Smarter Cars: 9 Tech Trends - InformationWeek

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7/30/2014
12:32 PM
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Smarter Cars: 9 Tech Trends

Can your car wake you up if you get sleepy behind the wheel? Or recommend a good Mexican restaurant? These nine technologies will soon change the way we think about cars.
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Current market safety sensors
If you have shopped for a brand new car in the last few years, especially a luxury car, you've started to see this trend in action. Parking assist and backup cameras are yesterday's news. Increasingly, we're seeing cars with lane control, active cruise control, tailgating warnings, braking assist, and collision prevention technology. They all rely on a series of external sensors (usually a combination of radar and visual sensors) to determine how close an object is. The sensors usually give an audio cue followed by automated intervention. Braking assist (pictured) is one of the best examples as it really makes simple use of technology to prevent the most common of collisions. A newer application of this technology is active cruise control, which decelerates slightly for you when you are approaching a slower car. While none of this technology can prevent sudden violent movements that sometimes cause accidents, they can prevent minor careless mistakes from turning into bigger tragedies. One technology coming down the pike is 3D imaging using lasers that will make all of these technologies even more accurate and useful.

Current market safety sensors
If you have shopped for a brand new car in the last few years, especially a luxury car, you've started to see this trend in action. Parking assist and backup cameras are yesterday's news. Increasingly, we're seeing cars with lane control, active cruise control, tailgating warnings, braking assist, and collision prevention technology. They all rely on a series of external sensors (usually a combination of radar and visual sensors) to determine how close an object is. The sensors usually give an audio cue followed by automated intervention. Braking assist (pictured) is one of the best examples as it really makes simple use of technology to prevent the most common of collisions. A newer application of this technology is active cruise control, which decelerates slightly for you when you are approaching a slower car. While none of this technology can prevent sudden violent movements that sometimes cause accidents, they can prevent minor careless mistakes from turning into bigger tragedies. One technology coming down the pike is 3D imaging using lasers that will make all of these technologies even more accurate and useful.

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
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7/30/2014 | 3:26:27 PM
External airbags
While I see the intention, I just can't imagine external airbags would be safe for surrounding cars trying to avoid an accident.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
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7/30/2014 | 3:44:39 PM
Re: External airbags
@Kristin Burnham- That's certainly one of the issues, but with accident avoidance sensors in every car (hopefully in the near future) it changes the equation.

Imagine a situation where every car within the range of an accident knows what is happening. Some cars realize they can't avoid the accident (maybe a car slid on ice or something). Those cars deploy the airbags. Some cars realize they can avoid it based on the signals from the various cars, Those cars use assisted braking to stop.

And those few cars that can't totally avoid it, but can slow down a lot can bounce harmlessly off the external airbags. 

My biggesr concern is the expense. When an airbag goes off in a car now, it is a several hundred dollar repair. i would expect replacing the airbags across a whole car could be several thousand dollars. You'd have to make sure they only deployed when the property damage or hazard to life warranted the deployment. 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
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7/30/2014 | 4:12:58 PM
Talking not just to me ...
Do you think these cars are also going to be talking to insurance companies, at some point, with or without the owner's permission? 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
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7/30/2014 | 5:55:49 PM
Re: Talking not just to me ...
@Lorna- Probably. Considering several insurance companies have already started voluntary programs using sensors to judge driving, I can imagine they'd want to expand the program. But interestingly, as cars get better at avoiding accidents for us, it will matter less and less to insurance companies how we drive. 

And actually consider this-- If Google starts driving my car 24/7, whjy should i carry insurance? Shouldn't Google? They're driving.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 6:40:17 PM
Re: External airbags
@Kristen-I had the same thought reading about those external airbags. If those popped out on a car near me I'd probably have a heart attack and cause a far worse accident. 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 6:43:36 PM
Re: External airbags
@David:  i would expect replacing the airbags across a whole car could be several thousand dollars.

This is true, though that is also what it cost me in repairs when my car (not dear Mabel) encountered an automobile-eating pole in our office parking lot.

While life and limb were unharmed, the car sustained absurdly expensive damage. Perhaps a less costly shield could be created for those low-impact situations for drivers like me who have, er, spatial reasoning challenges?
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 6:48:20 PM
Mabel the MINI
@David: thank you for immortalizing my beloved Mabel the MINI! (Cooper S, 2005, Harmon Kardon stereo package, runflat tires, sport suspension, same transmission as an audi TT...How I loved that car.)

Anyway, what I really want to know is where is my flying car?!?

I mean, all these tech advances are very nice, but I feel cheated. I was promised by every piece of science fiction I read as a kid that we'd have flying cars by now. What's the holdup?
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/31/2014 | 10:09:46 AM
Re: Talking not just to me ...
I have heard discussion about that -- and when ALL cars are self driving, accidents will probably be drastically reduced, so insurance as an industry will be disrupted. Even theft will likely be minimized, as you can program your car to work only for select people. We could install breathalyzers.

It's the transition that will be tough, when you have a mix of humans and computers on the road. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/31/2014 | 12:25:51 PM
Re: Smarter Cars: 9 Tech Trends
However, the idea of having a driverless car is one that I don't think I will ever reconcile myself with. Automated? Maybe, but never driverless. Not even Google (they are trying out driverless cars by the way) can predict everything and design a car that can handle all that so human intuition and instinct will always have an edge!

@sachinEE- It is interesting. I generally feel the same way, and yet Americans alone have about 11 million car accidents per year. Most drivers will be involved in multiple car accidents in their lifetime.

I am constantly amazed by the human brain and intuition. But the brain can only act on what it can see. Connected cars will be able to see farther down the road than a person. They'll be able to see what other cars are doing, sometimes before they start doing it. Self-driving cars will never eliminate accidents. Mechanical failures, environmental surprises (ice, nails on the road, etc), and software failures will still cause accidents.

But I'm guessing human intuition eventually gets beaten by extending the knowledge of the car beyond the point of human ability.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
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7/31/2014 | 12:28:42 PM
Re: Who's responsible when something fails
@rmanske53101- I'm pretty sure the argument you're making has been made for smart phones and tablets. I'm pretty sure before that it was made for scheduling software like Outlook. Before that it was probably made for alarm clocks and regular telephones and radio and all sorts of things.

What happens when technology changes human behavior? We adapt to it.
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