Apple CEO Tim Cook announced this month that his company is developing self-driving cars, confirming rumors that have been circulating for months.
The fact that companies like Apple, Google and Uber are racing to capture a share of the emerging self-driving car market reflects how digital technology is now driving today’s three hottest automotive innovation trends: autonomous vehicles, electrification and the rise of cars as a service.
In fact, this trend toward digitization is, in turn, helping reshape future car design and the way form follows function in today’s vehicles. Here’s a look at a few ways technology is reshaping car design.
One of the most practical technology features included in recent car models is built-in GPS navigation. Not only does this technology use satellites to get drivers from Point A to Point B, it also allows advertisers to geo-target motorists with customized offers based on their location. While some systems have voice-control options, others are able to connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing you to send and receive hands-free calls, text messages and calendar notifications.
However, today’s built-in GPS technology has several advantages over more traditional systems operated via smartphones. Experts say these offerings include better integration with vehicles’ dashboard designs, extended warranty coverage, enhanced theft resistance and added resale value.
Like GPS devices, rear-view cameras are increasingly becoming standard features on car dashboards. As the technology has become more popular, manufacturers of rear-view cameras have added more diverse and sophisticated features.
For example, TadiBrothers’ wireless license plate camera uses an extra-wide, 120-degree angle view to give motorists a better view of their vehicle’s exterior. The TadiBrothers camera and other cutting-edge models also add infrared LEDs to give motorists a 25-foot viewing range at night, when visual enhancement is most needed.
It’s no secret rear-view cameras provide great safety and security measures. As such, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced all new cars will be required to include these cameras beginning in 2018. However, if you drive an older model vehicle, there are aftermarket options you can use to add rear-view camera functionality to your ride.
During the past two decades, as Bluetooth connectivity has become a standard feature in new car designs, Bluetooth options have become more specialized. Some Bluetooth features are designed to optimize the streaming music audio experience. Meantime, others focus more on optimizing hands-free calling. However, both types of specialty options come in a range of price points to suit different buyers.
It’s also important to realize many car models have built-in streaming music features that don’t necessarily include a microphone for hands-free calling. So, if taking hands-free calls is a priority for you, you may need to purchase a Bluetooth kit or swap out your car’s stereo for one with a built-in microphone.
Industry watcher John Brandon anticipates the next advances in vehicle Bluetooth technology will involve voice-control integration for the playing of music and taking hands-free calls.
Today’s cutting-edge tires are constantly improving and becoming more sophisticated. In fact, some of the most recent innovations have involved the installation of smart sensors into tires. For instance, Japanese manufacturer Sumotomo Rubber Industries sells a deflation warning system, which uses sensors to automatically detect slippery road conditions and when a tire’s air pressure is low. Meantime, Duke University electrical engineers have developed sensors that can detect when a tire’s tread has worn down.
But that’s not all: Car engineers are also redesigning the nature of today’s tires as we know them. For example, Goodyear has invented spherical “levitating tires,” which are linked to the car magnetically, allowing rotation on any axis so that cars can drive sideways into parking spaces and adjust to hazards like black ice.
Taking another approach to tire redesign, Michelin has unveiled 3D-printed airless tires called “tweels,” which are manufactured entirely from recyclable materials and are less susceptible to going flat. Whether soon or in the not-too-distant-future, tire designs of tomorrow may conceivably combine some or all of these ideas with smart sensors.