Plugging the car into the future
I remember the first time I came across a car with electric windows. It was in a Mercedes-Benz and I was amazed. I pressed it up and down so many times that it was amazing that I didn’t burn out the motor. I thought that it was the most amazing thing I had seen in a car. Things have certainly changed. I have just spent a day trying to get my head around the exhaustive list of technologies that BMW is planning to implement over the coming years, all in the name of making our life easier. Some were genius, some seemed pretty pointless, but you can be pretty sure that they are all coming our way sooner rather than later.
BMW is merging its fuel saving technologies, its safety technologies and its information and entertainment technologies together and we got a sneak preview of what the results will be at an old military airbase, somewhere outside Germany.
Technology has taken over our lives. We get up in the morning, check our e-mail, many of us are glued to our iPhones or Blackberries all day long, we sit at a computer or have one in our briefcase and in-between the car used to be somewhere where you might listen to the radio or catch up with someone phone calls. But the addition of WiFi technology and other wireless technologies such as Near Field Communication are opening to door to greater opportunities to what we can do in a car. It now means that we can take our multimedia lives with us, that our car can prevent us running over pedestrians and even bring your car to a safe stop on a motorway if you have a heart attack at the wheel.
As with any BMW event that mentions technology, there were lots of acronyms and working titles, many of which we won’t bore you with. But, let’s group these things into items that will make your life easier, ones which perhaps make you live longer and ones that will make you live more frugally.
Take the humble car key for instance. You fling them at the table when you come home from work and you probably don’t think about them much more than that. But there are, we are told, many more things that you could and can do with your car key. NFC (Near Field Communication) is something you will have come across already if you have used a hotel room key card, the ones that allow you to just hold up a card to access your room. The same technology allows a variety of information to be applied to a key fob. So, if you are driving from Cork to Dublin, you could check into a hotel on route, and book a Luas ticket and these would all be accessed from your car key. Your car key will open your room in the hotel, you can swipe it to get onto the Luas or to access a Dublin Bike. And then purchase a sandwich and a coffee. Traveling abroad, your car key could be used to access a hire car.
BMW remote functions will operate on your smart phone, be it an iPhone, a Blackberry or an Android device. From an app, you will be able to turn on your heating in the car remotely, flash the lights and sound the horn to find your car in a car park and even find your way back to your car if you can’t remember where you parked it.
Internet access is slowly starting to happen in cars, although don’t hold your breath for zippy in-car access anytime soon, but when it is sorted out you will be able to access your work e-mail account from the dashboard and iDrive of your BMW and have the e-mails read out to you. You can press a button and dictate an e-mail in reply to these e-mails too. It is like having your own secretary in the car. This would obviously be of benefit to driver’s whose working lives are spent on the road, but when the Road Safety Authority has difficulty with people using handsfree Bluetooth kits while driving they might have something to say about being able to compose an e-mail while you drive, handsfree or not.
An apparently the BMW driver of the future might be such an information and attention junkie that they won’t be able to cope with sitting at a red traffic light for 45 seconds without filling the time with information. A micropause app uses the refrain of a traffic light or traffic stop to beam you in news headlines, twitter messages, or any other kind of information distraction for those executives who can’t stop doing stuff.
However, for the more balanced, there will be the facility to integrate all your music and media from your home servers to your car. So-called Seamless Media Access will use WiFi to allow you to continue listening to the audiobook you started at home in your car on the way to work, just where you left off and if you want to listen to an album that it at home, no problem, you can downloads it easily enough. It will even use Gracenote technology, which groups music by genre to allow you to choose music that suits your mood or the mood you’d like to be in!
The increasing number of sensors in and around the car are being put to good use too. We’ve all been in a situation that you find a car park that will fit our car but getting out of the car will mean scrapping yourself down the side or the car next to you. No problem if you have remote controlled parking, which takes control of the acceleration, braking and steering functions and manoeuvres the vehicle autonomously into the narrow spot – or out of it again.
Preventing collisions with other vehicles and with pedestrians will get a lot easier too. BMW Group is developing a proactive pedestrian system designed to minimise injury or prevent an accident in the first place. Pedestrians are detected using a camera and this camera can be used for other driver assistance functions such as traffic sign recognition, collision warning and lane departure warning. These cameras, however, can also detect a pedestrian in the road and figure out of there is imminent danger and in 600 milliseconds can help with emergency braking.
But what about children popping out from between parked cars. A camera can’t see them because a driver can’t see them either. Project AMULETT aims to create the ability to see through objects by fitting at-risk road users, such as our children, with transponders that emit electromagnetic waves. Should whichever user that is carrying these transponders, which could end up being about the size of a €2 coin, the system will alert the driver. The demonstration of this was superb and it would almost certainly save lives.
They will have a system that will counter steer if we wander across our lane into the path of another car on a motorway and there is even a spooky system, but a very interesting one, which will intervene if someone has a heart-attack at the wheel. Designed for older driver’s who may suspect or even know they have a heart condition, the user will wear a heart monitor when driving and in the event of a heart-attack will take over the steering and braking of the car and safely guide it to the side of the road, call the emergency services and give them a GPS location of the stricken driver. In the demonstration, we sat at the steering wheel and took our hands and feet away from the controls, while our car eerily waited for a gap between the traffic (on a closed, controlled road) and pulled us into the side of the road.
Finally new systems will also be added to vehicles that will encourage us to drive more ecologically. A new coast feature on car’s with automatic transmissions will knock the car into neutral when you aren’t accelerating and in a special Eco mode will map the acceleration in such a way as to encourage you to drive at your most frugal. In the MINI range, there will even be an iPhone system that will reward you with stars for driving more economically and you will be able to compare your achievements with your friends.