Imagine if your car could monitor your health, be operated with eye and hand movements, and keep you safe from fatigue.
All this and more is on the agenda for advancing car technology. Here are some of the ways the new technology could improve your driving experience in the future:
Driving your car: A moving experience
Imagine a world where eye movements and hand gestures moved your car forward. In 2012 a job listing hinted at Xbox Kinect’s desire to enter the world of automotive technology. Harman Technology and BMW have also been dabbling in eye-movement and hand-gesture applications for driving.
The interest is not surprising. In the United States, roughly one-fifth of accidents stem from driver distraction. Reducing the use of hand controls (like knobs and buttons) and touchscreens while driving could help ease the problem.
The fruits of BMW’s labour are a feature of the new 7 series, due for release in 2016. The BMW 7 series will allow you to use hand gestures to reject or take a phone call, or change the volume on the radio, for example.
“It’s all about reducing distractions in the car,” says Hans Roth, director of technology at Harman. “These basic gestures are being tested around the globe to find the ideal system that can be used in countries around the world.”
Harman, Xbox and BMW aren’t the only ones interested. Ford and VW AG have also experimented with the technology. But it has limitations.
What is designed to aid the driver may end up a distraction. Lead BMW engineer Verena Reischl explains, “It would be wonderful if you could control the whole system with gestures, but it is not adequate for driving. Your hands would get tired and it can be distracting.”
In addition, the technology would need to be adaptable. Cultural tests by Harman showed, for example, that Italians talk with their hands. Meaning the system would need to be calibrated according to the gesticulation levels of different nationalities.
Ford has already rolled out one touchscreen experiment; customers rejected the technology. Car manufacturers keep researching the applications for hand-gesture technology.
Technology for your health
What does heart rhythm have to do with car technology?
A study by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (UK) showed fatigue accounts for up to 20 per cent of all driver incidents. In response, Mercedes-Benz is developing heart monitoring within vehicles.
An EU study found the chances of a serious motor vehicle accident increased by 23 per cent because of drivers’ undetected cardiovascular issues.
Dashboard technology monitors eyelid movement to detect warning signs of driver fatigue. By using this in tandem with seat sensors that detect heart rhythms, a driver could be alerted to fatigue before the situation becomes dangerous. Mercedes Benz hopes to make this technology standard across the US, UK, Europe and Asia-Pacific soon.
Ford has also thrown its hat into the heart-monitoring ring, with car-seat technology that detects heart attacks. Ford wants their heart-monitoring system to enable drivers to stop before a heart attack takes hold. They also hope to be able to check for electrolyte imbalances and high blood pressure.
Spotting the warning signs of a heart attack could prevent them altogether. Such early detection is also critical to the safety of other road users. A European Union study found the chances of a serious motor vehicle accident increased by 23 per cent because of undetected cardiovascular issues.
Dr. Achim Lindner, medical officer at the Ford Research Centre, explains, “This not only benefits the driver but also could make the roads safer for all users [and could be] instrumental in diagnosing heart conditions early.”
Augmented reality for your driving experience
Move over Gran Turismo, there’s a new kid in town. Jaguar and Mini are racing to be the champion in augmented reality, breaking new ground with displays designed to improve safety and driver convenience.
Jaguar unveiled its integrated approach, Widescreen and GhostScreen, in 2014. This specialised windscreen, which is framed by the car’s A-Pillars, becomes your information dashboard. Offering an information-rich driving environment, it can analyse optimum safe braking distances, among other things.
On the downside, the windscreen requires additional wiring and is draining on fuel and the battery. Also, because the information takes up the entire windscreen, it may annoy passengers. Its resemblance to a video game may also encourage young drivers to engage in risky behaviour.
Mini has restricted its response to Vuforia driver goggles. The goggles look similar to those worn by virtual-reality gamers. Worn on the head, they are more flexibile than a windscreen display. The goggles offer the ability to safely back into and judge distances for parking spaces. They don’t inflict the augmented reality features on passengers and they have X-ray capabilities!
Among the cons: The goggles are easier to lose and break than the windscreen, and despite the time spent designing them, they still look like geeky VR goggles. How drivers with prescription needs would be able to use the technology has not been addressed.
While Mini and Jaguar are in the concept and testing stages, it will be a while before genuine production begins. “We are working with our suppliers to develop the technology, and are estimating it has potential to reach production in around 10 years,” explains a Jaguar spokesperson.
A whole host of possibilities
We may look at many of these technologies as the stuff of science fiction. But a focus on integrating technology and driver experience is creating a safer on-road experiences, not to mention adding a little excitement.