America has a well-known love affair with the open road — and it’s a good thing, because we’re also known for spending a lot of time in our cars. According to DOT statistics, the average driver logs 13,476 miles per year (that’s 37 miles a day) and spends 34 hours a year sitting in traffic, a figure that has more than doubled in the last 30 years.
So if our cars are essentially second homes, shouldn’t they be awesome places to live?
Luckily for us, recent technological innovations have made our drive time happier and more comfortable than ever. Let’s take a look at some of the tech innovations that are changing the way we drive, for the better.
Thanks to the development of Internet of Things-enabled microchips (IoT), today’s drivers can step into the driver’s seat to find it perfectly positioned, the temperature already set and a favorite Spotify playlist pouring out of the speakers. The car’s head unit (the in-car touch screen tablet) awaits your command. You say, “Find me a sushi restaurant,” and a route to the nearest five-star Yelp-rated establishment appears ready for your enjoyment.
Tesla’s Model S electric car is an industry leader in this space and, while it looks pretty futuristic, the technologies in this car will soon be commonplace in every high-end vehicle. A 17-inch touch-screen control panel gives drivers fingertip control over the car’s systems, from the suspension’s ride height to Internet radio and traffic-based navigation.
This connected technology extends beyond the driver, too. Cars that serve as a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot are already on the road, with the Audi A3 stealing the march, but GM and Volvo are following quickly behind. That five-hour road trip to visit the in-laws you’ve been dreading? Now you can play your favorite video game on your laptop the whole way there (while your significant other drives, of course).
The Smartest Car On The Road
Connected car technology that allows cars to “talk” to one another regarding speed, location, direction of travel, braking, lane changes and more will likely be a reality (at least on highways) by the end of the decade. That’s because earlier this year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) fast-tracked the submission of a proposal requiring all new cars to be manufactured with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication capability. Named by MIT Technology Review as one of the biggest tech breakthroughs of 2015, V2V communication is not just a pipe dream.
These “connected cars” (or “talking cars” as they’re sometimes called) will have a communication range of about 1,000 feet (or about 10 seconds on the highway). Cars will be able to give and receive data in real-time, allowing drivers — or the driver’s car, rather — to react immediately. So when a vehicle is braking way ahead of you on a busy highway, the brake signal is picked up wirelessly by your car, which will then brake accordingly, avoiding an accident. A Wi-Fi-like, 5.9 GHz spectrum is already reserved for V2V communication on roadways and is equipped to avoid radio interference.
V2V technology is not only incredibly useful, it is also potentially lifesaving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than half a million accidents can be avoided and more than 1,000 lives saved annually in the U.S. alone by V2V communication.
And because about 90 percent of crashes are caused by human error, the potential impact of V2V communication is enormous, with a 70-80 percent estimated reduction in crashes involving unimpaired drivers.
The modern world is about to get cars and highways to synch up, bringing the American dream of the wide-open highway right back to life.
Major car companies, including Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, are involved in the University of Michigan’s Mcity, a 32-acre pretend city where car makers can test and improve their self-driving cars, such as the 2017 Cadillac CTS. The fake downtown Mcity features four miles of roadway interspersed with city blocks, suburban streets, rural roads, freeways, ramps and roundabouts that will help engineers enable the V2V–equipped cars to respond to typical roadway situations.
According to GM, which is participating in the Mcity project, it will take about five years of V2V production in new cars for it to be workable on the roadways. It simply won’t work if too few cars have the communication technology. It would be like trying to text someone who doesn’t have a smartphone.
Smart Cars “Talk the Talk”
It’s not just that cars are talking to each other — they’re talking to nearly everything on the roadway. Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems will allow vehicles to communicate to traffic signals or other stationary devices such as toll booths and freeway ramp signals, so a driver knows when a detour is necessary. Once V2V technology is in enough cars, the accompanying V2I capability will create a vast network of roadway connectivity, like an “Internet of cars.”
V2I capability will allow cars to give and receive data in real time so that a driver can change his route accordingly. This means not only less-congested roads and fewer emissions, but also a considerable decrease in collisions.
V2I applications could mean such driving benefits as knowing when there’s considerable ice accumulation on a bridge, warnings of stand-still traffic or advisories of nearby emergency vehicles and road work zones.
A Smart Car Future
As a fan of technology and innovation, I’m inspired by the possibilities of connected vehicles and intelligent highways. While there are legitimate concerns about privacy and hacking, we’ve come a long way toward safer, more efficient transportation and we are clearly speeding toward a smarter future. In other words, the modern world is about to get cars and highways to synch up, bringing the American dream of the wide-open highway right back to life.