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Car Tech: Welcome to the Future

Oct 12, 2016

Ever get the feeling that today’s automobile is more like Knight Rider and less like the General Lee?

You’re not alone.

Perhaps the biggest trend in the automotive industry is the proliferation of tech across the board. From communication and connectivity tech, to driver-assistance tech, to safety tech, today’s cars are rolling computers. And that doesn’t even account for the tech that quite literally drives most cars – from engine-control computers to drive-by-wire throttle and steering systems. Even power-steering systems are more likely to be electric than hydraulic these days.

Of course, the average driver neither knows nor cares much about how what’s happening under the hood actually happens – that’s mostly only for car enthusiasts and service technicians to worry about. But the average consumer still sees plenty of tech from the moment he or she enters the vehicle.

For example, those able to spring for certain higher-end Audi models will find that they can access Google Earth as part of their navigation systems. Further down the food chain, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring systems are making their way into cars at all price points.

For those that don’t know, smartphone-mirroring systems project a display of the screen from a driver’s iPhone or Android phone that can be used to access music (including internet streaming services), messages (hands-free, of course), and maps.

The Wall St. Journal has identified a few other tech features that are already on the market or will be here soon.

One of those is the ability to lock or unlock your vehicle – or perhaps start the engine – via smartphone. While several automakers are already offer this ability via app, one supplier is working to use Bluetooth wireless technology to make it so that all a driver needs to do is be near the vehicle with their phone in their pocket to unlock the car, similar to the RFID key fobs that are currently used for keyless entry in many current cars.

Another app will alert drivers to maintenance issues with their vehicles, and automakers are working on a system that will allow drivers and passengers to use gestures to adjust audio and climate controls via touchscreen, instead of having to actually touch the screen.

Feeling sleepy? Some vehicles will use the driver’s inputs – and coming soon, their eye movements – to detect potential fatigue and alert drivers that’s it’s time to pull over. Rearview-mirror cameras are now reaching the market – these cameras can help eliminate blind-spots, such as head rests or the heads of passengers.

Cars that can be parked remotely via smartphone app are also on the horizon, and that piece of tech is about more than just convenience – it will help build the foundation for fully autonomous vehicles.

Of course, all these tech means that software will need to be updated, and over-the-air updates, which Tesla already uses, will save drivers the hassle of having to go to a dealership each time an update is released.

As fast as this tech is hitting the market, it’s worth noting that after a crash involving a Tesla being driven in its semi-autonomous Autopilot mode back in May, and after concerns involving the hacking of computerized cars, regulators are taking a harder look at all these new features to make sure that safety concerns are adequately addressed.

Of course, some tech, such as systems that monitor your blind spot or apply the brakes when your attention drifts, is meant to make vehicles safer. But autonomous driving features are still relatively new, and driver-assistance tech does have limits.

Still, your new car is more computerized than it’s ever been. Although modern cars haven’t learned how to talk to us yet (well, some do in a limited way via Siri or other voice-recognition tech), Knight Rider may have been more predictive of the future than anyone, even the mighty David Hasselhoff, could guess.

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