Self-driving cars garner much of the attention, but in reality, we’re years away from tooling around in something like Knight Rider’s KITT. Coming sooner to a car near you: smartphone apps on dash displays, cruise control that adapts to cars around it, remote engine starting and more.
At International CES in Las Vegas this week, 10 automakers and numerous suppliers unveiled technological features that will find their way into cars in the distant and not-so-distant future. Here’s a look at some of their wares.
Your car will think. It will react. It will learn.
“This car will take responsibility,” said Dieter Zetsche, leader of Mercedes-Benz, as he introduced the company’s luxury self-driving concept car of the future.
If that sounds a bit scary, like the prologue to a film in which machines overtake mankind, companies supplying the brains and eyes for these robocars say it’s for our own good. Cars already do some of these things, really. Anti-lock brake systems, cruise control and parallel parking assistance are steps toward taking our hands completely off the wheel.
There are 1.2 million traffic-related deaths globally each year, according to the World Health Organization; 32,719 of them were in the U.S. in 2013. As automakers point out, your self-driving car won’t get drunk, tired or distracted. And they could return something many other gadgets have taken away: time.
First, “the car has to become self-aware. It has to be able to see and understand what’s happening around it,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and CEO of Nvidia, which introduced a super-fast processor at the show and has been working with Audi to develop piloted systems and in-car digital displays.
Audi touted a road trip that its A7 piloted prototype ? piloted because there still needs to be a driver behind the wheel to assure nothing goes awry ? took from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas for the show, without incident, “driven” by chosen journalists sitting behind the wheel.
“We are ready for piloted driving on public streets,” said Ulrich Hackenberg from Audi’s board of management.
But laws that would allow such autonomy aren’t quite ready; neither are answers to questions such as: Can someone sue a driverless car if it’s in a crash? If it can’t avoid a crash, how will it decide what or whom to crash into? Can a car be hacked and if so, how can it be protected?
Carmakers and suppliers admit there’s still quite a bit they and their cars are learning. Mercedes-Benz says their ultimate vision of the future ? a sleek carriage that will ferry us to our destinations ? exists beyond 2030, at least.
For now, though, your car might be able to know:
Where you’re shopping
Ask Chevrolet’s OnStar system for directions to the nearest Dunkin Donuts, and you might receive a coupon. The carmaker has partnered with the doughnut chain, Priceline.com and the Speedway brand of gas stations for opt-in promotions.
The service can mine data in the car to offer advice on systems that might be close to failing, like a near-dead battery or a fuel system malfunction. Pass along your real-time driving habits to your insurer, and you might earn rewards for good driving.