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Automotive 2.1 – the drive of your life

Automotive manufacturers have long been at the forefront of technological change, they have to be; in a fiercely competitive market place, it’s innovate or die.

There are many examples that illustrate the way manufacturers embrace technology.  We are all familiar with futuristic concept models, typically unveiled at motor shows, but the technology creep into the mainstream is equally as fascinating.

For example, in recent years a new virtual world has been opening up to car buyers. Audi, VW and Jaguar Land Rover have all created digital showrooms, where customers are able to have a new virtual experience, building the car of their dreams.

Adoption of smartphone technology now enables manufacturers to offer a wealth of in-car infotainment in terms of music, comms and navigation.  These branded apps enable manufacturers to link seamlessly to on board screens to provide drivers a range of options whilst maintaining the brand experience. Offering true personalisation and enhancing the driving experience partnerships include:

  • Nissan: Partnering with Apple iTunes radio.
  • Fiat and Renault: working alongside TomTom to install their range of sat navs.
  • Ford and Volvo’s partnership with digital music service Spotify

Car safety is also benefiting from technological enhancements.  A recent trial including a number of manufacturers has tested ‘Car-to-x communication’ which through smartphone technology will warn drivers of potential hazards as well as communicating with road infrastructure i.e. providing advanced warning of traffic slowing ahead. Earlier this year Mercedes announced plans to introduce QR code stickers to cars. These have been designed to link emergency staff to websites detailing how to cut into each type of vehicle to free passengers in the event of a crash. On a similar note the European commission is funding eCall where in the event of a crash the car automatically calls the emergency services detailing key data including the car’s location.

What’s next?
Google is very active within automotive and has already filed patents for in-car gesture controls to minimise distractions to the driving experience. By using depth cameras and laser scanners to capture hand gestures drivers will soon be able to change their radio channel or volume levels, or adjust temperature controls.

A number of manufacturers including Google are also making considerable investment in self-driving cars and whilst the world’s first fully autonomous prototype cars are already emerging, they have yet to be launched onto our roads. Heathrow airport’s T5 have introduced automatic electric pods (originally devised by the University of Bristol) driving up to four passengers between the business car park and the main terminal. And now driverless cars developed by Arup and Cambridge and Oxford universities, accommodating up to two passengers and booked through a smartphone app are to be introduced to Milton Keynes in 2015 on a series of designated pathways. It’s only a matter of time before the autonomous car hits the roads.

Back to the future:
Interestingly, the mission statement of automotive superpower BMW doesn’t even refer to the word car: « The BMW Group is the world’s leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility. » And there lies BMW’s current success; they’re selling far more than a car. And  this provides us with a vision for the future of the automotive industry. It’s not simply about selling cars; it’s about utilising technology to offer people a personalised dream that keeps them mobile.

For now current technology is helping to deliver a greater user experience in terms of car performance and infotainment; and within a matter of years we can expect new technology to play an even greater role in controlling our overall driving experience or removing human input all together.

And in the long term future…  Sadly until we are able to create the flux capacitor, the core element of the DeLorean time machine as featured in Back to the Future, enabling us to go back in time, we may simply have to settle for being driven to work in our driverless electric car; making ourselves an espresso, surfing the net, emailing out that client report or just simply enjoying the ride!

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