Need A Massage On The Road? Cars Of The Future Will Be Able To Do Much More Than Just Drive
Soon you might not need to visit your doctor. You’ll just slide onto your car seat and let the motor do your diagnosis. In the next five to 10 years, exciting new technological advances are destined for the road: sensors that monitor your health, others that control the car; automobiles that actually talk to one another; smart highways that allow you to ride people’s bumpers in perfect safety; airbags that actually prevent an accident; and windscreens that tell you which way to turn. And if all that sounds complicated, why not just leave it to your AI butler?
Driver Health Monitoring
As well as getting you from point A to B, cars could soon act as your personal physician. Many major carmakers are working on intelligent seats and other biosensor-based equipment to monitor the driver’s vital signs.
Backrest-embedded electrocardiographic sensors, which do not require contact with the skin, monitor the heart, while cockpit cameras can monitor eye movement. If the driver falls asleep, the car can wake them up. If they suffer a major incident, such as a stroke or heart attack, the car can alert emergency medical services and relatives—and, combined with autonomous pilot technology, the car could take control and drive to the hospital or place of safety.
In addition, Ford is working on cloud-based technology and apps linked to wearables that can detect and manage allergies, asthma and diabetes. Diabetics, for example, will be able to monitor their glucose levels via a dashboard report rather than relying on a smartphone or another screen that would force them to take their eyes off the road. Should the driver’s condition take a turn for the worse, medics can be connected in real-time to provide alerts, advice and assistance.
The dangers of suffering a major health event at the wheel are obvious, but crashes are more often caused by loss of concentration, stress or drink-driving. Sensors can be used to check blood alcohol levels, and effectively take the keys away from the driver if needed.
Biometric “active wellness” seats monitor energy levels and respiration, and respond by delivering a specific in-seat massage along with increased airflow through the seat’s ventilation system. If you’re tired, you’ll receive an energising backrub or, if you’re stressed, a relaxing one. You may find you never want to leave the car.
(Related: 7 Sleep Gadgets To Help You Sleep Better)
Nissan is developing a way to help motorists execute evasive manoeuvres faster using brainwave technology. A brain-to-vehicle interface can alert a car with semi‑autonomous capabilities, if its driver wishes to brake suddenly or swerve, between 0.2 and 0.5sec quicker than a driver’s physical input, dramatically reducing stopping distances. This technology currently requires the driver to don an electroencephalography, or EEG, headset with electrodes pressed against the scalp. Also, the system has many potential override issues, meaning we’re at least a decade away from the widespread use of such technology.
Volvo is a long way into trialling a system that sends alerts from one car to another about, say, slippery surfaces ahead or a moose blocking the road. Soon, across all carmakers, we could see vehicle-to-vehicle communication that monitors not only hazards in the vicinity but also the movement of all other road users in real time.
With a capability range of about 300m, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, or V2V, works by using wireless signals to send information back and forth between cars about their location, speed and direction. This information allows semi-autonomous cars to keep a safe distance from each other. Algorithms determine the best evasive measures. If a car runs a red light, you might not see it but your car gets a signal alerting it to the danger, allowing it to hit the brakes automatically to avoid a collision. Studies in the US suggest V2V could reduce collisions by up to 79 per cent.
Augmented reality dashboards
Heads-up displays have been around for years, but BMW is looking at ways to take windscreen information a lot further. Like looking through the eyes of the Terminator, graphics could soon appear in front of the driver alerting them to hazards, braking distances, blind spots, performance and satellite navigation. If an off-ramp ahead suddenly turns blue, highlighted by augmented reality (AR), you’ll have no excuse for missing your turn. This AR display overlays information on top of what the driver is seeing in real life, alerting them to all manner of things without them having to take their eyes off the road.
BMW is also researching the use of AR glasses for mechanics. Just by looking at the engine, the glasses can illustrate to the technician what parts need replacing, and take them through the process step by step. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, why bother taking the car to the garage? Fix it yourself.
Airbags are the biggest advancement in safety since the seatbelt, and soon they could help stop accidents from even happening. Mercedes-Benz is experimenting with an airbag under the car. If the vehicle senses you’re about to crash, it will not only automatically override the driver and slam on the brakes, it will also—at the last split-second—trigger the floor airbag, which has a friction coating, lifting the wheels off the ground and halving the car’s stopping distance. The bag lifts the car about 8cm, countering the car’s dipping motion under hard braking; improves bumper-to-bumper contact; and helps prevent passengers from sliding under seatbelts during a collision.
Not only does it look cool—like you’re in a presidential motorcade—but platooning eases traffic flow, improves fuel economy due to reduced drag, and increases road capacity. Using either an automated highway system or electronic coupling, platooning allows a convoy of vehicles to follow just inches from one another, maintaining speed and accelerating and braking simultaneously.
Current research suggests platoons could number up to 25 cars, and Volvo has successfully trialled platooning at speeds up to 90km/h. Platooning systems are being developed by Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen and Toyota, as well as a large number of truck manufacturers.