They say we’ll have self-driving cars in the future. Well, in many ways, the future is already here.
Automotive technology is advancing every day to make driving safer, easier and more pleasant. Several of those futuristic features are already standard in today’s vehicles, or soon will be.
Though Uber expects to have its Elevate pilot running in Los Angeles and Dubai by 2020, flying cars are not yet a thing. But there are plenty of cars on the road that will steer, hit the gas and even take the wheel to avoid crashes for you, among other things.
Some examples include:
• Adaptive cruise control. Using a combination of lasers, radar and cameras, this technology helps drivers keep a safe, constant following distance away from the car ahead. It can slow down and accelerate with the pace of traffic, and even slow to a complete stop if traffic stalls, then come up to speed when traffic gets rolling again. The driver merely steers.
• Semi-autonomous driving. Often used in combination with adaptive cruise control, this technology registers lane markers, then uses them to gently guide the driver’s steering to stay safely within the designated lane.
• Crash avoidance systems. This ever-advancing technology uses radar, laser or cameras to detect oncoming crashes. They can either warn the driver or take over, applying the brakes, steering to safety or a combination of both. Crash avoidance technology is often paired with adaptive cruise control and piggybacks on the same technology.
• Self-parking cars. This feature takes care of one of the most daunting driving maneuvers – the parallel park. Though it’s not a new feature, (Toyota first installed it in Japanese Prius models in 2003), it keeps getting better and more readily available. It coordinates control of the car’s speed and steering, and applies them to its exact surrounding environment to make the most efficient, safe use of available parking space.
• Blind spot and lane-change assistance. Roughly a quarter of all collisions happen when a vehicle is changing lanes. With this technology, warning lights let the driver know when there is a vehicle in his or her blind spot, or when there is traffic approaching quickly from behind, helping them better assess how and when to change lanes.
• Top-view camera. And you thought the rear backup camera was cool. The top-view camera gives the driver a 360-degree panorama view surrounding the vehicle as well as a bird's-eye view of the car, along with any nearby road markings, curbs, obstacles or pedestrians. The moving images show up on the car dashboard display in real time, and audio signals let the driver know if the car gets too close to something it might hit. The cameras are designed to prevent pedestrian deaths and injuries, as well as minor vehicle damage.
• Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. It’s considered the gold standard of the so-called “infotainment” options that pull together connectivity, apps, smartphone integration and GPS navigation. It’s intuitively controlled with a yacht-style gear selector, which the driver manipulates with gestures, taps and swipes. Its most compelling feature is its navigation view, which shows your driving route within a high-resolution Google Maps layout in your dash.
• Driver alert control. This feature learns the driver’s style, while keeping an eye on the road ahead and monitoring steering inputs. If the driving patterns register as more erratic, signal that the driver might be drowsy or distracted, the car will emit a warning sound and a message in the instrument panel. The warning feature kicks in when the driver reaches speeds over 40 miles per hour.