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Car tech and the future: where science fiction becomes our driving reality

future car tech

Remember when the phrase “car technology” meant images of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider? Hundreds of flashing coloured lights, digital dials and a talking car A.I. - the future of our driving experience seemed light years away. Yet here we are; we’re getting extremely close to a time in which our science fiction will become our driving reality. But just how far have we come in terms of car tech?

Developments in the sorts of technology being tested and utilised in the automotive industry have been growing for years. Yet even avid tech readers have been dubious about whether cars could be included as part of the tech industry. The fact is, however, that car makers are at the forefront of tech development and the new innovations making their way into our vehicles are just around the corner.

Engine, performance and maintenance

One of the first places you’d expect to see tech is precisely where it’s been seen for decades already. Engine Control Units are commonplace in vehicles these days yet there are a few newer tricks car makers have up their sleeves:

Augmented Reality Owner's Manual

Most recently, car maker Hyundai developed an augmented reality app for smartphones and tablets. This piece of car technology would allow owners to see a 3D overlay of their vehicle using their device’s camera, that provides advice on vehicle features and maintenance. The app also grants owners access to more than 80 how-to videos for caring for their car.

Cylinders on Demand

Also known as cylinder deactivation, this car tech helps your engine become more efficient. It does this by deactivating a number of the cylinders in your car when it’s not necessary - namely when you’re cruising or coasting in your car. Most engines only use half of the cylinders at this time anyway, so your car deactivating the unneeded ones when it senses that you’re coasting can help you save on fuel.

Electric Vehicle Power Boosts

While electric vehicles are becoming more and more common, a lot of the downsides to having one is the lack of power coming from their engines. Way back in 2011, Jaguar showed that its C-X16 concept car could utilise its “push to pass” technology to kick the power from its supercharged 3-litre V6 gasoline engine and electric motor up another 70 HP. 

Magnetic Ride Control

A Magnetic Ride Control helps with car stability. Dampers are filled with a magnetorheological fluid that allow shock absorbers to stiffen or loosen with electromagnetic current. Your car reads the type of road you’re on based on the vibrations it feels and adjusts the shocks for a smoother ride at all times.

Safety technology

Another common area for car tech is in the safety features that have been developed in the past decade. We’re familiar with things like anti-lock braking systems and dashboard cameras, but here are a few more developments that you might not know of:

Active Health Monitoring

An amazing piece of car tech to watch would be Active Health Monitoring systems that are designed to keep the car safe in the event that something incapacitates the driver. Think of it like a medical panic button, but one that’s monitored by your car. Should you suffer a heart attack while driving, the system will engage the vehicle’s other systems to have the car pull over safely and notify the local emergency medical authorities of the event. Pardon the pun, but this is definitely set to be a lifesaver.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

Again, we’ve talked about the future of driverless cars but fully autonomous vehicles are still some time away. Companies like Delphi Automotive, Google and Tesla are already testing driverless cars but what developments are we seeing now from this tech? Advanced Driver Assistance Systems are already delivering improvements to the safety features of vehicles such as adaptive cruise and headlight control, automatic parking, driver alarms for drowsiness and lane departure.

Brake Override Systems

A Brake Override System is a safety measure that senses when mixed signals or an electric malfunction occurs where the gas and brake pedals are pushed at the same time. This may happen when the accelerator pedal gets stuck and the driver tries to push the brake, or in the event the driver suffers a heart attack and pushes both pedals down involuntarily. The system picks up on this and sends signals to the central computer system to safely stop the vehicle.

Collision Avoidance Systems

One of the greatest innovations in car safety technology has to be the collision-detection systems that help cars “see” the environment around them. We’re already sold on cars that have parking sensors that help us nail those tricky parallel parking experiences, but cars are increasingly learning to see other cars and pedestrians as well. Rear cross-traffic alerts, forward-collision warnings and blind-spot monitoring systems are all welcome safety innovations in the car tech industry.

Driver Experience

When it comes to driving, one of the biggest reasons to buy a specific car has always been the experience it can offer to drivers. It’s this reason that some people love big 4WDs, others get a thrill from convertibles, and more still love a car that feels fast. Where our focus used to be on the experience outside the car, we're now focusing inward and in the future we'll be looking to:

Biometric Vehicle Access

If there’s something almost all car owners have uttered at some point, it’s “Where did I put my keys?” With the development of bluetooth and wireless technology, we’ve been treated to a number of “keyless” keys that allow us to access our vehicle at the push of a button. The next step is to do away with keys completely and simply use our fingerprints or retinas. This can also help integrate specific driver profiles for car technology, including automatic adjustment of seat, wheel and mirror levels.

Internet Connectivity

Display screens are quickly replacing the knobs and dials of old, meaning that the way we view information and control our car is becoming as digitised as our phones are. Already we’re seeing operating systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay finding themselves spaces on our dashboard. Many car makers, like giant Chevrolet, are offering 4G LTE Wi-Fi onboard now, meaning vehicles can now be wireless hubs for your family’s devices while you drive.

Remote Vehicle Shutdown

Car maker General Motors’ OnStar system has been active in cars for a number of years now and has already helped both police and vehicle owners incapacitate cars taken by thieves. As early as 2009, OnStar claimed to be responding to near 600 Stolen Vehicle Assistance requests and has helped in over 28,000 vehicle theft cases since its introduction. The OnStar Advisor systems also uses GSP to pinpoint a vehicle's location as well.

Windscreen Heads Up Display (HUD)

HUD systems aren’t a stretch of the imagination, we’re already trying to put augmented reality into glasses and on appliances like refrigerators. In terms of car technology, HUD systems will allow drivers to see a wealth of information on their windscreen. It can be as simple as speed and temperature, to GPS directions outlaid onto the road ahead, or an alert to having low fuel and directions to the nearest service station.

Driving on into the future

What this all means is it’s an exciting time to be a car maker and owner. There are plenty of new gadgets and innovations making their way into our previously cold and mechanical vehicles. The future of cars may not look like what we had originally thought of back in the Knight Rider days, but the abilities and intelligence of car autonomy is not far from where we’re heading.

How will this impact you in future? Well, it may just mean that there’ll be less driving in the “driving experience”. The driving that you do end up doing might change completely because of the new way in which vehicles will behave. What this means is that the risk of being involved in an incident in your car may increase or decrease - and this could well affect your insurance premiums when the insurance sector better grasps how to use behavioural data.

What we’re interested in, as a vehicle insurance company, is how this new car technology might impact your insurance premiums. We’re not expecting much change for the foreseeable future, but we predict that consumers and vehicle owners might see lower premiums stemming from the lower risk of car accidents the technology may provide.

We’re still of a “wait and see” view on how this new technology will impact insurance, but now might be as good of a time as any to check what car technology you have in your vehicle and how your car insurance policy deals with things like collision avoidance systems (if you have it). If you’re looking for advice, or you’re wanting some help finding new car insurance, give our advisors at Kwiksure a call!