In its relatively short lifespan, the car has gone through a great deal of transformations, from a curious object to a real transportation tool, to today’s fun vehicle without forgetting the “status symbol” aspect. But there’s never been a better time to be a car enthusiast than today because automobiles have gone far beyond their “transportation” aspirations: they can adapt to us and to our lifestyle in ways that were unimaginable 100 years ago. While it is possible to “pimp” your ride in really eccentric ways, mot people’s need and desire revolve around a few things: safety, comfort and convenience, and the good news is that what’s cutting-edge or futuristic today will likely become commonplace in the near future.
Night vision: you may not realize it, but 90% of our driving decisions are based on what we see. That’s why night driving is considered as one of the top 10 causes of driving accidents. To improve this situation, night-vision technologies are slowly creeping into cars. At the moment, most systems are based on a secondary screen that has a “night vision” view (based on infra-red or light-amplification). They are not ideal yet, but they are a lot better than not seeing at all, and they can help avoid pedestrian or animals at night. In the future, may be this technology will be visible directly from the windshield.
Active driver monitoring: Dozing off while driving is another quick way to get into trouble while driving… yet, it can happen to anyone. Monitoring the driver is probably even more important than monitoring the vehicle itself. There are a few ways for a computer to keep an eye on you. For example, it is possible to monitor the eyes and head motion to detect if the driver is falling asleep. Another way (possibly complementary) is to embed sensors (in the seat) that could monitor the heart rate and other vital signs which would indicate the level of awareness of the driver.
Magnetic suspension: it is scary to look at how wheels and suspensions (or the lack of) were designed in the early days of automobile. Now, most cars have very decent hydraulic suspensions, and they feel pretty good on the road. However, magnetic suspensions are already available in high-end cars. This is not really a “levitation” system as one may imagine. Instead, the suspension contains a viscous oil with dampening properties that can be changed by applying a magnetic field. This can basically make the suspension stiffer -or softer- within milliseconds. In short, this is the perfectly adaptable suspension system, and the driver never has to worry about it. A computer senses the road and adjust the dampening continually.
Infotainment: This is more of a “rear-seats” technology, but infotainment has come a (very) long way in the past few decades. Unfortunately, most of us still don’t have the top of the line infotainment system in our cars – but being able to watch a movie, listen to music or play video games in the car is something that today’s kids will find rather “normal”. With the continued progress in mobile computing technologies, you can bet that what you see today in high-end smartphones and tablets will soon make its way to your next car.
Premium audio system: Of course, infotainment is not only for your back, or your eyes. The audio environment is arguably extremely important in an environment where the eyes are already busy scanning the road. Unfortunately, this is an area that is often overlooked by manufacturers and buyers. Yet, there are ways to build an awesome audio system by using 14 speakers that can broadcast to every part of the car, and use cutting-edge audio software to ensure that every passenger enjoys the same audio quality.
Connected GPS: there are many things that make life easier in a car, but there’s no question that a real-time location (and directions) on a virtual map would be considered to be “sorcery” if we didn’t know better. Yet, today’s GPS systems are still primitive. First, most of them are still not connected to the Internet. Secondly, the graphic sub-system is probably going to improve by miles in the near future. 3D graphics, 60 frames per second animation, or augmented reality are things that can revolutionize in-car navigation in the next decade.
Bird’s view camera: this is a favorite for anyone who is parking in a tight space. The technology exists today in select cars, but it has yet to become widespread. By using several wide angle webcams located at different places of the car, it is possible to reconstruct a top view and see your car from a bird’s view. This is hugely convenient when maneuvering in tight spaces, and it’s an “indulgence” while trying to parallel park in a crowded city. The technology is relatively simple and it is ready to hit the mainstream – but will it? We sure hope so.
Cars will continue to be a major part of our lives, and as you can see, there is ample room for improvements and innovation. They may feel very good today, but there will come a time when we will look back and feel what we feel today when looking at 100-years-old cars. How will future cars look like? how smart will they get? will they drive by themselves? There’s no way to tell for sure, but we can speculate – what do you think? Tell us in a comment.
Next Story: Windows 8 ARM notebooks arriving in 2013?