In the next few years, your car will be so highly equipped with electronic driver aids, vehicle controls, infotainment systems and performance monitors that it will barely be a car at all. It’ll be a convenience that moves.
More than 8 million Australians drive their cars to work or full-time study each weekday. Understandably, car makers are falling over each other to make that workday commute easier, safer and more convenient.
And while there is ongoing debate as to how far away society is from actually using driverless cars, it’s safe to say they won’t be taking anyone to the office tomorrow.
What will come sooner are internet-connected vehicles that also collect data to customise your driving experience. There are cars on the road right now with as many as 130 interconnected computers within them, and that’s set to rise.
GPS technology and in-cabin interconnectivity will have knock-on effects: get ready for personalised, location-based ads in your car’s display and insurance premiums based on your driving behaviour. But those intrusions aside, what are the upsides of “hyper-connected” commuting?
1. Hands-off controls
The “hyper-connected” intelligent car is the main game in town. Many new vehicles will feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both with voice control. You can make or receive phone calls or text messages, select music, get map directions or instructions on the best route to avoid traffic snarls, simply by asking.
There is a touchscreen, but do you really want to fiddle with a screen while you’re driving?
“Just use voice control to change radio stations or tell the car to call Mum,” advises Josh Thatcher of Edgecliff Automotive in Sydney.
At the high end of the vehicle market are systems such as Audi Connect, an Android-based device (with its own SIM) that supplies news, weather, fuel prices, travel and event information, parking services and a very useful in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as Google Earth mapping. It responds to voice commands, too.
Thatcher says many hands-on systems remain “a bit clunky”. Even if the screen interfaces are enlarging and improving, controlling app functions while you’re driving isn’t always easy.
One recent evolution is BMW’s AirTouch system, which responds to gestures. Move your hand left to accept a call, move it right to reject it. It’s a progression of BMW’s Gesture Control, already available on the BMW 7 Series.
2. Lower fuel (and insurance) costs
There are very few systems that actually analyse and track your driving performance in real time. The exception is one by Aussie start-up GoFar, which has invented a simple red-to-green eco-monitor dubbed “Ray”.
Overbrake, over-accelerate, stop and start too often and Ray will emit a flurry of red lights. Drive smoothly and Ray goes green. Your phone will record it all. Think of it as a personal trainer for your driving.
GoFar founders Ian Davidson and Danny Adams say adapted drivers are reducing their fuel bills by 20 per cent, not to mention minimising wear and tear on the car.
There are comparable “back-to-base” smart box systems used on fleets, but Adams says Ray’s tracking is personal and not for corporate use.
“We’re not about tracking assets but making you a better and more economic driver,” he says.
Some say that by 2020, insurance companies may offer a reduced rate for drivers that agree to full tracking of their behaviour.
3. Safer driving
Driver override and remote vehicle shutdown are now fairly widespread features but one innovation moving us closer to a driverless commute is lane-keeping technology combined with adaptive cruise control.
GM is already equipping its 2016 Cadillac CT6 with this function. The Volvo XC90 also boasts a “Lane Keeping Aid”, which can detect if you’re unintentionally veering out of a lane and gently steer you back on track.
Vehicle-to-vehicle networking is another idea that is gathering pace, says GoFar’s Davidson.
“Cars remain in touch with each other. It works like an echo that grows, informing you of traffic problems up ahead, which you can then avoid or bypass,” he explains.
Janelle Gonzalez, director of mobile mechanics franchise Blue Toro, speaks of improved Head-Up Display technology which projects augmented reality data on the driver’s windscreen so the driver can “visualise conditions ahead and direct the driver on the safest route”.
4. Easier parking
When you drive a car to work, you have to park it, but not every workplace has adequate car spots and established commercial car parks can be pricey. Three parking start-ups that are disrupting that market are Parkhound, Divvy and Parking Made Easy.
Parkhound and Parking Made Easy are seeking residential and small businesses with car spaces – garages, driveways and even backyard lawns – to rent out. Divvy wants to fill vacancies in corporate buildings and smaller car parks.
Parkhound has also physically mapped out every street in every Australian CBD, so users can see online what time restrictions apply, when and where the best parks are, and the cost per hour. Very soon all three will offer apps which give you instant information on parking availability.
Michael Nuciforo at Parkhound says some council parking areas have sensors which signal when cars have overstayed their time.
“Tweak this technology a bit and drivers could be told which spaces are free on any given street at any time of the day,” he points out.
5. Alerts for your health
Gonzalez from Blue Toro says Ford is working on actively monitoring a driver’s vital statistics through either the seat belt or steering wheel sensors.
“Combine this with autonomous driving technology and we’ll see cars pulling over and requesting an ambulance if it suspects the driver is having a heart attack,” she says.
This system should also detect if a driver is alert, sleepy or dozing.
Thatcher explains that the highest-end Mercedes and BMW models also let you pre-program your car’s temperature.
“So when you get in the car at 6.30am, the car is at normal operating temperature and the cabin at 24 degrees. It might be big in northern Germany but I’m not sure it’s so useful here.”
He also mentions the latest Audi Matrix LED headlights, which automatically switch from high to low beam as the light sources from outside dictate, so you won’t accidentally blind approaching drivers.
“We’re seeing windscreens which change tint when it’s too bright and rear-view mirrors which adjust themselves away from the brightness,” he adds.
“They’re all designed to make sure you don’t screw up your eyes.”
3 over-hyped technologies