Many car buyers make purchasing decisions based on the technology fitted to their new ride.
In fact, nearly 60 percent of millennials and 40 percent of older adults would change brands if another car manufacturer offered the technology they wanted. And an average buyer would pay over $2,200 more to have the technology features they wanted in their car. The tech also has to be easy to use. If the technology wasn’t intuitive, more than 30 percent of buyers said they’d look at a completely different car.
Let’s take a look at technology for your car—both what’s currently available and what we’re likely to find in our cars in the coming years.
Having been widely available since the 1990s, keyless entry is a common feature on many of today’s cars. But there have been some updates.
Keyless entry was first introduced by Ford in 1980. It was featured in the Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Cougar, Lincoln Continental and Lincoln Town Car, and adopted by the likes of Renault, Nissan and GM soon after.
The first versions used a keypad that required a code to unlock the vehicle. Soon, more sophisticated systems were developed that turned keys into radio transmitters that sent a coded signal to a receiver unit in the car.
Keys have evolved even further so that these days there are a number of automakers that offer smart keys. Used in conjunction with car doors that have touch sensors, these hands-free smart keys (or keycards) rely on a proximity-based system of opening. The mere positioning of the key close to a vehicle unlocks the car as soon as the driver places their hand on the door handle.
In widespread use by a number of carmakers, these smart key systems have a range of names:
- Toyota calls it Smart Key
- Nissan has its Intelligent key system
- Keyless Go is available with Mercedes-Benz cars
- BMW uses Magic Key
Keyless entry systems can also be gesture-based. For instance, one keyless system enables the owner to open the trunk by making a kicking motion with their foot under the rear of the car—particularly handy if your arms are full of shopping bags.
A related development is keyless start, which eliminates the need to insert your key into the ignition. The car’s engine is instead started with a start/stop button.
Pros and Cons of Keyless Entry
Why you’ll like it. Keyless entry and start means easy access and convenience. You won’t have to fumble around for your car keys to unlock the door or start your car anymore. Locking and unlocking your doors, as well as starting and turning off your cars, is now a seamless process.
The hardest part to get used to. It may take some time to get used to being able to get in your car without physically using a key. Or it could take time to adjust to using gestures to open the trunk. Once you’re acclimated, you won’t want to go back to having to use a physical key.
Cars can be commonly found with standard safety features. Car manufacturers have their own names for the suite of safety features. For example, Ford calls its suite, “Co-Pilot 360.” These features can include technology that assists the driver. From blind spot monitoring to adaptive cruise control, these features can provide a semi-autonomous driving experience, while also helping drivers be safer on the road.
- Blind Spot Monitoring. This feature uses sensors on the car to help alert the driver if there is another car in the blind spot. If there is, a light or icon glows in the side mirror. In some models, the car may beep at the driver if they put on their turn signal and try to switch lanes while there is someone in their blind spot.
- Lane Keep Assist. The sensors on the car also used to help keep your car in the lane you’re driving in. When turned on, this feature will beep at the driver if the computer detects the car drifting out of the lane. It’s aimed to prevent distracted driving, as well as drowsy drivers.
- Automatic Breaking. Using cameras on the front of the car, the computer system can also adapt to the speed of traffic while in cruise control. You can set the distance you want to have between you and the car in front of you. If the traffic ahead of you slows down, your car will adjust its speed on its own.
The cameras are also used for automatic emergency breaking. If the car detects a potential collision, your car will break to prevent the collision.
Pros and Cons of Safety Features
Why you’ll like it. These are tech features aimed at keeping you and your family safe. And best of all, more car manufacturers are making these features standard. Technology, like adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, can help reduce the chance you get into a rear-end collision – one of the most common accidents.
The hardest part to get used to. After driving for many years, it may be a jarring experience to feel a car accelerate and brake on its own. If it’s available on your car, it could take some time to get used to the semi-autonomous driving features of your car.
Another thing to be aware of is having your car beep at you if you have safety standards turned on. Whether it’s the blind spot monitoring or lane keep assist, you may need to get used to occasionally hearing your car beep at you.
Everyone thinks they’re a safe driver – but how do you know if you are? Telematics uses technology, such as GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope, to monitor your driving behavior and analyzes it to determine how safe you’re being. Aside from learning about your driving habits, one of the biggest perks of telematics is that you could save on your car insurance premium if you demonstrate safe driving behaviors.
Telematics can monitor your driving through a dongle that you plug directly into your vehicle, or with an app you use on your smartphone. The data gathered incudes time of day you’re driving, acceleration and braking habits, and miles driven.
Driving data is analyzed by your insurance company to get a better picture of you as a driver. Data can be recorded for six months of driving. It’s a general rule that the cleaner your driving record, the better you insurance premium. With telematics, an insurer can tell if you’re truly a safe driver, and use collected data to generate discounts to your renewal premium.
Pros and Cons of Telematics
Why you’ll like it. Simply put, it could save you money on your insurance policy. By letting a device or app monitor your driving habits and behavior, it gives an insurance company a better idea of how safe you are. Data showing you’re a safe driver can lead to policy discounts.
The hardest part to get used to. It could be a little nerve-wracking to have your driving monitored and analyzed. Telematics devices and apps collect data on whether you’re accelerating too quickly or braking too aggressively. You may be self-conscious until you forget the device or app is in your car.
Tires that resist puncture or can heal themselves are a huge benefit to drivers for obvious reasons. On average, punctures occur every 46,600 miles (75,000 km), but they always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times: while traveling with children, in bad weather or heading to an important appointment.
There are two types of self-healing tires: run-flat tires and self-sealing tires.
Run-flat tires are self-supporting tires, which enable a car with punctured tires to continue at a lower speed (usually around 50mph) and for a limited distance (up to 50 miles). These tires are fitted to a number of automakers’ products (BMW, in particular, is a fan of the technology).
Self-sealing tires are still in development, though they are slowly entering the market. Most use the latest rubber technology to seal tread punctures of up to 5mm (0.2 inches) in diameter.
Michelin Selfseal, for example, uses a rubber compound that immediately plugs any holes in the tread. Other versions include Kumho Tire’s ‘K-Seal’ technology, Hankook Tire’s Sealguard and Pirelli’s Seal Inside.
But that’s not all! Scientists in Leipzig, Germany, have developed a new rubber technology that promises to enable tires to fix themselves at room temperature over seven days with carbon and nitrogen additives that allow crucial bonds in the rubber to reform.
These compounds and technologies are still relatively new, but hopefully, in the next few years we can expect to be able to avoid unscheduled roadside stops to change a tire.
Pros and Cons of Self-Healing Tires
What you’ll like. If your car’s low tire pressure light turns on or you suspect you have a flat, a run-flat or self-sealing tire can help give you some more time to safely pull over. If you do have a flat, it gives you the ability to drive to a repair shop to get it fixed without having to change a tire on the side of the road.
The hardest part to get used to. You should always check your tires if you suspect you have a flat or if your tire pressure light turns on. Even if you have a flat, you won’t have to take out a spare tire and jack to change the tire. You can drive a certain distance at a given speed to a repair shop.
The Connected Car
Connectivity is a big buzzword in the automotive world at the moment, as manufacturers enable their vehicles to communicate with the outside world, becoming part of the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, 73% of drivers would change car brands if the other car offered more connectivity.
The ability to tether a smartphone to a car for hands-free use (i.e. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) is just the start.
Companies such as BMW and Audi are now embedding SIM cards in their new cars to enable them to communicate with cloud servers. The SIM card—similar to that in your smartphone—offers immediate access to:
- Emergency and breakdown services
- A call center concierge who can book anything from a movie ticket to a hotel room
- Information on available parking spaces at your destination
Onboard apps can also:
- Sync with your calendar and email
- Access your contacts
- Stream an unlimited number of music tracks
- In the not-too-distant future, communicate with internet-enabled devices in your home (heating, lighting, even a stove)
These onboard systems will help ensure your car integrates seamlessly into your connected lifestyle.
Some cars also have an on-board digital assistant. BMW announced the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant in 2018. The assistant gives drivers the ability to perform in-car actions through voice. For example, a driver can tell the assistant they’re hot, and the AC will turn on. The assistant can also provide important information about the car, such as oil levels.
Hyundai and Kia also announced plans to include on-board digital assistants in its cars in 2019. Some actions the assistant can perform include navigation to a place based on your calendar or driving history.
Car manufacturers are also partnering with Amazon to create unique features with Alexa, the company’s virtual voice assistant. Although still in the early stages, the tech could help drivers find things based on their location or play music.
Pros and Cons of the Connected Car
Why you’ll like it. Connected cars are meant to cut down on distracted driving and help you focus on the road. Plugging in your iPhone or Android phone to use CarPlay or Android Auto lets you use navigation, listen to your music, and access the respective digital assistant.
Digital assistants are created to help you complete tasks with your voice. Whether it’s adding an item to the grocery list, setting a timer, or finding the nearest gas station, a digital assistant helps you complete simple asks. In a car, a digital assistant can help reduce distracted driving and keep your eyes on the road.
The hardest part to get used to. You may be used to adjusting the temperature controls in your car on your own or using your car’s navigation system to search for the closest gas stations. Asking a digital assistant in your car to do these things can be a strange feeling at first – especially if you have to preface the command with a name. For example, “Hey Google,” “Alexa,” or “Hey Siri.”
Car Seat Technology
Most of us are now accustomed to electrical seats that allow us to adjust our position with a button or toggle. Some vehicles even save our seat positioning preferences.
And heated and cooled seats are also regular fixtures in modern cars. Plus, many luxury cars include massage functions to ease our backs on long journeys.
But car seat technology is likely to evolve even more in the coming decades as autonomous, or self-driving, functions in cars will mean that we’ll no longer be bound by the need to sit upright and face forward.
Concept cars with autonomous features have been shown with seats that morph into beds (think the best international airline seats). This could let drivers (or car users, as we would become) to relax and even sleep. Alternatively, seats could swivel around to enable the driver and front-seat passenger to face those seated in the rear of the car, creating a more communal space. For example, Mercedes-Benz’s concept research car is autonomous and the seats turn around to give passengers space to talk.
Car Seat Technology that Monitors Your Health
Car seats will also play a part in improving the wellness of car occupants. As cars in the future become personal mobility vehicles, they may be able to monitor the health of their users—for example, we will find seats checking heart rates of those sitting in them, thanks to sensors embedded in the upholstery and seat belts. If the system, via the sensors, detects a rising pulse, it can either activate a relaxing massage program or alert the driver (or even emergency services via connectivity technology) of the danger.
Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai have already released concepts of such technology at the Consumer Electronics Show, while other brands are developing similar systems.
Pros and Cons of Car Seat Technology
Why you’ll like it. If your car can safely accelerate, brake, and steer on its own, it can give back some of your time. Volvo touts its autonomous features in its cars and that drivers and families can decide how they spend the time in the car. The company suggests drivers can prepare for a meeting or learn new skills. If car manufacturers also build in wellness tracking sensors into seats, it’s another method to help us keep track of our health. Plus, these sensors can alert the proper authorities if something happens while you’re driving.
The hardest part to get used to. We’re used to the idea of a driver and passenger seat. If cars get to the stage of swivel seats, it could take time to get used to the idea that every seat in a car is a passenger seat. Facing the opposite direction while you’re behind the steering wheel could be uncomfortable—especially if you’re not used to letting a car drive itself.
GPS systems are becoming more advanced and more accurate as they incorporate connectivity technology to get information such as real-time traffic conditions and as engineers prepare them for the demands of autonomous cars.
Currently, connected cars constantly transmit their speed and GPS coordinates to a cloud server, which simultaneously provides data about the locations and speeds of nearby cars. Therefore the GPS system in your car is able to use this information to change your programmed route and lead you away from any congestion, saving you time and presumably, stress as well.
The next step for GPS systems will be tied to self-driving cars. Current GPS systems are accurate to around eight yards of the vehicle’s position. Autonomous cars’ positioning systems need to be accurate within inches of where the car is within a driving lane. That’s because a self-driving car needs to be able to follow lane lines, as well as stay in between the lines.
Pros and Cons of Navigation Systems
Why you’ll like it. The more information your car’s navigation system has, the quicker you can get to your destination. If your driving route consists of highway driving, your GPS system could notify you of an accident causing heavy delays. It can then provide you with a different route to your destination.
The hardest part to get used to. Your car steering itself could be unsettling at first. But as GPS accuracy continues to improve, drivers can trust their cars to navigate straight or windy roads.
Features to Combat Distracted Driving
Much of the new automotive technology—especially systems that enable access to smartphones and connected services—will likely make drivers’ lives easier and more convenient. It can even make drivers’ lives safer by reducing the chances of dealing with a road rage incident. But there is one obvious downside.
Connectivity to smartphones, email, SMS messages, social media and music streaming services in the car can create distractions for the driver—distractions that can cause fatal collisions.
The distracted driving situation is unlikely to improve, especially as younger generations are even more wedded to their devices.
In an attempt to address the issue of distracted driving, manufacturers and tech companies could find themselves being forced by legislation to introduce airplane mode-like features to disable the use of cell phones while a car is in motion.
Some tech companies are already adding in features to cut down on distracted driving. Apple recently updated its CarPlay software to include a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature. When a person’s iPhone senses they’re driving, this feature silences the phone, prevents the screen from turning on, and automatically sends a reply to texts that you’re driving.
Popular navigation apps, like Waze, are doing similar things. Waze may lock the screen on a person’s phone if they’re driving. It may also ask if the person operating the app through the phone is the passenger before unlocking.
Avoid Distracted Driving With These Tips
Despite these new features, we all need to be vigilant to avoid distractions while driving. Here are a few tips:
- Switch off your cell phone and place it in the glove compartment when driving.
- Sync your car with Bluetooth so you can answer calls without looking at your phone.
- If you don’t have a Bluetooth option in your car, invest in an aftermarket solution, which can cost less than $100.
- Set your GPS destination before starting your journey.
- Ask a front-seat passenger to change the music.
- Try to keep conversation calm and to a minimum. Even that is a distraction.
Although distraction is a major issue at the moment, this could be a (relatively) temporary phase in the history of car use.
This is because the next big leap in automotive technology—autonomous or self-driving features—will be upon us perhaps sooner than you might expect. Tesla, Volvo and BMW already have some limited self-driving capabilities, but these will be increasingly common by the end of the decade.
So if you think that car tech is advanced now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® and the MIT AgeLab explored vehicle technology adoption among mature drivers. These technologies are becoming more available in new cars today. It’s important that all drivers learn how they work and how to use them effectively. This is especially true for mature drivers, as many technologies can enhance the driving experience as we age.