Flying Cars? Not Yet, but These New Technologies Will Transform Driving [Slideshow]

While self-driving cars may be at least a few years away, there are a host of other technological innovations that are already here, or soon to appear, in the latest vehicles rolling off assembly lines. According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry is in the midst of the most innovative period in its history.

“The pace of technology adoption has definitely increased, with computers and the Internet of Things (IoT) accelerating the move,” says Greg Schroeder, assistant director and senior research engineer at the Center for Automotive Research, who added that technology has become an increasingly important part of auto manufacturing.

Schroeder adds there are three main areas of innovation: making cars more lightweight, under-the-hood powertrains, and connected and automated technologies. “Lightweighting” and powertrains are less apparent innovations aimed at improving performance and fuel efficiency. It’s the connected and automated features that are wowing drivers and pushing car technologies to a new level.

Headlights, cameras

Laser LED headlights that shine up to 650 yards away? Sure. But now there are lights that can see around corners before you start your turn. The headlamps swivel by using either map data from your car’s GPS or a camera that tells your car the road is curving. “I have adaptive headlights on my car that see around corners and will automatically bright and dim for me,” says Wade Newton, communications director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. During night driving, he adds, the lights detect when another car is approaching and automatically dim to low beams.

Tiny cameras mounted on cars have been around for a while, but a new technology that integrates cameras and radar can scan the road ahead and warn of a possible collision. Mounted on the rear-view mirror, the system can talk to other adaptive technologies in your car, such as autonomous braking or pedestrian detection, and help avoid accidents.

Open your sunroof with the wave of a hand. Touch-less gesture control is replacing the buttons and switches of a car’s interior interface, allowing a specific hand swipe to open a window, change the audio or lower the interior temperature. The proximity-aware sensors detect when your hand nears a device, activating a system. The touch-less controls also help to reduce the interior ambient light at night for less distraction.

Voice control options

Is waving your hand too inconvenient? Don’t worry, voice control systems are also here. Just give the command and your car’s climate control, sound system or system navigation, or your personal cell phone jump to action. Your hands stay on the wheel for utmost safety. The system can be turned on and off with the press of a button, and it recognizes preset voice command terms to power your functions through a noise-filtering microphone.

Innovations soon to arrive: Independent sound systems

For a family on a long-distance road trip, choosing entertainment on which everyone agrees can be a challenge. But with independent sound-zone technology, back-seat passengers can enjoy their own audio with little bleed-over to the front-seat driver, and vice versa. Similar to current multi-zone climate control, the technology should start appearing in new cars by 2019.

A new technology would give “Car Talk” a whole new meaning. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication lets your car talk with similarly equipped cars around you, exchanging information such as speed, location and braking status. The system would be connected to “haptic controls, where your steering wheel or seat vibrates to let you know if someone is in your blind spot while changing lanes,” says Newton.

Cars talking to each other is one thing, but what if your car could talk to your home? An automatic smart driving monitor does just that, communicating with your “connected” home thermostat to let it know when you’re leaving and to adjust the thermostat to save on heating and cooling. The car then tells it when you’re arriving, ordering the climate-control system to have the house ready at the preferred temperature.

Want to add cutting edge technology without investing in a brand new car? An under-the-dash device that connects directly to a car’s wiring lets you remotely start your car and lock and unlock doors. Compatible with a range of autos, including older models, the device can also prevent thefts by shutting down the engine if it detects unauthorized movement, while alerting the owner through a smartphone app.