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Get wise to the smart car

By Brian S Hall / December 13, 2013

Get wise to the smart car

Smartphones are ubiquitous. Smart watches are gaining in popularity. Next up, the smart car. Now when I say smart car, I’m not referring to those glorified golf carts you’ve probably seen zooming around your city. I’m talking about the melding of man, machine and computing prowess.

The car, that iconic symbol of the 20th century, is being retooled for the new millennia. The opportunity to profoundly remake cars — and the driving experience — via sensors, computing, smartphones and personalized applications has auto manufacturers, Silicon Valley stalwarts and start-ups eager to bring their visions to reality.

I recently returned from the LA Auto Show, where I saw an amazing array of vehicles. The showrooms included the latest hybrids, multimillion-dollar sports cars from Old Europe, and my personal favorites, American muscle cars like the Corvette Stingray and Chevy Camaro. Design, safety, fuel efficiency and handling have never been better across the industry. And soon, smart cars will leverage technology to deliver a truly personalized driving experience.

Your very own ultimate driving machine

We can already see how smart cars (not Smart cars) are creating a unique bond between man and machine. For example, the new 2014 Honda Civic incorporates elements of Apple’s iOS in the Car, with content and applications pulled directly from the driver’s iPhone; simply touch the connected display to call up Pandora, your contacts or today’s news and entertainment. In addition, the Civic’s display will integrate seamlessly with Siri, making it easier to find directions on the fly or send a hands-free text. This is just the start of a tighter integration between smartphones and cars.

The Push has previously covered how computing technology is taking over our dashboards, but that was just the beginning of the auto industry’s ambitions. As I saw at the LA Auto Show, car manufacturers are attempting to remake the car from the ground up, incorporating the Internet of Things and the very latest personal computing technologies into every inch of your vehicle.

Such efforts should deliver a significant improvement on safety, comfort and convenience, but even more appealing may be how these new smart cars offer a more personalized experience for drivers. Think of how F1 drivers are connected in real-time with their crew, which is analyzing every detail about them and their car, reporting back, making adjustments and altering strategy.

Driver knows car, car knows driver

Toyota is working on a vehicle, the FV2 car-bike hybrid, that will “read” the driver’s emotions. According to the company, the FV2 “enhances the driving experience by connecting with the driver physically and emotionally, becoming more fun to drive the more it is used.” By recognizing voice and facial expressions, the FV2 can make changes based on the driver’s emotional and physical responses.

The vehicle’s windshield is equipped with a display that changes color depending on the driver’s mood. For example, it turns red to offer a visual reminder to not let road rage get the best of you. In addition, the FV2 uses a Segway-like model for steering. Drivers lean to the left, right, back and forward, and the car responds. The intent is a more personal, more responsive bond between car and driver.

In some cases, personal technologies, including wearables, are being directly connected to the car itself. Nissan is working on a Google Glass-like connected eyepiece called 3E. The company remains mum on the purpose of the device, though it seems likely intended to create a tighter integration between car and driver by placing real-time information about the car, the roads and the weather directly in front of the driver’s eye.

This is just one of several personal computing gadgets that Nissan is working on. The company is also building a smartwatch prototype that can both download and review car data, as well as monitor the driver’s heart rate. As these pieces are brought together into a cohesive whole, where the driver and car feedback are delivered to one another in real-time, the driving experience will likely change forever.

Ford is also working on biometric stress detectors to measure a driver’s vital signs, such as pulse and breathing rate while they’re on the road. If the car detects the conditions are bad, it may preemptively stop the driver from placing a call or text, ensuring the focus remains fully on driving.

The smartphone drives the car

Perhaps we should look to our smartphones, not our cars, to better understand the touch screens, task-specific apps, voice commands, cloud connectivity, sensors and optics infiltrating the auto industry. Apple was recently granted a patent for facial recognition technology, leading to rumors about a state-of-the-art security measure.

The technology could also allow iPhones to display timely and personalized information based on who it recognizes is staring back at it. Such innovation could easily make its way into our cars. For example, the car may not operate if it recognizes the driver is intoxicated, or it may place limits on speed and distance depending on the driver’s age.

The smart car is as much computer as it is a mechanical device. When Kiplinger examined how the latest technologies are altering the car industry, it discovered cars that can park themselves, drive themselves, use sensors to monitor road conditions and help prevent accidents, display maps and other data on the windshield and deliver personalized entertainment. Nearly every significant trend is geared toward improving and personalizing the driving experience.

The road ahead

Personal technologies are continuing to evolve at a shocking pace — like wearables that monitor and understand the wearer’s brain waves. Before you know it, the smart car will leap beyond fuel efficiency and safety to become a fully personalized vehicle.

The use of technologies, bio-sensors and real-time data is creating a closer bond between car and driver, allowing both man and machine to learn from and optimize the potential of each other. The result will be a safer, better and more personalized driving experience. Maybe then, engineers can finally start putting some serious thought into the flying cars we’ve been dreaming about since The Jetsons.


Get a thorough overview of the car industry’s future in our Automotive Trend Report.