Techno wizards

Joshua Dowl­ing cov­ers the grow­ing pres­cence of the car in­dus­try at the con­sumer elec­tron­ics show in Ve­gas

Herald Sun - Motoring - - NEWS -

THE car in­dus­try has el­bowed its way into the world’s big­gest tech expo — the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas — and is be­com­ing part of the fur­ni­ture.

When they first ar­rived a decade ago, they were sim­ply a sideshow, hop­ing some of the hi-tech glow would rub off on their dowdy im­age.

But their pres­ence is in­creas­ingly jus­ti­fied. With some of the most ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy on the planet, cars truly are be­com­ing com­put­ers on wheels.

Ford is so con­fi­dent in its au­tonomous tech­nol­ogy, it claims it will have a car with­out a steer­ing wheel and ped­als on sale in 2021.

Other brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volvo also fore­cast fully au­tonomous ve­hi­cles in the 2020 to 2025 time­frame — but theirs will con­tinue to have reg­u­lar con­trols in case the driver wants or needs to take over.

Volk­swa­gen is ex­per­i­ment­ing with a steer­ing wheel that au­to­mat­i­cally re­tracts into the dash­board when not re­quired.

Scep­ti­cal? You should be, be­cause the par­tially au­tonomous tech­nol­ogy we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced so far has proven fal­li­ble too many times — and has al­ready claimed at least one fa­tal­ity, the driver of a Tesla in the US in May last year.

While to­day’s par­tially au­tonomous cars (that en­able a driver to take their hands off the wheel for up to 60 sec­onds while they fol­low the lane mark­ings on a free­way) have two or three cam­eras, one radar or laser sen­sor — fully au­tonomous cars of the fu­ture will be a science lab on wheels.

Ford’s driver­less car has six radar sen­sors, seven cam­eras, two laser scan­ners, high-grade in­er­tia sen­sors, and built-in 3D maps to cross-check its sur­round­ings in mil­lisec­onds. These pro­vide the car’s “brain” with a 360-de­gree “view” the length of two foot­ball fields in all di­rec­tions.

You’ll be able to spot au­tonomous cars from a dis­tance — their roofs and wind­screen pil­lars will be dot­ted with bea­cons.

Some are not as bullish about au­tonomous driv­ing, though. Toyota, the world’s big­gest car maker (and ar­guably most con­ser­va­tive), pre­dicts fully au­tonomous cars are more than a decade away.

In the mean­time they are try­ing to bet­ter un­der­stand driver be­hav­iour by adding more sen­sors and elim­i­nat­ing but­tons in­side the cabin, such as the in­te­rior of the odd­ball (and but­ton-less) Toyota Con­cept-i.

Pana­sonic, which sup­plies most of the world’s car mak­ers with touch­screens and au­dio tech­nol­ogy — in­clud­ing Toyota, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot, Nis­san and oth­ers — also had a cock­pit on dis­play which trans­formed four large tablet com­put­ers into a work desk for front and back seat pas­sen­gers.

BMW is ex­per­i­ment­ing with ways to elim­i­nate but­tons by us­ing ul­tra­sonic sen­sors that give driv­ers and pas­sen­gers hap­tic feed­back on their fin­ger­tips — when they “push” a but­ton pro­jected as a holo­gram.

It means you’ll be able to tap imag­i­nary “but­tons” or “tiles” that would oth­er­wise have been out of arm’s reach, and you’ll know you’ve been suc­cess­ful be­cause your fin­ger­tip will feel a pulse in thin air, cre­ated by ul­tra­sonic sen­sors. The BMW iIn­side also could mea­sure the driver’s heart rate via sen­sors in the seat.

Toyota and Hyundai had con­cepts each claim were able to de­tect — and then en­hance — the driver’s mood via face recog­ni­tion.

But some of the most im­pres­sive tech­nol­ogy is just around the corner. MercedesBenz is de­vel­op­ing head­lights that will each have 1 mil­lion tiny mir­rors — or “pix­els”. They will shine a beam so bright and ac­cu­rate that they can pin­point pedes­tri­ans on the foot­path and dim the sec­tion of lights aimed only at their eyes — but still il­lu­mi­nate the rest of their body.

The same tech­nol­ogy can also project the lines of a pedes­trian cross­ing on an empty street at night, to alert oth­ers it is safe to cross.

The head­lights are so sharp they could be used to project a movie on a garage wall, al­though Mercedes ad­mits this is not the in­tended use of the tech­nol­ogy. Also just around the corner from Mercedes are “thumb” sen­sors in the steer­ing wheel and a FitBit-style “wear­able” rub­ber wrist­band to mea­sure the heart rate and health of driv­ers. Head of re­search and devel­op­ment at Mercedes-Benz, Ola Kal­le­nius, said sen­sors in the steer­ing wheel will sense a driver’s heart rate “like when you hold you your hands on a tread­mill in a fit­ness stu­dio”.

“In the most se­ri­ous case, if you’re about to have a heart at­tack, the (tech­nol­ogy) will know be­fore you know — and it will send off an emer­gency call, stop the car, or stop the bus, be­fore an ac­ci­dent hap­pens and save lives,” said Mr Kal­le­nius.

Mercedes will roll out a hitech heart-rate mon­i­tor vest for truck and bus driv­ers by 2020.

Toyota’s Con­cept-i, a self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle.

To nav­i­gate snowy roads, Ford au­tonomous ve­hi­cles are equipped with high­res­o­lu­tion 3D maps com­plete with in­for­ma­tion about the road and what’s above it, in­clud­ing road mark­ings, signs, ge­og­ra­phy, land­marks and to­pog­ra­phy.

Mercedes-Benz Fit & Healthy

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