Since the early eighties, cars have incorporated computers to regulate and control aspects on their various functions. With the birth of the ‘connected’ era, and all its possibilities, cars now have to do more in order to win over consumers. Here are some of the ways in which manufacturers are expanding cars from more than mere vehicles, to becoming an integral part of people’s lifestyles.
Where to, guv?
While the commercial self-driving car is still a few years away, Some cars now do have the functionality of being able to autonomously drive you - with some minor input, that is. Perhaps the most well-known is Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ function, that uses sensors, cameras and machine learning to navigate through traffic from one destination to another. Autopilot can modify speed to keep up with traffic, change lanes and reroute around traffic jams. For a number of legislative and safety reasons, drivers using Autopilot still need to keep their eyes on the road and a hand on the wheel. A number of widely reported accidents have shown that there is still some work to do on safety, but the move towards this kind of automation has built up a real momentum and manufacturers are determined to solve the remaining issues.
Car, clear my schedule!
We’re quite familiar with smart speakers in our home now in the form of Amazon Echo and Google Home. These devices can play music, shop online and give us the news, all through the power of voice command. Having proved their worth, the software driving these speakers are now making the leap to the car - Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are already available in many models of car manufactured in the US and EU. They are able to schedule appointments, make calls and control the media player. Increased functionality also allows them to plan routes, lock doors and open windows, with more features coming all the time.
Other car makers are getting in on the act. Kia and Hyundai will be including their own proprietary smart assistant in 2019, while Rolls Royce is working on ‘Eleanor’, their very own AI that will be built into their new generation of luxury cars. Not only will Eleanor be able to drive the car, make calls and play music, it will, to paraphrase Rolls Royce, ‘helpfully but discreetly make suggestions and recommendation to help them prepare for their day’
Emergency assistance software in vehicles has been around for almost ten years now. However, in the last few years, the technology has become even better at both understanding what has happened in the case of accident or emergency, and communicating that to emergency services.
Perhaps the well known of these software services in OnStar, available in the UK in Vauxhall vehicles. Once it detects an airbag inflation, or critical engine fault, sensors relay diagnostic information to OnStar, who can then direct tow trucks or emergency services as appropriate. OnStar employees call drivers on the car’s hands-free phone to gain information about injuries. It can also book a hotel for you, if you’re far from home.
Tesla is also adopting many of these features in new iterations of its cars, in particular, the Model S. The sheer amount of data captured by a Tesla’s sensors is used to send a mechanic with the correct parts and tools to repair and get cars back on the road in minutes.
Car audio is a big market - who doesn’t like driving with some tunes blaring? Not only have Amazon and Google got into the act with their integrated assistants and smartphone apps that liase with a car, but Apple are making their bid with CarPlay, that allows drivers to plug in their iPhone and play their favourite music, among a raft of other optimised apps.
Tesla’s new latest version of their car operating system (8.1) has placed a greater emphasis on the media player, incorporating the ability to search for radio stations, streaming stations using the cars internet connection, and play songs from phones and USB sticks. Voice commands have also been improved - no more misheard song titles!
Trudging through a car park or walking through the rain to get to your car may soon be a thing of the past. Both upcoming Tesla and Rolls Royce models (as part of of their ‘Eleanor’ smart assistant) will have a ‘summon’ feature that brings the car to you. This uses autonomous driving technology to sense the driver, avoid obstacles and navigate at a safe speed to them.
Other car companies are sure to follow with this technology and it could prove a godsend to those with limited accessibility. The software could be refined to open the door and assist the driver in getting in during future releases. What else have you heard of that will revolutionise the way we drive? Tell us and we’ll chase up the leads!