Picture this: You get into your car and the windshield turns on–only the windshield is a touchscreen interface that uses facial recognition software to identify that it’s you who has entered the vehicle.
It’s 8:50 a.m. on a Wednesday, so your car automatically knows to drive you to work. Even though your office is 25 miles away, it’ll only take about seven minutes to get there because your car moves in sync with others around it, at a whopping 200 mph. En route, you watch the news on your 19-inch, touchscreen dashboard display, while you verbally assign tasks for your vehicle to perform that day.
According to experts, that seemingly imaginary scenario will become reality much faster than most people realize. Autonomous cars, in fact, already are here. And Tesla CEO Elon Musk is testing a futuristic transport system that could move cars through tunnels at 130 mph.
Experts predict the car of the future will be self-driving, voice-activated, personalized, serve as your personal assistant, and, according to Rainer Feurer, VP of customer-centric sales development and customer experience at BMW, completely connected.
“I think there are two facets to this,” he said. “One is how the car interacts with the environment, so we can provide services that will help the driver use the car. On the other side, we can now look at how we integrate services into the journey, and that means we need to integrate third parties into the car itself. In a sense, the car will become a completely digital asset in the future.”
Here’s a look at the exciting road ahead.
Behind The Screens
According to the Forrester report “Autonomous Vehicles Will Reshape the Global Economy,” the driverless commuting experience will turn cars into a customer touch point. Long commutes will mean time to check email, update social media, and even do online shopping. Forrester also expects luxury car brands will be the first to shift their messaging from boasting high-performance engines to Ultra HD entertainment systems.
“Advertisers and media companies will compete for a spot inside the new vehicle experience,” the Forrester report stated. “Big brands will sponsor rides and destination companies like Disney will seize the opportunity and extend their guest experience to the commute en route to the park.”
As such, expect a lot of screens, added Loni Stark, senior director, strategy and product marketing at Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company). “It's going to be just a matter of time before more of the car interior is covered in screens, especially as cars become self-driving and drivers now become passengers,” she said. “You’re going to be able to have a lot more entertainment in the car.”
Stark also foresees a time when autonomous cars can be customized based on their purpose. For example, cars used mostly to get to and from work could be designed as an office space, while cars used most for family outings could potentially look more like a living room area. Like BMW’s Feurer, Stark also expects cars will be connected and able to communicate with each another.
In addition, AR in windshields will become mainstream, according to Jim Carroll, an automotive futurist.
“We’re already hearing about auto brands using augmented reality in the windshield/screen to improve the driving experience,” he told CMO.com. “In the future, the dashboard will display the time, mapping, Facebook feeds, you name it, and it’s all going to be part of the window. Think of the heads-up display in high-end fighter jets, which displays information on speed, velocity, a map. The car of the future will have this in the windshield. It’s not just going to be all about the dashboard anymore.”
Biometrics will be a large part of the car of the future, too, Carroll stated. “The key [fob] will disappear,” he said. The auto industry is already showing signs of moving in that direction. For example, Gentex, a rear-view mirror maker, announced at CES 2018 that it can now embed an iris scanner into its products to identify owners to their cars.
Hyundai and Nissan demonstrated biometric features at CES as well. Hyundai unveiled the Intelligent Personal Cockpit, featuring artificial-intelligence-enhanced voice recognition that can monitor vital signs. And Nissan’s new, mind-reading “brain-to-vehicle technology” monitors brain waves to predict what a driver will do next, with the promise to speed reaction times for drivers. (More from CES here.)
For all of this connectivity, autonomous cars will require cable modem feeds for higher bandwidth. That, in turn, will take the media and entertainment experience in the car to a new level.
“Bandwidth is going to be a huge part of what we do, so somebody has got to design and implement something that is far more sophisticated than cell phone infrastructure,” Carroll said. “We will have high-capacity highways. I might choose to go on some type of highway because it’s going to offer me faster bandwidth than some other highways because we will be consuming media and consuming data. We’re going to expect the same type of connectivity that we get in our home.”
Forrester made a similar point in its report, stating that car companies must “transform from hardware manufacturers into high-tech mobility providers.”
The report also pointed to another trend: As self-driving cars mature and become mainstream, shared transportation is expected to become a big trend. Already, car- and ride-sharing services have decreased the number of cars on the road. “The largest cities will need (or allow) far less privately owned passenger cars on [their] roads,” according to Forrester.
What else might we expect from the car of the future? How about serving as its owner's personal assistant? For example, rather than a person searching for where to buy a specific product and then driving there, she will be able to do a voice search from inside of the car. The car will then drive her to the closest store within a 5-mile radius that carries the item, at the lowest price point.
“I can envision a time when the car becomes your mobile concierge and helps you find the information that you want,” Stark said. “There’s nothing more annoying than having to get your car serviced, but what if you were able to pay an annual service fee and your car just drives itself to get an oil change while you are at work?”
Voice is going to be a big part of the car of the future, according to experts. Case in point: At CES 2018 Amazon’s Alexa made its way into the Toyota dashboard. Toyota will start offering the voice-powered assistant in its Entune 3.0 App Suite and Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 later in 2018. Manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, and Hyundai already have Alexa support. This trend will only continue to accelerate, according to BMW's Feurer.
According to futurist Carroll, the car will even be able to pay its owner’s bills, most likely with integrations from Apple Pay, PayPal, and the likes. Biometrics will play a big role in fraud prevention.
Carroll also predicted an age of “zombie cars,” especially in highly populated cities where parking can cost upward of $1,000 a month. Zombie cars will drive around locally, for as long as necessary, until it is time to pick up its owner.
Yes, flying cars are already being tested by some automakers, though they won’t be in use anytime soon, Stark said. And in congested cities filled with skyscrapers, they wouldn’t be practical, either. But in more rural areas, there’s no reason why self-driving cars couldn’t take off.
This could have dramatic repercussions on the airline industry, initially with short-distance flights being replaced by the flying car, according to Carroll.
“I talk a lot on stage about ‘The Jetsons,’ and there is already a line of thinking that eventually cars will fly,” he said. “Just look at what we’ve already done with drone technology and self-flying drones. All we’ve got to do is scale them up, make them bigger, and stick a human in it. There’s your flying car.”
By the time the industry is ready to release models that fly, cars also will be a lot more intelligent, particularly about making decisions based on “swarm activity,” Carroll added. Interestingly, he said, one of the leading car companies has hired penguin researchers, who, among other things, study how the birds “hunt in groups and synchronize their dives to catch fish.”
“If we can get cars to mimic the social behavior of penguins in terms of traveling as a pack, then that helps us figure out something in terms of what we can do to make them work better together, both on the ground and in the air,” Carroll said.