The car of the fu­ture, to­day

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - SPORTS - By AFP STAFF

Cars that park them­selves, radar­guided safety sen­sors and in­fo­tain­ment sys­tems with web ac­cess; au­tomak­ers are com­pet­ing for cus­tomers who now ex­pect con­stant in­no­va­tion.

The speed at which the new fea­tures are mi­grat­ing from pre­mium mod­els down­ward and spread­ing among brands is ac­cel­er­at­ing as au­tomak­ers jos­tle for at­ten­tion in an in­creas­ingly crowded mar­ket.

“The hottest new tech­nol­ogy in cars to­day is voice-to-text func­tion­al­ity that reads a driver’s emails or texts as they come in and al­lows the driver to dic­tate a re­sponse with­out look­ing away from the road,” Karl Brauer, se­nior an­a­lyst at Kel­ley Blue Book, told AFP.

Au­tomak­ers have aligned them­selves with tech gi­ants to lure cus­tomers with in­creas­ingly com­plex — but hope­fully still in­tu­itive — sys­tems to trans­form their con­soles into souped-up smart phones.

Nav­i­ga­tion has been up­graded to in­te­grate online con­sumer re­views from sites like Yelp, and guide mo­torists to road­side busi­nesses.

Touch screens rem­i­nis­cent of an iPad have been added to con­soles out­fit­ted with apps like Pan­dora mu­sic stream­ing.

Then there are pro­pri­etary apps aimed at fix­ing life’s lit­tle prob­lems.

Touch a but­ton on your phone and your lost car will pop up on a map. Still can’t find it in the park­ing lot? Tap again and the phone will honk your horn. Locked the keys in­side? Another but­ton opens the door.

Wor­ried that your teenager is driv­ing too fast or hang­ing out with the wrong crowd? There’s an app that will send you a text mes­sage if they sur­pass a cho­sen speed or leave a des­ig­nated area.

The real chal­lenge for au­tomak­ers is to make sure all of this tech­nol­ogy doesn’t be­come a dan­ger­ous dis­trac­tion, said Art St. Cyr, head of prod­uct plan­ning at Amer­i­can Honda.

Keep­ing it out of the car sim­ply isn’t pos­si­ble: peo­ple are too at­tached to their smart phones and “don’t want to be dis­con­nected,” he said.

“The key is to re­duce the cog­ni­tive load,” St Cyr told re­porters on the side­lines of the Detroit auto show.

Voice ac­ti­va­tion cer­tainly helps, but au­tomak­ers have also in­vested in de­vel­op­ing safety sys­tems that can com­pen­sate for dis­tracted or sleepy driv­ers.

Ini­tially avail­able only in lux­ury cars and then pre­mium mod­els, com­plex col­li­sion-avoid­ance tech­nol­ogy is be­ing in­tro­duced to the mass mar­ket.

Chrysler is deck­ing out a new mid­sized 200 sedan — un­veiled in Detroit Mon­day with an en­try price of just $21,700 — with a full spec­trum of safety fea­tures pre­vi­ously only avail­able in pricier mod­els.

Video cam­eras mounted onto the wind­shield de­tect lines in the road to warn driv­ers if they are stray­ing out of a lane and elec­tri­cal steer­ing wheels will even kick the car back into po­si­tion.

Radars mounted un­der the grill can see through fog to mea­sure the dis­tance to the near­est ve­hi­cle, reg­is­ter a change in speed and then slow down or even stop the car if a driver doesn’t no­tice the loom­ing brake lights.

And a blind spot mon­i­tor will sound an alert if a driver misses a blink­ing light in the side view mir­ror and flips the turn sig­nal.

Rear view cam­eras are be­com­ing stan­dard fea­tures even on en­trylevel mod­els like Honda’s new com­pact Fit and Kia is step­ping up the game by adding front and side views to the K900 which was un­veiled in Detroit.

Plenty of pre­mium mod­els are help­ing driv­ers with pesky park­ing prob­lems by mea­sur­ing dis­tances and con­trol­ling the steer­ing wheel for the per­fect par­al­lel — or even per­pen­dic­u­lar — park­ing job.

BMW takes it a step fur­ther in its new elec­tric i3 which hits show­rooms in a few months.

Not only does it help to search for park­ing spots big enough to squeeze into, it will then com­pletely take over the job by con­trol­ling the steer­ing, brak­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion.

Au­tomak­ers are also com­pet­ing with sim­pler fea­tures like a vac­uum cleaner in Honda’s top-sell­ing Odyssey mini­van, a sen­sor that will pop the trunk of a Mercedes, Ford or Cadil­lac when your hands are full, and “EZ-lift” tail­gates on the new GMC pickup.

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