The pandemic has forced me to drive substantially more than I use to. Don’t get me wrong, I love driving. I really do, I’m not just saying that/it isn’t sarcasm. All of the time I have recently spent in the car has sparked my interest into how digitally evolved each and every new car has become, and I think we are just seeing the beginning of the tech revolution of auto.
Remember when cars came with optional power steering? Or when you use to have to roll down your own windows manually? Or when A/C was a luxury? I am going out on a self-esteem limb here as some people in the class will be answering “No” in their heads right now. Anyways, the automobile industry has come a very long way in the technology world, and I would like to break down a few of the recent tech innovations to become standard in the automobile.
The first technology feature I want to touch on is the out of sight, out of mind, unsung hero of the new age auto: sensors. Every new car (for purposes of this blog car also equals truck/SUV/minivan) that is produced rolls off the line with anywhere between 60 and 100 sensors depending on the safety and efficiency features of the car. Currently the global automotive sensors market is worth around $26 billion and is expected to almost double over the next year. 1 Sensors are used for everything from airbags to tire pressure. Sensors embedded in your seat are able to communicate your relative size and weight to the airbag so it will deploy in the event of a crash at a certain speed, significantly reducing impact injuries. Automotive manufacturers are currently working with sensor developers to create a pattern of sensors in the driver’s seat that will act as an ECG and be able to detect if the driver is becoming drowsy or experiences a medical event. Your car will be able to monitor and interpret your heart rate! How cool is that?!
Next up is adaptive cruise control (ACC), aka a Boston commuter’s best friend. Through a combination of sensors, lasers (that’s right your car could have lasers), cameras, radar, and the internal computer, a car is able to determine how far away the vehicle in front of it is, what speed that vehicle is traveling at, and use that information to adjust your speed and following distance without you as the driver having to do a thing. I see this functionality as low stakes autonomous driving as you are most likely using this at lower speeds where it is extremely annoying to keep doing the start/stop thing or you are using it on open highways as your normal cruise control. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to cruise control in general as a huge tech innovation in the auto industry that is now a standard feature. Back to ACC. This is currently an optional feature on most cars, but I’m sure as we move towards the autonomous vehicle becoming normal this will start to be a standard feature. It is also typically packaged in with other driver assist systems like lane-keep assist and blind spot monitoring.
The innovation for heads up display is leading manufacturers like Audi to begin using augmented reality to assist drivers. Heads up display is a projection typically built into the back of your dashboard on the driver’s side that project stats like GPS directions, speed, or other infotainment elements into the bottom of the driver’s line of sight. This allows a driver to view information without having to take his/her eyes off the road. Some people really like this feature, I find it a bit annoying, but hey, it’s cool nonetheless. Audi is taking this a step farther in their newly debuted Q4 e-tron and placing all kinds of other information that takes into account the world around the car in the sight line of the driver on an AR screen. I meannn, car becomes video game?? Pretty close.
The last technological innovation that will continue to completely change the auto industry as we know it is the electric vehicle. Fun fact: electric cars didn’t start with Tesla. Sorry to all the Elon stans out there. We can actually trace the history of electric vehicles all the way back to 1894. They were called Electrobats and were nowhere near the sleek design of a Model S.
Now that you have that tidbit of info for your next round of Zoom trivia, let’s fast forward to the present. Tesla made the plug-in electric vehicle both cool and easily accessible. With Tesla as the first successful (there were other attempts before Tesla) mover, the gauntlet was laid, and all other manufacturers knew they needed to pivot. It now seems like it is very much a race to see which company that was gas reliant can go all electric first. Auto giants known for their large, gas-guzzling vehicles like GM and Ford are making mind-blowing claims of taking a huge percentage of newly produced vehicles electric over the next 10 years. VW recently announced that it was going all in on electric, building out 6 gigafactories producing batteries by 2030. These are HUGE moves being made in a relatively quick span of time by manufacturers in an industry that has not seen its fuel source change since the early 1900s. I digress, electric cars are here to stay and luckily for me, they’re also extremely fast. Skip to 2:41 in the video below.
What other innovations do you think are coming to the auto industry? What tech found in cars are you most excited about or that you use most often? I, for one, am very excited for things to come.