Did you know that cruise control is more than half a century old? Chrysler was the first to introduce it, way back in 1958. Things haven’t slowed since then — automakers are packing more and better technology into each new model. They know that beating the competition to market could mean the difference between a huge success and cars that sit on dealer lots.
Since those ’58 cars first turned a wheel on public roads, we’ve been through two fuel crises that taught us to build powerful but efficient engines, introduced hi-fidelity stereo equipment and advanced climate control, and seen more advanced driveline technology provide four-wheel traction for even the most unassuming passenger cars. All these advances were meaningful, but they weren’t revolutionary.
A new generation of cars
Today, a very different set of technologies are being introduced into next-generation models. Electric powertrains, advanced networking technologies and extremely intelligent in-car electronics will define the next generation of automobiles. These cars represent the first wave of a new generation of automobiles. Here are seven of the technologies that will define them:
Lidar works similar to sonar, but makes inferences about a car’s surroundings by reading the signals returned by lasers that are projected from points on the car. Many modern luxury cars already feature laser lane-following and adaptive cruise control, which will provide braking inputs to ensure a safe following distance from the car in front of you, or accelerate to a predetermined speed when lanes are clear.
More advanced forms of this technology will help drivers stay in their lanes if they get lazy, or even detect people crossing a dark street and stop the car to avoid a collision. Volvo is already using Lidar to build self-driving trucks that work in underground mines.
Security has taken center stage in the conversation about network-aware cars. Biometrics, or technologies that recognize a person through their unique biological features, will play a crucial role in the way you access and secure your future cars. Expect advanced multifactor security features, and possibly even the ability to set limits on who can drive the car where.
3. Native apps
Next-generation cars will come with native apps that you’ll install on your phone rather than carrying around a bulky key fob. Functionality won’t be limited to locks and the trunk, either. Expect to be notified if someone breaks into your car when you’re not around, along with the ability to remotely start or unlock your car when you’re carrying the phone.
4. Wireless internet
Yes, 4G coverage is good, but wouldn’t it be nice to save your data and have your car provide internet while you stream your favorite tunes or even type an email while it drives you to work autonomously? Once again, Chrysler wins the race to be first to market with its inclusion of Uconnect technology in several models. Not only does it provide wireless internet, but it also offers wireless phone charging.
We have some questions surrounding this particular feature. How far from the car will the internet continue to work, and will you have to pay an ISP for the service? Uconnect is billed at $20 per month once Chrysler buyers finish a one-year trial.
Here’s one that’s been a long time coming. When Lexus said it would include standard self-parking on the LS way back in 2006, no one believed it. The system wasn’t perfect, and other manufacturers have shown slight hesitation. Now, though, there are several models available that already offer this feature, and it works.
Ford and BMW have even upped the ante in the self-parking war. They’re both offering services in coming models that will help you locate a parking spot before you even arrive at your destination. If you’ve ever lived in the city and spent longer looking for parking than you did getting to your destination, you know what a great idea this is.
6. Traffic avoidance
This isn’t the same as the Lidar feature we mentioned earlier, which will help keep you in your lane or adjust your direction to avoid a slowing driver. Rather, your integrated navigation system will finally do what you’ve always wished it was smart enough to do and send you around packed highways and accidents by consulting historical traffic data. Of course, if you live somewhere with absolutely absurd traffic, all the technology in the world isn’t going to help much. At least it’s a start.
7. Gesture commands
We’ll all be talking with our hands in the next generation of cars. That’s because sensors in your car’s dashboard will allow you to make changes to your car’s infotainment system without ever actually pushing a button or touching a screen.
Instead, all you’ve got to do is know the right gesture. Want to turn the volume up on your stereo? Make a clockwise circle with your finger. Feel like rejecting an incoming call? Swipe your hand to the right and call them back on your own terms.
You may want to stick with the physical buttons for that last one, at least until you’re confident in your gesture technique. In a recent Motor Trend video, hosts Jason Cammisa and Johnny Leiberman experiment with the system in a new BMW 7-series and get a few surprises.
The next decade will bring huge advances to the cars we drive, and that’s attractive to most buyers. Some folks will. of course. resist the transition to even more technology in our already busy lives, and choose to avoid laser lane-following and onboard internet as long as possible.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but the fact is these advances will make traveling by car easier, safer and more luxurious than ever. We are living in the golden age of cars, and if you want to taste the best before your steering wheel disappears altogether and driving becomes a matter of simply dictating your destination, the time to buy is soon.
How soon? That depends on what class of car you’re interested in. The average econobox probably won’t have all these features for another three or four years. However, if you’ve got the cash to step up and play with the big boys, luxury marques will deliver all these goodies in a year or less.