Some of the biggest changes in the history of the car are set to debut in the next year or so. Not only are we introducing amazing new automated safety features like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind spot monitoring and smart cruise control, but we’re also getting vehicles that are more connected on an entertainment front too.
This all comes thanks to improved hardware and software, putting our cars through the same revolution that our phones went through around a decade ago. In the same way that feature phones became smartphones, our cars are about to becoming incredibly smart too and it’s thanks to a bunch of technology beyond the sensors themselves, that’s going to enable us to do all these exciting things and a lot more.
This article is going to be about all those other improvements we can expect in the next few years, that aren’t talked about quite as often and maybe a few speculative technologies too. Feel free to let us know about any ideas you have for future technologies in the comment section below.
Much faster processing
People have been putting computers into their cars for years as aftermarket modifications. Watch any episode of Pimp My Ride from the ’00s and you’ll see them adding a mini-PC or old school tablet. It’s an extravagant thing back then because it needed a lot of space, it added extra weight and often it was to give the vehicle functions that just weren’t that important.
Today though, there’s a really good reason to have a computer in your car, as there’s loads of functions coming up that need serious processing power. Fortunately, there’s much smaller systems now than the desktop PC that Xhibit and his crew used. In-fact, they’re SOCs or system-on-chips, which are incredibly powerful. Take Nvidia’s line of Tegra processors, like the K1, which featured in its Shield tablet and a few vehicles around the world. Or how about its latest X1 Tegra chip, which is being shown off at CES at the moment. It has about double the processing power of its predecessor and is more efficient too. This is going to be the powerhorse of the next-generation of connected vehicles.
As well as having a lot of processing power however, the really exciting thing about it is that it’s interchangeable with the last generation chip. That means that during the development of a vehicle – which can take three or more years – the manufacturer can interchange the latest Tegra line of processors. That means that the latest cars will actually come with the latest tech, instead of being 2-3 years behind like they have been in the past. This is what will allow companies to experiment with much more advanced technological features in their vehicles.
It’s also what’s helping pave the way for the new connected car features like automated monitoring systems and safety features. The Tegra X1, is capable of keeping an eye on up to 12 HD cameras at once, theoretically giving vehicles all sorts of potential improvements, like:
Loads more displays
While far from as complicated as rendering a 3D scene, running a display is not exactly resource free. The fact that full colour displays only really came into their own over the past ten years or so with smartphones should tell you that. They take plenty of battery life and they take plenty of power. With the new Tegra chips (and their contemporaries) there’s a huge potential for display technology be be used more in cars. For example, most new-generations of vehicles coming out in the next year or so, will come with a large touch screen interface instead of a head unit. These can vary in size, but some, like the new Tesla Model S come with ones as big as 17 inches. With fancy menus and effects, that takes some real processing power to achieve. But we’re only getting started.
There’s also the potential for more displays in the rear of the car for passengers to interact with. They could also potentially be controlled by the display in the front of the car, letting parents keep an eye on what their children are watching.
Perhaps one of the biggest innovations with regards to displays however, could be increasing our view of the outside world. Mirrors do a fine job on their own of giving us views behind and to the sides of our vehicle, but if those mirrors were instead replaced with HD cameras, perhaps with an infrared function, with the feed for each being displayed on an interior LED screen, suddenly the vehicle itself is more aerodynamic and the driver has a much better view of the outside world.
Theoretically this could also be done with the windscreen. While that seems unlikely as it would add a lot of expenditure, it’s something that’s worth considering with fully automated vehicles. It would be like having a living room TV in your car with you for entertainment purposes. Then, using the cameras on the front of the car, if for whatever reason you wanted to take a look at your surroundings, you could switch over to the live feed.
What is more likely in the short term however, is leveraging a lot of that power from Nvidia and its contemporaries processors, to give us an augmented windscreen experience. Projecting imagery onto the screen like directions, or giving indicators for gesture controls or media functions. Other information could also be highlighted to improve the safety of the driver and the car’s other occupants. For example, people, animals or objects that the onboard system predicts may be about to cross into the road could be highlighted. Along with an alarm buzzer or similar to draw attention to it, this could be a handy safety feature that is only really possible with the introduction of new display technologies in the vehicle.
New types of entertainment
If there’s one thing that the smartphone industry has told us, its that new mediums breed new forms of entertainment. What was once considered casual gaming has been adopted by smartphone developers and turned into one of the world’s biggest industries. It helped popularise free to play gaming, casual multiplayer interactions in instanced environments and so much more. The same could easily happen with in-car entertainment.
Traditionally, entertainment in the car has been limited to the radio, CDs and MP3s. However in the near future with CarPlay and Android Auto giving us much more connected ways to entertain ourselves, there’s going to be a whole host of options available to us. Of course there will be the podcasts, streaming music and curated content that will make listening that much better, but what about more engaged and interactive media? This will come in to play when the cars can take over in certain situations for us. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, someone will come out with an application to kill time during it and the fact that you’re in a car is unique. Perhaps new games will emerge where you can interact with other nearby drivers? Maybe you can play eye spy with everyone on the motorway with you? The possibilities are there for some real, new types of connected entertainment that weren’t possible before.
Of course, any such media will need to be designed to not distract the driver. That much is a given, but when we’re eventually at a stage where the cars are driving themselves for large portions of our journey, it only makes sense that we develop new forms of entertainment to consume on the road. Perhaps music could be geotagged to certain locations so what you listen to as you drive around are local bands and artists? Perhaps there could be a way for people who are entertainers to give people a live show when they’re stuck in traffic?
And of course there’s that giant TV for a windscreen that we talked about. How about watching a movie on that while you travel up the motorway? Sounds fun to me.
These are all potentially horrible ideas and I’m sure smarter people than me will be able to come up with something better, but the potential is there for whole new kinds of entertainment that are designed around being in a car and having some time to kill.
Here’s one that doesn’t get discussed much. How fast can your car go when maxed out? 110? 120? Maybe up to 140 miles per hour if has a decent size engine and there are many vehicles which can go much faster than that. Of course very few countries around the world allow you to drive such speeds legally and cars don’t tend to be particularly at efficient such speeds either. The reason for both those things, is that the cars are designed to drive at much slower speeds, because those are speeds that humans can safely drive a car at.
And indeed, autonomous cars can’t really drive at speed on open roads yet, but they will be able to one day. Audi has already shown us that with pre-loaded track information and enough time to become acclimatised to it, a piloted car can hit speeds that are close to those of professional drivers. What then happens when we’re all driving automated and inter-connected vehicles? As well as being more efficient and much safer, cars could conceivably be given the go ahead to travel much faster and could be designed with such types of travel in mind.
We could have motorways that allow for 100 miles per hour or more speed settings (they wouldn’t be limits when the cars do exactly what they’re told) There could be dedicated lanes for ultra-fast cars that are used for specific purposes like emergency vehicles or food delivery. While it seems unlikely that many cars are going to be travelling as such speeds on smaller roads, even when well connected, there is the potential for much faster A road and motorway travel, simply because it will be much safer than it is today and entirely possible.
Suddenly that changes things a lot, making public transport like trains less viable – though of course automated vehicles will make all sorts of transport, like taxis and buses, a very different prospect.
It’s expected that with the connected car, we won’t need to own one anymore. We may co-own one with people on our street, but 20-30 years from now, there won’t be much point in owning your own car, especially near a big city where an automated vehicle will only be a quick call away. Thanks to the lack of a driver, the payment for such a “taxi” service will be far less and it will be far more convenient, entertaining and faster as we have pointed out above.
Similarly so, while public transport may suffer in some senses, the introduction of driverless trains and buses will also make them much more viable means of getting around, because they’ll be more reliable, cheaper and faster too.
Sure some people will still own cars. Some of them will be “classic,” petrol or diesel vehicles from decades past. Those will be the enthusiasts, the petrol-heads, the same as the ones you see today driving around cars from the 60’s or before. They will end up getting taxed to high-heaven for the unclean fuel they’re burning for their hobby, but for the most part they’ll be a minority, especially in Western nations.
So there you go. Connected cars are going to change our society in a huge number of ways, in terms of entertainment, convenience, technology and in the way we see the world. When we’re being taxied around by AI all day, it’s going to give us a very different perspective on things than we have today and our children will grow up in a very different world.
Are there any big changes that you can think of that we haven’t mentioned? Let us know below.
Image source: TrailersoftheEastCoast