20 May, 2020   By: Toby Hagon

Our cars are already looking out for us in more ways than you may realise.

Once, a keen car buyer would have lifted the bonnet, checked the engine and kicked the tyres. Today, car shoppers are increasingly pushing buttons and wanting to know how their gadgets can connect in order to decide on their next set of wheels.

Modern cars can include six or more cameras, multiple display screens, their own SIM card to keep them constantly connected to the internet and smartphone apps to keep their owners informed.

They can also help drivers avoid crashes, and that’s a big part of the tech push.

Affordable new cars on the market today can already apply the brakes for you if you can’t or won’t, they can tell you when it’s safe to proceed if you’re not watching and the car in front has moved, and they can limit progress when you press the wrong pedal.

They help keep you in your highway lane and warn you when it’s unsafe to change lanes. They can even tell when your gaze moves away from the road ahead or when you’re feeling too tired to drive safely.

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Autonomous emergency braking

Radars are already common in our cars and are fitted as part of the autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems that can automatically apply brakes to avoid a crash or reduce its severity.

High tech becomes mainstream

Nowadays, such technologies are not limited to luxury cars. In fact, connectivity and advanced crash avoidance systems sometimes debut in more affordable mainstream models due to the scale that makes developing the technology cheaper.

Australia’s best-selling small car, the Toyota Corolla, has AEB as standard. So does our best-selling SUV, the Mazda CX-5. Teaming camera and radar technology, they can spot pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles and automatically perform an emergency stop. The Mazda’s AEB also works when reversing.

The upcoming Land Rover Defender has a mind boggling 85 computers to control its various electronic components. They include adjustable air suspension, driver assistance systems, safety features and colour display screens for infotainment and instruments. There’s 4G (or 5G) connectivity keeping the car talking to the cloud, all the while protecting it with ‘multi-layer cyber security’.

When venturing off-road, the Defender’s integrated multi-camera system even allows drivers to scan 360 degrees around the vehicle using an image on a high-resolution touchscreen that looks as though a camera is hovering above the car.

Volvo hovering camera

BMW Australia’s product planning chief Brendan Michel says up-to-date tech is critical to getting on customers’ shopping lists, particularly in the luxury market.

“Seventy per cent of customer feedback says customers will not buy a car unless it’s got this type of technology on it,” he says of the new 2-Series Gran Coupe, which is priced from $47,990 and includes a fighter jet-like head-up display and reversing assistant that can back the car along exactly the same path it was driven in on – handy for snaking driveways.

Doing things smarter

Much of the electronic wizardry filtering through to modern cars has smartened existing functions, in much the same way as automatic transmissions made gear shifting easier and cruise control made freeway driving more relaxing.

For two decades cars have been adopting windscreen wipers that detect rain and automatically switch on. While early iterations were patchy in their ability to adjust to the strength of the rain, modern versions are smarter, quickly adjusting the wiping speed accordingly.

Recent Mercedes-Benz models can scan the road surface ahead for bumps. Rather than reacting to a bump, the system can ‘see’ changes in the road and adjust the suspension so it provides the best ride by the time the wheels get to it.

Even door handles are getting smarter. Many cars now use their rear-facing radar to monitor approaching cyclists or vehicles, flashing or beeping to warn the driver not to open their door. In many modern Audis the car will temporarily disable the latching mechanism, delaying the door opening for a few seconds to avoid a bingle.

Car keys are increasingly becoming redundant. The Tesla Model 3 can be opened and switched on with a smartphone. BMW and Mercedes- Benz have similar technology for use with certain smartphones equipped with NFC (near field communication) functionality.

Individual drivers can even now be identified by the car. In some versions of the Subaru Forester, there’s an infrared camera in the dash that recognises the driver then adjusts the driver’s seat, door mirrors, ventilation and the infotainment screen display for that person’s preferences.

The Subaru camera technology also monitors the driver’s eye movements and face orientation, quickly warning if their attention isn’t on the road.

The tech and gadgets employed by cars also go beyond the car itself.

Audi exit warning

Smart cars meet smart phones

Many brands now have smartphone apps to provide real time location data on the vehicle, meaning no more embarrassing laps of the carpark trying to remember where you parked.

Remote access is another bonus if you need to unlock your car for a friend.

Some owners of cars with this tech have even unlocked them for package deliveries when the car is at home but the owner isn’t.

BMWs also have basic gesture control, allowing phone calls to be answered or the volume adjusted with a swipe or twirl of the hand. Those who are animated during their discussions may unwittingly make that ’80s one-hit wonder that little bit louder while trying to get their point across.

Modern systems even use artificial intelligence to learn a driver’s patterns, such as whether they dial a certain person or listen to a certain radio station at the same time each week.

All this tech is only the start of an influx that will stretch beyond the car makers.

Big brands including Nissan and Audi are readying Android Automotive for their cars. The all-encompassing control system can look after vehicle functions and infotainment, and it will be open to third party app developers.

Vehicle smartphone app

As with smartphone apps, it will no doubt lead to new features we never knew we needed. Perhaps a system that knows to raise the garage door on arrival and alert your partner via an app that you’ll soon be home for dinner?

Where cars once felt outdated within a few years, the car you buy now could actually get even better over time courtesy of automatic software updates.

While a future where our cars do all the driving and thinking for us is still many years away, very soon we can expect more immersive infotainment, smarter connectivity and cars that are better at avoiding crashes.

It’s all part of the high-tech influx that is fast changing how we all drive.