Many car buyers make purchasing decisions based on the technology fitted to their new ride.
In fact, more than half of car buyers claim they would wait six to 18 months to get all the technology features they desire, and 77 percent rank their technology desires above their preferred color when it comes to their next car purchase. And brand loyalty? It’s out the window. Sixty-five percent of people would switch brands to get the technology features they want.
With these statistics in mind, let’s take a look at tech for your car—both what’s currently available and what we’re likely to find in our cars in the coming years.
Modern Car Tech Available Now
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 by radio waves to a receiver unit in the car.
Keys have evolved even further so that these days there are a number of (mainly premium and luxury) 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: for example, Toyota calls it Smart Key, Nissan has its Intelligent key system, Keyless Go is available with Mercedes-Benz cars, while 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.
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.
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).
The ability to tether a smartphone to a car and use its functions with a car (i.e. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) is just the start.
Companies such as BMW and Audi are now embedding SIM cards—the same ones you’ll find in your cellphone—in their new cars to enable them to communicate with cloud servers, offering immediate access to emergency and breakdown services, a call center concierge who can book anything from a movie ticket to a hotel room, or 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 and even, 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.
Car Tech in The Near Future
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.
Seats that morph into beds (think the best international airline seats) will be possible, allowing drivers (or car users, as we would become) to relax and even sleep. Alternatively, they will 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.
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.
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. This means that traffic information is being constantly updated by a huge automotive hive mind. 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. The Hyundai Ioniq, which was recently seen on the streets of LA, is accurate to within 20 inches.
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. 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.
According to Distraction.gov, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. In the U.S. at any given moment, it’s estimated that 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices.
The 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.
In the meantime, 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.
- If you have connected car technology, use it when answering calls.
- If possible, 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.
However, 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, so 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.