4 futuristic driving technologies that are closer than you think
By George Underwood
How we view the future of driving is always changing – and with all the technologies now packed into your everyday car, from rear-view cameras to satnav and iPod docks, we are in many ways already living there. Car manufacturers are always looking to push things further though. Here are four real technologies that could be changing the way you drive very soon.
Parking can be a fine art – which might give us good reason to trust it to a computer instead. A self-parking car system demonstrated by Ford last week even allowed it to be controlled from outside the vehicle. Though the system is no doubt a luxury technology, it’s impressive to see a car tackling what can be one of driving’s most frustrating experiences with great precision. Ford’s system even manages to tackle the hardest part of all – actually finding a space!
Cars are more than mere machines these days – more and more they’re starting to resemble drivable computers. Greater internet connection in vehicles is the next logical step up from this, with potential benefits that go far beyond something for passengers to do. Someday your car may be able to switch on the heating in your house as you approach home, or take information from traffic sensors to actively tell you if there is a hazard beyond your vision.
In addition, the more cars that have this technology, the more they can speak to each other, which could be a real boost to safer driving. Of course, that would require the majority of road users to have access to the systems, but with trials by manufacturers like Mercedes, Ford, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen already taking place we might be closer to that than we think.
Already available in a basic form on several car models, these systems typically warn drivers of an oncoming obstacle and activate braking if they think a collision is imminent. It’s a neat solution to the typically fickle attention of human drivers, and recent trials by companies like Toyota and Ford have given us a glimpse of a future where cars may even steer themselves away from an obstacle – which is more impressive when you consider that it needs to very quickly make sure they’re not going to swerve into even greater danger. It could be a life-saving technology, but let’s hope it doesn’t make people too complacent with their safety.
This is the big one. When cars can brake and park by themselves, it’s not too big of a leap to fully automated vehicles. Plenty of groups have been looking into this, from motoring manufacturers like Nissan and Audi to technology companies like Google and even researchers at Oxford University.
It would have seemed almost impossible a couple of decades ago, but these prototypes really work, mainly through laser systems that generate a 3D map of the environment. It’ll be a while before fully automated vehicles are commercially available – Google expects theirs to be released in 2018 – but more advanced self-driving car systems are being released every year. Toyota, for example, recently showed off a cruise-control technology that maintains a safe distance from vehicles ahead and steers the vehicle on an optimal driving line in traffic.
Governments appear keen on the idea as it may increase safety and efficiency and reduce congestion, but whether or not we’ll ever feel comfortable letting a computer drive us around is a different question altogether.