How artificial intelligence is upping the IQ of the cars we drive
Self-drivers may be a way off, but some cars already include onboard decision-making by machines
It's 2019 and there are still no flying cars. Jetsons be damned. Even comparably "simpler" automotive technologies like autonomous cars are still (commercially speaking) some time off, despite companies such as Tesla and Google - as well as a recently forged alliance between Ford and Volkswagen - dedicating much time and money towards the conquering of this complicated form of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The basic idea is sound and in ideal conditions a car can pilot itself without the risk of anything going wrong. Hell, I've been driven around a track at the Honda R&D Centre in Tochigi, Japan, by a car with a "mind" of its own and the experience was impressive, to say the least. But out in the real world, in cities sprawling with unpredictability, self-driving vehicles have a way to go before they are adopted by the vehicular mainstream.
However, this doesn't mean that AI isn't upping the IQs of cars already sitting in dealerships, especially as far as infotainment is concerned. Manufacturers are wise to the fact that we humans have developed an unhealthy and potentially dangerous addiction to our smartphones. They realise that no matter how great the risk, we will not put them down - even when sat behind the steering wheel.
Enter the wonderful world of voice recognition. Adapting to and learning the tone of our individual vocal timbres, this technology allows us to not only listen to incoming messages but also "type" and send them. All you need is an App like Apple CarPlay - now common in many entry-level cars - and you can keep abreast of your messaging safely and in practically all driving conditions.
Step up a level in terms of capital outlay and you will discover advanced camera systems that work to keep you safer on your everyday commute. Subaru, for example, offers one of the best. Known as EyeSight, it comprises two forward-facing camera units mounted on either side of the rearview mirror. Linked to an electronic brain, the system scans the road ahead and alerts you to hazards. Drifting out of your lane due to drowsiness? It'll pull you back and save you from a potential head-on collision. Missed that tipsy pedestrian stumbling out into your path? EyeSight's pre-collision braking system will automatically apply maximum braking force for you to avoid the meeting of metal and flesh.
Volvo is working on a way to adapt intelligent optics to focus on what's happening inside the cabin rather than out of it. Available as an option in select Volvo models later this year, specialised biometric cameras will apparently have the power to monitor your body's glucose levels - among other things - via a pupil scan. Should the system detect any anomalies or potential health emergencies, it will automatically contact a family member or health-care professional.
According to Volvo, this biometric technology will also be able to keep an eye on a driver's stress level. If he or she gets a little too hot under the collar, the car will adjust its various systems - anything from mood lighting to climate control, audio volume and suspension firmness - to help alleviate stress and in turn prevent an accident or, even worse, a potential road-rage incident.
No mention is made of alcohol detection but you can be sure that a setup like this will have the power to keep tabs on how many cold ones you've thrown down your gullet. Yep, your own car will be snitching you to the cops if you're not careful.
So although our Blade Runner-esque fantasies are still a few years away from fruition, the tendrils of Artificial Intelligence already have an impressively strong grasp - and sway - on the cars you and I can both go out and buy today.