Not so long ago, key fobs that allowed drivers to unlock their cars remotely were cutting-edge technology. Now, new technologies come out with each new model year, making cars safer and more convenient and sometimes radically changing the way drivers interact with their vehicles. Here are 12 technologies that are currently changing the way we drive and use our cars daily.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Cruise control was a significant step forward in car technology that impacted how people drive. The original cruise control technology allowed you to set how fast your car should drive; however, the driver had to be ready to brake and adjust their speed to the flow of traffic. Now, adaptive cruise control maintains your desired distance from the car in front of you by adjusting the speed your vehicle is traveling. Some systems will even bring the car to a complete stop and then bring the car back up to speed in stop-and-go traffic situations.
Automatic Forward-Collision Braking
Imagine that the car in front you suddenly slams on the brakes. If you are driving a newer car, your car might respond in a couple of different ways. Your car might warn you: This is a forward-collision warning system. The car might also apply the brakes for you in an attempt to avoid a collision. Automatic braking is standard on new automobiles ranging from economy sub-compacts to luxury cars, and it can help keep you out of an accident.
Lane Keep Assist
Lane departure warning systems were introduced several years ago and work by warning drivers when the car begins to drift out of its lane. The new generation of this technology, lane keep assist, lets the car steer itself back into the lane to avoid running off the road or into something. Road conditions can impact the effectiveness of lane keep assist, though; on roads where the lanes aren’t well-marked, the car can’t determine where the lane is, so lane keep assist will not activate if the car begins to drift.
Ever been driving down an unfamiliar road when the speed limit changed drastically with little notice? Cars equipped with sign recognition scan the road ahead for street signs and then feed the information to the driver via a screen on the car’s dashboard. Not only are drivers warned about changes to the speed limit but also to road work ahead and other critical information.
Steering assist is currently only offered on top-of-the-line luxury vehicles but will soon start trickling down to mid-range and economy cars. Steering assist is one step down from a vehicle equipped with autopilot. When the car senses danger, it will take over control of the vehicle using information from all of its data points (cameras, sensors, etc.). Unlike cars with autopilot, cars with steering assist quickly return control of the vehicle to the driver.
Backup cameras are now required by federal law in all new passenger cars weighing less than 10,000 pounds. The law was enacted to prevent drivers from running over children who are too small to be seen in standard rearview mirrors. The cameras can also help keep drivers from backing into curbs, garbage cans, and other hard-to-see obstacles. Backup cameras can also make parallel parking much easier: Automatic parking systems access backup cameras as data points for cars capable of self-parking.
Have you ever stared at a parking spot and tried to puzzle out whether your car will fit in the space? Cars equipped with automatic parking systems determine whether the vehicle will fit and then maneuver the vehicle into the spot. Some vehicles equipped with this feature require the driver to apply the gas and brakes, while other cars handle the entire maneuver autonomously.
While other car manufacturers have focused on individual components of the automobile autopilot experience, like automatic braking or adaptive cruise control, Tesla has released a car that combines all of these features into an autopilot mode. However, Tesla advises drivers using this feature to keep their hands on the wheel, and people who have driven cars with the autopilot feature describe the experience more as the next level of cruise control than as a wholly automated driving experience.
For a long time, the only relationship between mobile phones and cars consisted of using the car’s cigarette lighter to charge the phone. Now, advances in technology like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allow smartphones to integrate with the car’s computer, radio, and other systems. With a few voice commands, the driver can access navigational information, place a phone call, have a text message read out loud, and use other hands-free functions without ever touching or looking at their phones.
Ever approached a hatchback with your arms full and need to open the back of the car? Ford introduced an automatic liftgate that can be operated by foot, and many cars will now open the liftgate when the key fob is pressed.
Traffic Light Prediction
Who hasn’t sat at a red light wondering when it will change to green? Now, some top-of-the-line cars are equipped with a wireless connection that accesses traffic signal information from the municipality’s traffic management system. The vehicle can then provides a countdown to the driver showing when the light will turn green. As of 2018, 1,600 intersections in the United States were able to communicate this information to equipped vehicles.
Electric Fast Charging
One issue holding drivers back from embracing electric cars has been the time it takes to recharge a vehicle. But now, charging is faster than ever. With some vehicles, a 20-minute charge can provide the power for 50-90 miles of driving. Fast charging stations are popping up around the country, so it’s now possible to top off your car’s charge while you buy groceries, eat dinner, or pick up a coffee. However, not all electric vehicles are compatible with all charging stations. Websites like Plugshare help drivers find nearby charging stations compatible with their car.