One of the places where technology has made some of the biggest impacts on our lives is in the car. While the automotive industry has been around for over a century, it has been at the forefront of using technology to deliver better and safer vehicles for us. Innovations like robots in factories, and safety features such as anti-lock braking and collision avoidance systems have revolutionised the car business. But, over the last decade or so, more technology has been introduced into the passenger cabin. What have been some of the big changes and have they really made driving more fun?
While lots of new features, like climate control and heated seats, are making the cabin more comfortable it's the humble car radio, which has now become an entertainment, communication and navigation centre for drivers and passengers.
We recently replaced two cars at home (as the result of a vehicle write-off following a hail storm and the need to get a larger vehicle for our newly-blended family) and the in-car experience was a significant factor in the decision - especially for the family car.
Ford has been equipping cars with their SYNC AppLink system for a while now and have just announced an update that allows users to connect their Waze-equipped iPhone to their Ford over USB and view the service through the car's touch screen. Android users can use Android Auto. The integration with Waze delivered traffic information, accident reports and petrol prices, as well as a new ‘talk to Waze’ feature which lets you control the app using voice commands.
At WWDC this week, Apple announced enhancements to CarPlay, including support for third-party map applications.
And after a few months of using CarPlay with our iPhones in our family car, it's hard to imagine buying another vehicle in future where that level of smartphone integration isn't part of the deal. Our other car has a touch-screen enabled entertainment system with some smartphone integration but it's nowhere near as sophisticated as CarPlay or Android Auto.
Toyota says they plan to start offering the voice-powered assistant in its Entune 3.0 App Suite and Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 later this year. This will bring Alexa support to the in-car system with others such as BMW/Mini, Ford, Skoda and Volkswagen either already integrating Alexa skills or planning to soon.
We've also seen useful features, like being able to open the tailgate by giving the rear bumper a gentle kick in a number of vehicles and this is making its wary into more entry level and mid-range models after debuting in higher-spec cars. Ford has had that feature in it's small SUV, the Kuga for a while and Holden has included it in the recently released Equinox.
While keyless entry and starting has been around for quite a while, Holden now also offers the ability to start your car on approach so that the interior is warm and the windows demisted by the time you're safely ensconced in the car on a cold day.
Features like parking assistants, which reverse your car, and tech to ensure you don't cut people off when you want to change lane are also making their way into more cars. Bosch previewed a new service, as part of their smart cities push, that helps drivers find vacant parking spots and then parks the car for them.
There's an interesting balancing act in progress. In-car systems, that bring entertainment, navigation and other services into the car make the experience for drivers and passengers more convenient. But there are also safety considerations as the potential exists for drivers to becomes more distracted. Which may explain why warning systems for potential collisions and dodgy lane changes are also progressing in parallel.
What's clear is that incumbent car manufacturers are facing lots of challenges. And while Tesla is struggling to meet production volumes as the company bleeds money, the company has changed our expectation of what the passenger cabin and driver's seat offers.