Smart car tech coming in 2021 and beyond

Published January 15, 2021, 12:12 PM

by Inigo Roces

Digital features of future wheels

Written by Eric Tipan

Despite the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the auto industry, automakers are still training their eyes and efforts on the future, especially on tech that’s future-proofing vehicles of today.

We take a look at what they envision driving in the future to be like and show you what’s available now (some not yet locally, but soon for sure), and what’s just on the horizon. If you like your vehicle packed with tech, some of these models could be worth the wait.

What’s here

We start the list with technologies that are already available in some parts of the globe.

Toyota’s Road Sign Assist

Parking assistance, pedestrian (even bicyclist) detection, blind spot monitoring; they’re all here in some form or another in various models from different auto brands, so that’s nothing new.

What should come in the next update, which I expect sometime mid or late this year, is Toyota’s Road Sign Assist. Using a camera, it actively scans for road signs like the speed limit, stop signs, etc. and then displays it in the instrument panel for increased driver awareness.

Where is it now? Already in the Asia-Oceania market in models such as the Hilux, Corolla, Yaris, and RAV4.

Cadillac Super Cruise system

We’ve all heard about adaptive cruise control, but Cadillac has developed the ‘enhanced’ version called Super Cruise that controls both the vehicle’s speed and steering.

Yes, it technically debuted in 2017 but its latest update gives it automatic lane-change capability. To automate the move, the driver simply needs to flip the turn signal to the side of the desired lane and the vehicle does the rest.

It also comes with ‘dynamic lane offset’ that adjusts the vehicle slightly within its lane when passing large vehicles or when other vehicles pass very closely.

Unfortunately, Super Cruise only works on highways mapped using LiDAR tech (more than 210,000 kilometers in the US and Canada) and visible lane markings.

Where is it now? Only in North America for now and only in the Escalade, CT4, and CT5.

Panoramic electrochromic glass roof

Toyota, McLaren, and Mercedes have this feature. One is a US$1,400 optional extra while the other two costs north of US$9,000. I don’t think I need to tell you which one’s which.

Okay, so technically this is another oldie. Launched as early as 2014 but only now will it come in mass market units.

The Japanese automaker calls it the Star        Gaze and it basically works the same way as McLaren’s and Mercedes’ glass roof. The film on the glass is clear but when ions in the film get charged, they realign in a diffused state to restrict the light that shines through.

Where is it now? In a more affordable form, it’s in the US market in the 2021 Toyota Venza.

Next-level noise cancellation

Bushings, sound-dampening material, and tire technology all have their limits when it comes to reducing road noise, which is why Hyundai went with some hardcore audio tech to hush the harshness in one of the SUVs of its luxury brand, Genesis.

In cooperation with audio electronics company Harman, the Korean automaker is putting the world’s first active road noise cancellation system in the Genesis GV80 SUV.

Using a suite of noise-cancellation tech, including a processor and sensors (placed on the suspension and chassis) to detect and even predict noise that can be transferred into the cabin, it simultaneously generates an anti-noise wave to counter it. In the cabin, microphones constantly monitor for any errors in the system’s performance in each seat to ensure nary a peep gets into the ears of the occupants.

Where is it now? Already available in South Korea and the US in the Genesis GV80.

Crabwalk

Imagine a vehicle that can move diagonally but in a straight line. This trick could be very useful in tight parking spaces and in rough and rocky terrain. Which is why it’s very apropos that General Motors is set to debut this feature in their upcoming EV truck.

Making all four wheels turn at the same angle by up to 10 degrees, the vehicle can literally drive diagonally like a crab. Sadly, it only works at low speeds.

Where is it now? It will be available in the upcoming Hummer EV that’s set to launch the third quarter of 2021.

What’s coming

These technologies may need a few years more to develop, but their integration into production models looks promising.

3-D printing

Some Porsche components are already 3D printed while Michelin’s 3D printed tire is still a concept, but as time moves along, without a doubt, 3D printing will become a staple in auto manufacturing.

Facial recognition

It unlocks your expensive devices today; in the future it will unlock your vehicle. That’s right, automakers are working on facial recognition software that will allow vehicles to unlock the doors as soon as it ‘sees’ you.

The Apple Car

There were rumors about Apple’s car as early as 2014 and while everything’s been hush-hush, reports have come and gone about the tech giant hiring and firing staff, registering patents, and also acquiring autonomous vehicle tech companies. The latest news is that Apple is working on a 2024 launch date.

 
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