” that the car in front of you has slammed on the brakes suddenly, a wider network could mean that when the car in front of you swerves out of the way of some obstruction, your car would “see” the problem, too, and alert you or brake autonomously, enabling you and other connected cars in line to avoid a crash.
While some companies are toying with the notion of cars so autonomous that cabins could be redesigned to allow “drivers” to kick back and watch a movie, this notion seems as farfetched as flying cars. We all know that as wonderful as technology is, it can fail, so it seems unlikely that we’ll ever really see a time when it will be okay for drivers to be left out of the equation altogether.