By Shell on Oct. 12, 2021
The cabin of today's average car would confound a driver from only a generation or two ago. But the complex instrumentation and touchscreens we grapple with, and the increasing connectivity and other niceties we enjoy, are only the start of the transformation that’s being ushered in by the electronic age.
Augmented-reality (AR) dashboards, smart voice assistants and other sci-fi tricks have now become a reality for the car-buying public and a whole host of supplementary devices are being dreamed up by carmakers and their key tech suppliers.
You might already have a car with a panoramic sunroof that can be electronically dimmed at the flick of a switch. Continental is working on switchable-glazing technology that gives individual occupants the ability to dim their own windows or allows sections of the windscreen to be automatically dimmed to counter sun glare, potentially eliminating the need for sun visors. This technology could also allow windows to start defrosting automatically when the car is unlocked.
Bigger, wilder displays
A lot of cars already have fully digital instruments, backed up by a touchscreen and maybe even some additional screens elsewhere to boot. But the pinnacle of in-car screens hasn't arrived yet. Mercedes-Benz's 56-inch Hyperscreen will span the full dashboard of an upcoming electric-powered model from the brand, and is set to change the game. Cadillac is developing similar 'pillar-to-pillar' screen technology for its upcoming Celestiq electric sedan.
In-car displays aren't just set to get bigger, they're going to get more immersive. Continental is currently working on what it calls its Natural 3D Lightfield Instrument Cluster, which will be able to hover a bright red stop sign in front of the dashboard to alert the driver if needed, or show a house rising out of the navigation system for easier identification of the destination.
Targeted climate control
The next generation of climate control will take the 'set' out of set-and-forget. A system that uses face-recognition and infra-red cameras to determine the comfort of each passenger and automatically adjust the settings to suit has been shown at off recent technology shows by Valeo, and Ferrari has recently patented similar technology.
Real-time hazard warnings
The possibilities of 5G's ultra-fast bandwidth extend way beyond our smartphones. Porsche and Vodafone are currently studying technology that alerts the driver of temporary hazards in real time – think a broken-down car around a blind corner or a slippery patch of road – using cameras and sensors on the car to identify the hazard and the 5G network to instantly alert other drivers in the tech chain. Similar 5G-based systems are being developed that will not only alert the car driver of a possible collision but fire a warning to the smartphone of the pedestrian, cyclist or other road user in the way.
Those pillars either side of the windscreen have been getting thicker in cars over the years to increase body strength and meet safety requirements – but they can also be big enough to obscure a pedestrian or even a vehicle from the driver's view. Virtual A-pillars – screens embedded into the A-pillars that work with exterior cameras to project a fully unobscured view of the area – have been previewed by Continental as a possible solution to the problem.