Today’s Cars are High Tech Devices on Four Wheels
Today, auto technology on sale allows cars to “see” all around, gathering data on possible roadway concerns and giving drivers eyes in the back of their heads. Since more than 90 percent of crashes involve driver error, automakers created a range of safety systems that aid drivers for brief periods to help avoid accidents. Driver assist systems include lane departure and blind spot warnings, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, telematics control systems and more.
Technological improvements in computers, smartphones, wireless communications and the cloud have converged to advance safety for connected consumers. Connectivity and the internet are changing the world of autos, and more change is coming. The percentage of new passenger cars globally shipping with factory-installed telematics will increase from nearly 10 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in 2016, according to ABI Research.
Looking forward, cars may soon be “talking” to each other and to the roadway. Car-tocar information sharing can alert vehicles miles behind that cars ahead have come to a halt, warning drivers to prepare to slow down. “Smart” intersections will allow stop signs and traffic lights to communicate with vehicles, as sensors report if another vehicle is running a red light. Traffic lights could be synchronized to improve traffic flow — and fuel efficiency — and if there is only one vehicle sitting at a traffic light late at night, the light could be programmed to turn green.
A study by McKinsey Global Institute found that the auto industry will be the second largest data producer by 2015. Much of that data will come from the car itself, through sensors and integrated devices. Additional data will come from connected devices used by a vehicle’s occupants or from third-party sources like traffic reports and weather sites.
Building Autonomous Cars for the Future
Today’s leading automakers are developing cars that park themselves, brake at the sign of danger and stay in lanes without driver assistance. What once only existed in the imaginations of science fiction writers is now being developed and tested by carmakers in laboratories and on roadways across the globe.
As partially-autonomous functions in vehicles become more common, the leap to achieving fully driverless cars becomes ever smaller. Today’s emerging technology — sensors able to read road signs and traffic signals, while also employing vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems to navigate roadways, traffic and pedestrian hazards — will be available widespread in the future.
Analysts differ on when these autonomous cars will be introduced, but few believe driverless cars in some form are not the wave of the future.
Technological Role Reversal: U.S. Military Following Automaker Innovations
Not long ago, developments by researchers in the military and space industries found their way into automobiles. But today, prominent scholars are noting a major role reversal: carmakers are leading the way in technological innovations. Though Congress set a goal that a third of the combat fleet be comprised of unmanned vehicles by 2015, The New York Times reports the U.S. armed forces is lagging behind today’s auto manufacturers.
The newspaper noted automakers leading the military in self-driving technology is ironic “given that today’s commercial advances have their roots in research originally sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s advanced technology organization.”
The Rise of Cobots
A century after Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line, carmakers have come a long way, integrating banks of robots, computers and other automation into a high-tech manufacturing process. Today’s auto assembly line is “part human and part machine,” according to The Detroit News.
But “a new generation of smarter, smaller and gentler robots is poised to transform manufacturing again, this time by working alongside their human colleagues.”1 Collaborative robots, or “cobots,” now populate factory floors working in tandem with humans to make operations run more smoothly. Cobots are a newer trend, able to assist in a myriad of ways, from moving parts and improving safety to taking on wearisome tasks to improve the health of workers.
Carmakers Compete with Silicon Valley for Talented “Codaholics”
As consumers demand “connected” cars that sync with smartphones, the importance of computer systems in cars is growing. Ernst & Young predicts over the next decade 104 million vehicles around the world will possess “some form of connectivity.” Reuters reported millions of lines of computer code control important auto operations, from braking to air conditioning. Similar to computers and smartphones, electronic parts like sensors and microprocessors comprise the “backbone” of today’s cars.
Automakers are hiring thousands of software programmers – or “codaholics” – who play an even greater role in vehicle design and operation. The impetus to hire “codaholics” is “increasingly pitting Detroit against its technology partners in Silicon Valley,” reports Reuters. It should not be surprising that the state of California – long considered the nation’s high-tech and R&D capital – has the largest number of engineers employed in the U.S. with 62,000. Michigan, however, with a workforce one-quarter the size of the Golden State’s, has nearly 60,000 engineers in its labor force.