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5 Technologies That Are Changing the Way We Drive

The Smarter Products Series is supported by IBM. Find out more about how IBM is working to create a Smarter Planet.

car_1When Henry Ford started manufacturing the first affordable car in 1908, people gawked at its two forward gears and 20-horsepower engine. Drivers had to crank the car before they started it, and the best way to check how much fuel they had was to dip a stick into the gas tank. Today, there are cars that drive themselves.

It’s likely that automotive innovation has just as far to go in the future as it has come since its inception in 1908. While we can’t predict what we’ll be driving (or will be driving itself) in 100 years, here’s a look at five of the technologies that are changing how we drive today.

1. In-Car Connectivity

An August report by market research firm IMS forecasted that the number of new vehicles with Internet (Internet) access would grow from 1.1 million in 2009 to 6 million in 2017. Ford has undoubtedly been one of the leaders in innovation for this expected surge in in-car connectivity.

Ford Sync is a communications and entertainment system that is based on the Microsoft Auto platform, for example. The system connects with your mobile phone to facilitate hands-free calling and audible text messages. It connects with your MP3 player and allows you to operate it through voice commands. Sync AppLink will support third party apps starting this summer. And the next generation of Sync, MyFord Touch, will allow you to turn your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot by plugging in a USB mobile broadband modem.

A concept car with high-speed Internet access by the ng Connect Program gives an idea of how connected cars could change the way we drive in the future.

2. (Literal) Auto Pilot

Last month, Google (Google) announced that it was testing a car that drives itself. Google argues that, in the right circumstances, computers are better at driving than humans. As the only accident that occurred as of the announcement was caused by human error, the company might have a point.

It may be a while before we hand over the wheel to our cars completely, but some of us are happy to hand off the grueling task of parallel parking. The Lexus LS 460, released in 2006, was the first commercial vehicle to park with a mind of its own. Ford, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercury and Toyota followed with their own self-park features.

3. Sensitive Safety Features


In the past year, multiple safety features based on cutting-edge technologies have been introduced.

Volvo’s City Safety technology uses an optical radar to measure speed and distance of any objects in front of the car. If it anticipates a collision, it brakes. The latest version detects pedestrians as well as vehicles.

Volvo isn’t the only car that gives its drivers a little bit of help in potentially dangerous situations. Mercedes-Benz’s attention-assist system can detect when drivers are starting to become drowsy and beeps loudly to alert them. It won’t stop the car from veering into the next lane, but it will make the driver aware that it might be time to pull over.

4. GPS


The rise of consumer GPS started sometime around 2000, when the army stopped intentionally fuzzing the signals from the 24-satellite network that makes GPS possible. Navigation systems have been edging out paper maps for in-car navigation ever since.

The iPhone 3G was not the first mobile phone to incorporate GPS, but it did make it much more accessible for navigation app developers. Affordable turn-by-turn navigation apps give everybody GPS and have helped keep our eyes on the road rather than searching through directions.

Innovative driving applications like Waze use GPS to crowdsource real-time traffic data, which might do more to keep our eyes off the road and on our phone, but can give us the information that will change our routes.

5. Electric Cars


The rise of the hybrid did a lot for fuel efficiency, but as electronic cars become more viable, they will drastically change everyday habits of drivers. According to the LA Times, every major automaker plans to release some sort of electronic or plug-in vehicle in the next several years.

It might not be long before drivers are looking for a place to plug in rather than a gas pump. A bevy of big companies are developing mobile charging stations to accommodate electric vehicle enthusiasts. New York City’s first station is free, but how will future stations charge you for your charge? How will we handle the added strain on the grid? These are just a few questions we have to answer before electric vehicles can become a feasible alternative to gas-guzzling autos.

Which innovative technologies are you keyed into that are changing the way we drive? Let us know in the comments below.

Series Supported by IBM

The Smarter Products Series is supported by IBM. Find out more about how IBM is working to create a Smarter Planet.

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