Self-driving cars and endless possibilities

For now, your next car will be working hard to keep you safe, with a host of clever technologies augmenting the cockpit.

 When it comes to modern automobiles, your next car could offer features you’ve only ever seen on the big screen.

By Michael Lamonato

Cinema has been badly predicting the future for decades. It’s 2020, but there are no robots doing your housework, the colonisation of Mars is making slow progress and the only kind of hoverboard available is more likely to catch fire than provide a swift run to the shops.

However, you might be surprised to discover that there is one field where movies have struck close to the mark: automotive. Flying time machines and a submarining Roger Moore aside, your next car is likely to have more Hollywood in it than you might think.

The future is auto

The autonomous car is the holy grail, and while we’re still a few years away from putting our feet up and letting cars freelance entirely, today’s car is more independent than ever.

On the five-step road to full automation, BMW is well past halfway, with showrooms already offering a fully “hands-off”, automated driving experience.

The BMW driving assistant deploys 12 ultrasonic sensors, five radars and four cameras to help drivers keep a safe distance from other cars and change lanes, as well as evade accidents.

By 2021 the BMW iNext will bring level three “eyes-off” automation to showrooms, and the German marque has already demonstrated a level four “mind-off” 7 Series that only requires occasional human supervision.

Keeping control

For now, your next car will be working hard to keep you safe, with a host of clever technologies augmenting the cockpit.

While you focus on your own driving, BMW’s Crossroads warning keeps watch on your fellow drivers to alert you to potential accidents. If another car disregards your right of way and threatens to drive into your path, the system will alert you to the breach so you can take evasive action.

At slower speeds, radar is deployed to see through obscuring objects - or, more accurately, around corners. The car will signal to the cockpit the risk of crossing traffic and other hazards when pulling out of carparks, laneways and other tight spots.

Become at one with the car

Never in a futuristic film has the hero had to fumble with the car keys, and the technology to realise this future is already here. You might even be reading this very story on it.

Your smartphone is your new car key. Your next car will be unlockable with NFC technology, and you can fire the ignition and adjust the cockpit to your preferences by docking your phone to charge wirelessly.

Once inside, there’s not much that can’t be personalised. The information on the dashboard and layout of the console screen are all customisable to act as an extension of the driver. 

Because no protagonist has ever achieved anything scrolling through menus, the on-board computer is accessible with voice recognition and gesture control to navigate you home or warm your seat. 

Cleverer and cleverer

From human-sensing night vision cameras to fighter jet-style heads-up displays and a powertrain that detects the road ahead and changes gears before you even realise you need to shift, the automotive technology predicted by cinema is already available today.

As Brendan Michel - head of product, market planning and driving experience at BMW Australia - confirms, things are only going to get better and more accessible.  

“The electronic assistant features we already offer on our vehicles provide superior levels of safety and convenience for the driver and their occupants, but we are going to see all this improve dramatically, while also becoming more readily available through what we call Remote Software Upgrade,” Michel says.

“This allows the user to download improved vehicle functions including safety systems, update software and add digital services to their vehicle, just as they would with their smartphone. We already offer a range of software packages and this will continue to evolve and expand in the years ahead.

“It is a very exciting time.”

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October 2021
October 2021

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