Forget alternative fuels – driver safety and convenience remain at the heart of automotive innovation
Electric, autonomous and semi-autonomous cars are making headlines lately, but let’s face it: the majority of cars on the road today – and for the foreseeable future – will be traditional vehicles, albeit cleaner and smarter than their predecessors. There’s a lot of change ahead in the automotive industry, but two core principles powering innovation – driver safety and convenience – will remain the same no matter which technological road we travel down. Long before we’re carpooling to work in a new autonomous, electric minivan, our commute will be revolutionized in several subtler, if no less extraordinary, ways.
We’re used to being conscientious drivers, alertly focussing on the road, other vehicles and our car’s dashboard readouts. But, who’s looking out for us? In the near future, it might be our cars. Plessey and Segula Technologies are developing a seatback system that senses the heart’s electrical impulses – without direct skin contact – that can accurately determine a driver’s heart rate variability. In practical terms, this means a safety feature that can alert a driver who is in imminent danger of fatigue, drowsiness or medical distress, and has the potential to reduce the approximately 16.5% of fatal fatigue-related road accidents.
Despite growing popularity in luxury vehicles and DIY projects, LED headlight innovation will finally offer serious competition to halogen lights in the near future. Predicted to be installed in 20 percent of all new cars within the next decade, LED headlights offer a range of benefits over the competition: they’re ultra-bright, have a dramatically longer lifespan – up to 50 times longer than halogen – lower energy consumption, and faster activation, or ‘rise time’. Coupled with recent advancements, popularity in LEDs will continue to grow. Matrix LED technology promises to selectively illuminate and darken parts of the roadway by activating and deactivating individual diodes within the headlight. Bundled with powerful software and cameras, its potential is to illuminate everything that needs to be seen – road, vehicles, signs, pedestrians – while safely darkening what doesn’t – other vehicles windshields or pedestrian’s faces.
360 DEGREE SURROUND VIEW
Having a good ‘co-pilot’ in our automobiles can be invaluable: someone to check our blind spots and watch out for erratic drivers or other dangers. Surround view cameras are such a co-pilot, and have the potential to radically improve safety on the roads. By coordinating multiple camera inputs with robust software, a surround view system creates an aerial view of a vehicle, and its relationship to its environment – other cars, parking lot lane markings, curbs or other obstacles – and illustrates how to navigate around and through that environment. Functioning as a lane departure system, it can alert the driver when the vehicle is making an unsignalled lane change – or drifting. When coupled with sonar that warns of nearby obstructions to the front and rear, it becomes an extremely powerful asset to the driver’s safety and peace-of-mind.
While rear-facing cameras will be mandatory as of 2018 in all new automobiles, surround view cameras are only available in a select few high-end models. But, the utility of the surround view camera is, arguably, far greater than a rear-facing camera alone. As more chip manufacturers join the trend, and the public sees the benefits of rear-facing cameras first-hand, there is every reason to believe surround view cameras will quickly follow into the mainstream.
What if every time we drove our cars we were confidently informed about our entire route – before we even left the driveway? Or received updates on the road? What if our cars knew every road closure, gridlocked highway and weather condition that would impact our journey, and offer us intelligent recommendations for alternate routes in real-time? Even finding us a parking spot when we reach our destination? That’s the promise and potential of data sharing amongst automobiles.
That future is already being acted upon by mapping firm HERE, developers of the Open Location Platform and adopted by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. By tracking speed, direction, braking, traction, and other factors from millions of connected vehicles, and sharing that data, these manufacturers are confident that their customers will experience a safer and more enjoyable driving experience.
Data sharing is a technology that can only improve the driving experience, and one that is on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream as it addresses privacy and security concerns regarding data collection, and expands out of the luxury vehicle market.
It’s easy to feel as if innovation in the automobile industry is always five years in the future; environmentally-friendly alternative fuels get plenty of media attention, as do electric vehicles that make tentative forays into the marketplace, while never being enthusiastically embraced by the public. Those are important innovations, and will undoubtedly revolutionize the driving experience when they emerge as fully-formed technologies. Meanwhile, transitional technologies – revolutionary in their own right – are rapidly making inroads into the mainstream, because there is more to a car than its power source. Safety and convenience are what make driving a reassuring and enjoyable experience. That’s at the heart of automotive innovation, and that will never change.