Modern cars have come a long way since the days when their most advanced electronics consisted of variable-speed windshield wipers and the infamous “check engine” light. The top car tech available today includes Internet access, hands-free navigation with voice commands, smart road sensing, and even driverless cars. Vehicles are more intelligent than ever, and they can use that intelligence to keep occupants safe, as well as entertained, while on the road.
The Internet is arguably the greatest source of entertainment to emerge over the past two decades. It allows users to access all manner of media, and it’s rivaling television for the top spot in visual entertainment. So it’s no surprise that the Internet has made its way into all our mobile devices, including our automobiles.
Ronald Montoya discusses Internet access in a recent Edmunds article. He reports on the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show and brings to light the availability of in-car Wi-Fi hot spots, which can send a wireless Internet signal to smartphones. Both Chrysler and Audi, he says, offer access to speeds up to 4G, along with built-in Google Earth navigation or Microsoft Bing web searching.
Hotspots can be useful for anyone who wants Internet access for themselves or a local group. Workers who are always on the road can use it to obtain a signal even when they can’t tap into the Internet via their cell phones. And vacationers could also make use of a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing the whole family to check email, browse social networks, or watch movies while on the road.
Similarly, wireless technology such as Bluetooth gives drivers and passengers the ability to access a car’s navigation system, music player, climate control, and other in-car settings with voice commands. Natural speech pattern recognition has grown leaps and bounds in recent years, so car occupants can speak in full sentences to their vehicle rather than focus on specific commands.
All this talk of Wi-Fi access certainly raises concerns for drivers and their safety. It would be unwise to prioritize checking email or watching a movie over paying attention to the road. But what if the car were smart enough to drive itself?
Joe Levy at Wired discusses the possible future markets for driverless cars. In his article, the Google self-driving car is pictured on a highway, and it is not a digital rendering; it’s the real deal. Self-driving cars are able to traverse even the trickiest of courses. They are becoming smarter every day, and the market is slowly growing to the point where Levy says that 75 percent of cars on the road are expected to be driverless by the year 2040.
It’s possible that driverless cars could decrease accidents and eliminate traffic tickets, Levy says. For the consumer, this means that drivers will inherently become passengers, and their commutes will be yet another time blocked out for work or play. Businessmen could get work done with their mobile device while being safely transported to work — by their cars. Everyone on that family vacation could enjoy a conversation while remaining confident that their trip would be safe.
At this point, driverless cars are not in the mainstream. The technology behind driverless sensors is present in many vehicles on the road, however. Backup sensors, parking assistance with audio and video, and active road sensors that can detect obstacles in the dark are showing up in many modern vehicles. The car tech that surrounds consumers is working to keep them not only entertained but also safe while they work and play. It may even lead to fewer road fatalities with the bonus of increased productivity and happier commutes.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons