Your Car is the Next Smartphone Accessory
The Ford B-Max car will be able to support MirrorLink technology, which feeds data such as speed, location and even weather from the car to a smartphone.
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Cars are rapidly becoming computers on wheels. Electronics and software control nearly every working part in a car, from the engine to the gas gauge to the window. Cars have sensors and know how to parallel park. Many vehicles are connected to the Internet to stream movies and provide maps and other location services. As these systems mature, cars will practically drive themselves. Internet-connected cars will be able to monitor traffic and contribute to the whole system running more efficiently. "It will be like automotive air traffic control," said Jim Patterson, associate editor at Kiplinger's. The transitions won't always be smooth, Patterson noted. Cars that are already equipped with the ability to "speak" to each other are one thing, but the lifetime of a car on the road often far exceeds the typical gadget's life cycle. "I see an interesting transition period," he said. "As the new cars that do have these features come in and the old ones are still around," he said. Here are eight advanced vehicle technologies that will become ubiquitous by the end of the decade. BLOG: Hover Vehicle Being Tested for All-Terrain Use
Ford Motor Co.
Self Parking Parallel parking has been the bane of driver's ed students. But assistance is coming from several car makers such as Ford, Lincoln, Toyota and BMW. All of them use some combination of sensors, such as sonar and cameras that collect information from the surroundings and then send it to a computer that analyzes how the car should move in order to get into a parallel parking space. Ford's system in the Fusion, for instance, uses ultrasonic sensors that check how far the car is from the nearest vehicle and manages the steering, so the driver only has to work the brakes and the gas. "It creates this view of the environment to get a trajectory that gets you in," noted Michael Kane, vehicle engineering supervisor at Ford.
Drive Within the Lines Lane-sensing systems alert a driver that a vehicle has drifted over the traffic line, and in some models the technology automatically keeps the car between the lanes. In Lexus vehicles, cameras see the lines painted on the road. If the car veers over a line, the system automatically adjusts the steering wheel. Ford has a similar system, except that in addition to adjusting the steering wheel, the safety technology also vibrates the steering wheel to simulate the "rumble strips" on a road's shoulder.
Keep All Eyes on the Road Some cars can tell if a driver's eyes are open and focused on the road. The technology typically employs LED lights that illuminate a driver's face and allows a camera to see where the driver is looking -- or not. "It just looks like a dim light," said Charles Hubbard a dealer education administrator at "Lexus College," which brings dealers up to date about features of the cars. If the system determines that the driver isn’t paying attention, it sounds a beep or some other alert. If the driver doesn’t acknowledge the alert, the computer begins applying the brake. At that point, the driver ought to notice something and put her foot on the brake. It all happens within a fraction of a second, which reduces the odds that the driver will get into an accident because she has fallen asleep. Mercedes-Benz has a similar system that learns how a driver drives, recording characteristics such as acceleration, steering and stopping. By comparing the stored information with real-time driving data, the car can make an educated guess about whether or not the driver is tired. If the answer is yes, a warning sounds.
Toyota / Lexus
Sense Other Vehicles By the time a driver notices that the car in front of her is braking, it might already be too late, especially if the cars are following each other closely. The problem is that human reflexes simply aren't fast enough to respond in those situations. But technology is. More and more cars are being equipped with sensors that determine how far a driver is from other cars on the road and links that information to an automatic braking system. Forward- and rear-facing radars, cameras and infrared illuminators work together to keep track of how fast the vehicles ahead and behind are moving and adjust the speed of the car.
Toyota / Lexus
Check the Blind Spot Sensing technologies are also useful for checking blind spots. In a late-model Lexus, data from rear-sending radar feeds a computer that auto-engages the brakes if it "sees" an object behind the driver. It may also flash the mirror to alert the driver that someone's approaching in the blind spot. Ford has also equipped some models with radar in the rear quarter panels to scan for vehicles that might be in one's blind spot and then offer a warning.
See in the Dark Headlights can only shine so far. But infrared (IR) light, which is only visible to computers and not people, propagates twice as far as visible light. That makes it useful for seeing the dark road far up ahead without blinding oncoming vehicles. If the infrared beams see something, the computer alerts the driver. Cars that use infrared technology to see in the dark either employ passive IR or active IR. Passive works using sensors that detect objects that give off heat. The sensors can detect people, animals or other vehicles up to 300 yards away. When an object is sensed, the computer projects an icon on the windshield or the dashboard as an alert. Because the range is long and the sensor is collecting information from ambient infrared light waves, the resolution of the image tends to be grainy. Active systems shine infrared light out in the dark like along with the light from headlines. The range is actually less than the active system, only up to 220 yards, but the resolution of the images is higher than passive systems.
Talk to Other Cars Cars already access the Internet. But wireless technologies including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth could turn highways into moving networks, where cars are the nodes. These so-called mesh networks do not need the Internet at all in order to work. Instead, the cars use a wireless technology to talk to each other and create their own self-contained network, where information about such things as traffic conditions is shared. A network could work efficiently to tell a driver not only that the car just ahead is braking, but that the car a mile ahead has stalled and traffic is backing up. That would allow the driver to take an alternate route. Besides traffic management, this kind of network could also provide more capacity to those passengers streaming movies or playing online games.
Take Over the Wheel While there are several technologies to help people drive better, there's at least one that taking over the driving completely. The system is being developed as part of the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, a joint venture between several European technology companies and Volvo. It works using a road train, a group of cars lead electronically by a lead vehicle driven by a professional driver. Using a combination of wireless technology, cameras, radar and laser sensors, the vehicles in the train monitor the lead vehicle and others in their vicinity. The "train" cars turn, accelerate and brake in the same way as the lead vehicle. The system was tested recently on a roadway outside Barcelona. It isn't clear yet how they would get drivers to join the platoons, but the tests show that the system can work. NEWS: Self-Driving Cars Head Down Spanish Motorway
Automobile giants at the world's biggest mobile fair are showing off a new technology that turns a car into a smartphone accessory, allowing a driver to use cutting-edge apps without veering off the road.
Called MirrorLink, and adopted by 85 big manufacturers from Ford to General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, VW, Fiat or Renault, it connects a smartphone and car entertainment system with a two-way audio, video and data link.
"People are using their smartphone applications and services 80 percent of the time. The other 20 percent when they are not using them is when they are in the car," said Jorg Brakensiek, technical coordinator for the Car Connectivity Forum.
"There is no really safe mechanism for the driver to do that," he told AFP at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. MirrorLink requires a compliant car entertainment system and a smartphone with the software, which can be downloaded. Drivers then can access their favorite apps.
The apps must meet legal requirements for screens that face drivers, for example the text must be a certain size and some functions such as typing must be disabled while the car is moving.
"The basic assumption is that the phone comes with the application," said Brakensiek. "You use the car as an accessory."
Eventually, the MirrorLink technology will feed other data from the car to the smartphone, such as speed, location and even weather. That information can be used to develop new applications or improve other services, such as traffic news. The Car Conectivity Forum, which groups nearly all car manufacturers, was set up to develop the technology two years ago.
The first MirrorLink compliant car entertainment systems have been released by the likes of Sony and JVC, for installation into existing vehicles. The next step will be for manufacturers to build them into cars before sale. The new technology avoids problems posed by the "smart car" in which manufacturers weld a SIM card into a vehicle so as to offer driver services such as navigation, SOS response and door unlocking, as well as paid-for entertainment.
One challenge is that the SIM card built into the car ties the owner to one operator for the car's life—up to 15 years. To overcome this, car makers are trying to agree on a standard way to program the SIM card by remote.
"From out point of view, remote SIM management becomes a key enabler, it becomes a game changer," BMW's project manager for telematic control units, Markus Kaindl, told a symposium at the mobile congress. But there are other drawbacks, too. Much of the hardware built into a car cannot keep up with the mobile industry's fast-pace developments, the car owner must pay for the SIM contract, and each manufacturer has its own platform for applications, making it difficult to attract developers.
Yet the "smartcar" services may live on alongside the MirrorLink technology, industry analysts said, especially in high-end cars. General Motors, one of the leaders in the field with its OnStar service offering navigation and help for drivers, announced before the show it will embed 4G connectivity in all 2015 model cars in North America.
At the mobile show this week, it showed off an impressive concept car, a Cadillac, with all the latest connected gadgets. It has streaming movies, dedicated apps, and a system that alerts an absent car owner that something has hit his car, and even lets him view the surrounding area on his smartphone via on-board surveillance cameras.