Up to 10 percent of the cost of a new car now comes from infotainment technology designed to enhance the user experience. The rapid advancement of these technologies can seem dizzying, but auto manufacturers are now applying research about our smartphone habits to new in-car tech in order to reduce the learning curve for users. Here are some of the pointy-end technologies coming our way.
Think twice before flipping the bird to that driver who cut you off – your car could be watching. Gesture controls will bring a new level of meaning to your motions, in an effort to make the command interface as intuitive as possible and reduce driver distraction. BMW will have you point and twirl a finger to change volume, Jeep has prototyped eyeball mapping, while Google is attempting to patent (non-vulgar) driving gestures. It all suggests gesture controls are the future.
Haptic touchscreens with pinch-to-zoom controls are replacing static touchscreens, as car companies react to consumer frustration with non-responsive screen-jabbing while driving. Pinch-to-zoom, though, requires the same fingers you’d use to turn an old-school knob, as well as vision, which begs the question: Why not just revisit knobs and buttons? Because techies love their screens.
Remote control and remote monitoring hit the big time when Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk used a remote read-out to prove that an American journalist deliberately drove his Tesla Model S in circles to run the battery flat. Auto companies are constantly looking to extend an owner’s relationship with their car, and the ability to play with its technology even when you’re not sitting in it is a big part of that. Remote controls can have functions like Curfew Control, to let you know when another driver has the car (parents of teens take note), as well as service functions that remind and assist you to service, park or charge your car.
A compelling extension of service monitoring is eCall, a European system that not only automatically dials emergency agencies in the event of a serious accident, but also sends information from the car’s impact sensors, as well as GPS coordinates, to give responders a detailed overview of the situation. Research suggests eCall might reduce response times by up to 50 per cent in rural areas, so it could be a vital piece of safety tech. The EU has decreed that eCall be fitted to all new vehicles by the end of 2015.
PERSONALISATION AND THE HUMBLE RADIO
The advent of streaming internet radio that can integrate with your personal stored music library has delivered a wealth of new listening options like customised stations and apps that can identify the sample origins of your tunes, what your favourite artist is listening to, and how many ways people can botch up Stairway to Heaven. But using only your existing music and preferences creates a closed loop; an audio system attuned only to what you already like means you are unlikely to expand your musical horizons.
This could all change with Entourage Radio, an innovation designed by Gracenote and due in production cars by 2017. Entourage gives context to your drive by linking your stored musical preferences with local radio stations, allowing your road-trip soundtrack to reflect the areas you are driving through by locating simpatico stations, without repeating the music you already have and without you needing to scan. In the words of Gracenote: “We're adding an intelligent layer that helps identify what songs are being played and the source. Once you identify what a driver is listening to you can create entirely new experiences across multiple music sources from AM/FM radio.” Entourage will feature smaller local stations and in the process help lesser-known local talent be heard.
The modern-day car is the single most complicated and technologically advanced consumer good in history, packed with more features than the average owner will ever know. No longer just an appliance to get us quickly from A to B, our cars are now becoming mechanics, babysitters, music curators, care-bringers and respondents to a driver-led interpretive dance of control.