5 ways car technology will soon rock our world

Consumer Reports

Car design cycles move at predictable four-to-five year intervals, but the world of mobile electronics is rapidly gaining speed as automakers strive to keep up with consumer demand and ever-evolving technology. At the recent LA Auto Show and affiliated Connected Car Expo, I had the opportunity to meet representatives from many high-tech companies, each introducing their next "big thing" and talking about what’s around the corner. In doing so, five key things stood out:

The real cause of urban congestion

Much of city traffic is caused not by people going somewhere, but drivers circling around trying to find parking. This inefficiency causes traffic congestion, extra pollution, and mind-numbing frustration. In an effort to help solve this problem, there is an experimental new app called Parker, by Streetline, which uses sensors embedded into the curb/pavement. The app works in real time with those sensors to let users know where there is available street parking in the neighborhood they are searching. Hollywood, Calif., was the first city to use it; it’s also been tried on Roosevelt Island in New York City, among other metro areas. As this controlled rollout continues, Parker will expand beyond the more than 40 cities and universities across North America and Europe.

Wi-Fi to go faster

After a number of cars were introduced with Wi-Fi hotspots, Audi is the first to have 4G LTE connectivity. It will be standard on the redesigned 2015 Audi A3. Among the applications for this quick connection are faster Google Maps updates while driving and faster streaming on nonconnected devices. We have also heard from other automakers exploring this technology that will bring creative new functionality to cars.

Self-driving cars

At the LA Auto Show and related Connected Car conference, there was much discussion of autonomous cars—those that literally drive themselves. The groundwork for this seemingly sci-fi scenario is already on the street today, including advanced active safety features. Increasingly common, luxury and even some mainstream models offer systems such as lane assist that can warn when the car approaches the edge of a lane and even provide steering input to correct such wandering. Such systems are not a true substitute for being attentive, but they have been shown to make a demonstrable reduction in accidents and crash severity.

Currently GPS can track your car to within about 3 feet. This works fine for current navigation technology, but in the age of the driverless car, the location data will have to be much more precise—more like about an inch. GPS aided by car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications will get us much closer. It is exciting to see the rapid development in this area and the emerging technology already benefiting consumers.

Infotainment

MyFordTouch and MyLincolnTouch have their share of problems. We all know this, and even Ford recognizes it, which is why they have so many updates to try to fix the bugs. I, for one, had assumed it was just faulty programming of the software, but rumor points also to a hardware issue. The original hardware was designed to be more powerful and to better support future versions of the software, but by the time it was rolled out, the hardware had memory removed to save money. Now current versions of the software don’t have the power to run them properly.

Faster product cycles

Part of the disconnect between mobile devices and cars is that the mobile device is on a fast-moving 12-month gear and cars are a slow moving 48- to 60-month product. They spin at different speeds and have a hard time meshing cohesively. These two worlds come together through the infotainment systems, and therein lies a true challenge. One solution that is being rolled out by Apple is called Siri Eyes Free.

Apple's Siri Eyes Free will give compatible cars one of the most advanced hands-free voice-control systems available. Obviously, it won’t be as integrated as some of the systems that allow you to control your climate system, but you will be able make phone calls, compose and listen to text messages, control the navigation system on your phone, music on your iPhone/iPod, and any other function that you currently ask of Siri, all through the voice control button on your steering wheel. Nine auto manufacturers said they’d work toward integrating it in their product lineup. Chevrolet was the first to reach market with Honda hot on its tail. We look forward to trying this technology out in future test cars.

The takeaway

Inherent in cars is a lot of moving parts. That’s also true of the industry these days, where we are seeing much rapid development and innovation that promise to make cars more functional and safer. And perhaps easier to park.

Mike Leung

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