Self-driving cars are on the way, but these vehicles won’t be widespread for a while yet. However, autonomy is not the only technology that car manufacturers are focusing on. Car makers are developing all kinds of systems that make our cars and driving experience safer, more secure, more convenient and more comfortable. Not all vehicles are available with this tech yet, but it is a good idea to become familiar with what is out there and what new car tech you should be looking for in your next car purchase.
Many vehicles nowadays are offered with safety features such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and blind spot detection as a standard or at least affordable option. With a greater emphasis being put on safety as a selling point for cars we should begin to see more advanced safety tech as standard in the coming years.
Steering Avoidance Systems
Building on these features is steering avoidance technology which enables the car to automatically swerve to avoid objects in the road ahead or keep the car centred in its lane. Volvo5 and Lexus6 already offer this system but more manufacturers are following suit.
Nighttime Pedestrian Detection Systems
Building on automatic emergency braking technology, Ford has developed a nighttime Pedestrian Detection system that uses radar housed in the bumper and a camera mounted in the windscreen to ‘see’ pedestrians in low light. Once a pedestrian is detected, the system uses audible and visual warnings to alert the driver. If the driver does not respond to these warnings, the system automatically applies the brakes.
Ford’s original Pedestrian Detection system first appeared in cars in 20151 but it was limited to daytime use. This more advanced night-time Pedestrian Detection technology can be found on the Ford Fiesta and Mustang and will be introduced to more models soon.
Mercedes-Benz Pre-Safe Sound
Currently found in the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Pre-Safe Sound system makes the car’s occupants an integral part of the safety technology.
Pre-Safe Sound works by triggering a protective physical reflex - known as the stapedius reflex - which protects the occupants’ ears from the expected noise associated with a collision. Basically, when the ear’s stapedius muscle contracts, the connection between the eardrum and the inner ear is weakened. This means that some of the sound pressure is reflected in the eardrum thus decreasing the transmission of vibrational energy to the cochlea and reducing the damage done by loud noises.
Research on the stapedius reflex shows that to trigger the reflex there normally needs to be high sound pressures at around 100 decibels2. However, a tone played at 100 decibels is far too loud to play in a car. Therefore, engineers had to find another way to trigger the reflex. They discovered that if the required energy is spread out across many frequencies it can be transmitted at a much lower volume. They also discovered that the pink noise frequency spectrum ideally suits this purpose.
When the car’s Pre-Safe system detects that an impact is about to happen it plays the pink noise at around 80 decibels. The stapedius reflex is then activated and the ear protects itself from the noise that typically accompanies a collision, which is “a very significant level of noise,” according to Rodolfo Schöneburg, Head of Vehicle Safety, Durability and Corrosion Protection at Mercedes-Benz Cars3.
“It can lead to temporary impairment of hearing – and this is exactly what Pre-Safe Sound works to counteract. Although the system cannot completely prevent the damage caused by an accident, it can help to reduce it.”
Hopefully, it won’t be long before we see such smart technology in mainstream passenger cars and not just luxury cars.
Biometric Vehicle Access
This technology will be most welcome for those of us who keep misplacing our car keys. Soon you will be able to open and start your car using your fingerprints.
The systems are designed to recognise a pulse as well as blood pressure and body temperature. Once the car recognises that it is you and you are alive it will unlock and start up.
You can already buy after-market biometric car access systems online but it looks like it could become a standard feature of cars in the future.
Level 3 Autonomy (Conditional Assistance)
Autonomous driving is such a buzz word and the self-driving car revolution is well underway. However, not all autonomous vehicles are created equal and there are actually six levels of car autonomy. Most cars are currently at Level 0 (no automation) but some cars do have Level 1 (Driver Assistance) systems and even Level 2 (Partial Assistance) systems7. However, Level 3 autonomy systems are already here.
With Level 3 autonomy systems onboard, the vehicle can monitor its surroundings, change lanes, and can control the steering, throttle, and braking in certain situations, such as on motorways. However, the driver must be ready to take back control of the vehicle when required.
The new Audi A8 is the first production car to have Level 3 autonomy4. The Audi A8’s AI Traffic Jam Pilot system manages starting, steering, throttle and braking in slow-moving traffic up to 60km/h on major roads that have a physical barrier separating the two carriageways. When the system reaches its limits the driver is alerted and must take over the driving.
Because of local laws and regulations regarding autonomous diving, Audi has said it will use a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in its production models. But this is something that we should be seeing on more Audi models and other makes of car in the near future.
Just a few years ago, features like Bluetooth, sat-nav, and parking sensors were the domain of premium car brands but these are now standard features in most cars.
When it comes to infotainment systems, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are ubiquitous now and these connectivity systems make the apps you use on your smartphone available every time you get in your car. You just plug in your smartphone and it takes over the infotainment screen presenting you with something that looks very much like your phone’s home screen.
The familiar app icons make it simple to access your music, maps and phone’s built-in voice control features (e.g. calls and SMS). WhatsApp is also integrated into Apple CarPlay and when a message comes through the car will read out the message and you can reply using your voice. So there is no excuse to touch or even look at your phone when you are driving thus increasing safety and reducing distractions and risks.
Wireless charging is also appearing in more and more new cars as the number of smartphone handsets with this capability increases. This means you no longer need a cable to charge up your phone or to connect your phone to the infotainment system. Again, simplifying connectivity and making everything more convenient.
Connected Mobile Apps
Building on the advanced smartphone connectivity, many manufacturers are offering apps that help control the way we interact with our cars.
Many smartphone apps allow you to remotely lock and unlock the car doors, turn on the air-con or heating before you get into the car, check the fuel and oil levels and tyre pressure, and some even allow you to remotely start the car. If you have an electric vehicle, many apps will show you the car’s range and charging times, as well as the nearest charging point.
As you can see, car technology has come a long way and is advancing at an ever fast pace. There are exciting developments that you’ll see in future cars as well as some clever new technology already in use. So when it comes to your next car purchase, you can consider looking at the car’s technological features as well as under the bonnet at its mechanical bits.
This guidance is for general information purposes only. Allianz accepts no responsibility or liability for any losses that may arise from any reliance upon the information contained in this guidance. Allianz are not affiliated with any Electric Vehicle manufacturers.
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