It’s predicted that cars will change more in the next five to 10 years than they have over the past 50.. The driving forces behind the changes are improving road safety, lowering emissions and taking some of the stress out of driving.
Some advances will be tied in with the increased uptake of electric cars, but the biggest influences will be automated driving technologies and connectedness. These are set to transform the whole driving experience.
Virtual door mirrors
Instead of mirrors, there’s a camera on each side of the car that sends live footage to screens in the corners of the dashboard or in the doors. These cameras generate less wind noise and aerodynamic drag (important for the range of electric cars), minimise blindspots and provide a clearer view in poor weather conditions.
The cameras automatically alter their view to cope with motorway driving, cornering and parking, and if the screens are touch-sensitive, the driver can use his or her fingers to zoom in to see specific areas in more detail.
Lexus became the first to use this technology in late 2018 on the ES executive saloon. However, it offers this only in Japan, so our first taste came with the Audi E-tron electric SUV, which began offering virtual door mirrors earlier this year as a £1250 option. They’re standard on the Honda E small car, too.
Dashboards without a single button
Due in 2022 speech recognition company Cerence (formerly Nuance) has been working with manufacturers for years; its tech supports the ‘Hey Mercedes’ feature in MBUX. It demonstrated a system at CES that mixed speech commands, gesture control and eye tracking to leave no need for physical switches at all. It’s still two years off production – but it’s coming.
Digital rear-view mirror
At the flick of a switch, the rear-view mirror can be turned into a high-definition screen showing an extra-wide (50deg) view of the road behind. This eliminates the usual blindspots and the problem of the driver being unable to see properly past tall passengers or bulky luggage in the back.
Furthermore, a digital rear-view mirror provides better visibility in low light than a conventional mirror and is angled so that reflections don’t adversely affect your view.
When can I have it? Although digital rear-view mirrors started appearing on concept cars many years ago, they didn’t hit the market until 2016, on the Cadillac CT6 luxury saloon. Mainstream availability came only recently, through Jaguar Land Rover’s second-generation Range Rover Evoque and facelifted Jaguar XE.
Intelligent tyres will provide drivers and autonomous vehicle fleet operators with real-time information about tread depth and temperature. Continental’s Contisense tyre, for example, uses electrically conductive rubber compounds that continuously monitor the tyre and send out an alert if it moves outside of its safe limits.
If anything penetrates the tyre’s tread or sidewall, an immediate warning is sent out, whereas current tyre pressure monitoring systems simply issue a warning when the tyre pressure drops below a certain level.
When will it arrive? The Contisense tyre is a working concept in development, and several car manufacturers are said to be in discussions about using the technology.
Due in 2030, manufacturers are facing up to the huge cost of developing fully self-driving cars. Even Level 3 (where the driver has to be ready to intervene) is taking longer than anticipated. While the Audi AI:ME was designed with an eye on full automation, there is no realistic date for when cars will do the driving.
5G-based warnings for pedestrians
Due in 2022 5G is going to speed up our mobile phones’ data connection. But Harman used CES to show that cars will be able to use the ultra-fast bandwidth to check for obstacles in their path – and to ping a warning to other road users, pedestrians or cyclists who are in the way. The tech is called Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X) and it’ll be on production cars from 2022.
3D displays and augmented reality
Information from sensors inside and outside the car are merged with data from the internet to track the car’s surroundings. They map a 360deg virtual space around the car, providing information about the road and other vehicles and road users.
Nissan’s Invisible-to-Visible system, for instance, will project useful information onto the car’s windows. Alternatively, if the car is driving itself, a virtual world can be projected onto the glass. The system can also connect to a friend via the internet and show him or her as a three-dimensional digital avatar to keep you company.
When can I have it? Mercedes started offering augmented reality sat-nav last year on the A-Class. As you approach a junction, the screen shows a live video of the road in front with directing arrows overlaid. Such features are set to progressively become more sophisticated and integrated in the next few years.
A doctor in your car
Ford is leading the way toward technology that monitors health from the driver’s seat. The company has already developed an electrocardiography reader that monitors heart function through sensors in the seat that don’t need to touch the skin in order to function. In the works: technology to monitor glucose levels of people with diabetes. People with heart disease and diabetes already monitor their health at home; this technology will enable them to do it from the car.
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