<p>Love the car but hate the commute? The smart cars of the future will wake up drowsy drivers with alerts, take care of parallel parking, and eventually drive themselves. Such vehicles will talk wirelessly with one another and traffic controls to make travel faster, safer and more fuel-efficient. And if you can't afford to the smarter car technologies yet, there's probably an app for that.</p> <p> Take a look at the 10 ways smart cars will make you rethink the meaning of a morning or evening work commute.
Can't afford a fancy car with smart safety features just yet? A simple mobile app can enable a smartphone to detect whether a driver is sleepy or distracted, keep an eye on the road ahead, and provide warnings whenever it's time to stop for coffee. The car safety app makes clever use of the front- and back-facing smartphone cameras as it sits on a dashboard holder to act as a hands-free helper.
Drivers of plug-in electric cars could soon use a mobile app to painlessly choose where, when and how they want to recharge: an immediate top-off; late at night, paying lower off-peak-hour prices; or a balanced "set-it-and-forget-it" charge managed by the system. The test app, developed by U.S. tech giant IBM and Switzerland's EKZ, aims to make recharging a brainless process for drivers. But IBM is also working with utility companies behind the scenes to make sure swarms of electric cars don't overload the U.S. power grid.
A big road trip with friends or relatives packed into several vehicles can get a lot simpler with Volvo's "road train" concept. The networked vehicle concept allows a pack of cars to automatically follow the lead driver's twists and turns on roads or highways. Successful tests in Europe have already allowed a small convoy of cars to travel 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers) in perfect harmony since the project began in 2009.
People who hate parallel parking on crowded streets can expect self-parking technologies to become more widely available in the near future. Several car models already boast such features — Ford's active park assist uses rear radar sensors to find a space large enough for parallel parking before automatically steering the car into it. Similarly, Volvo has a self-parking system that only requires drivers to control the speed of the car as it steers itself into tight parking spaces.
Many people claim to love their cars like pets or companions. That human personification of vehicles could become easier with a California designer's concept for a "TOMO" car display that makes happy, sad and exhausted faces for human drivers. Such digital facial expressions could serve as a shorthand guide for human drivers to understand what their cars need (hint: exhausted cars need gas). But it could also allow humans to bond more closely with their car companion — especially if many cars end up driving themselves.
Self-driving cars made by Google have begun roaming U.S. roads as a part of tests leading up to widespread deployment. The driverless technology promises to revolutionize morning and evening commutes for millions of Americans by turning the typical drive into a hands-free activity — a cruise-control ride that allows former drivers to kick back with work emails, watch TV shows on their tablets or phones, or just focus on a good conversation with fellow passengers.
Distracted, drunken or sleepy drivers contribute to a death toll of about 33,000 people on U.S. roads each year. Self-driving cars could cut back on that problem by communicating with one another — as well as with central traffic systems — to monitor road or traffic conditions and avoid collisions. That promise of safer roads also holds the side benefit of reducing the $300 billion annual cost of U.S. car crashes.
Car owners won't have to practice "hypermiling" techniques of careful braking and accelerating to save on gas money in the near future. The computer "brains" of self-driving cars can calculate the most efficient ways to either step on the gas pedal or the brake. Self-driving cars could also "talk" to other cars through wireless networks to ensure that the swarm of vehicles on the road travel as smoothly and swiftly as possible without unnecessary starts and stops.
Driverless car technology has huge benefits for people beyond car owners. Car-rental businesses could send their rental cars directly to a customer's door. Tourists and commuters may become accustomed to hailing automated taxis by using their smartphones. Even private car owners might earn an extra dollar or two by lending their vehicles out to car-sharing programs, rather than having their vehicles take up space by sitting idly in parking lots or garages.
Traffic lights could become relics of the past if self-driving cars become widespread. The smart cars could communicate with a central system that calculates the paths for cars to turn or go straight through intersections without stopping or hitting other cars. That automated traffic control could speed up driving and reduce road delays with only the slightest slowdowns in speeds. Humans riding in such self-driving cars may find themselves unnerved at first, but they'll likely soon learn to love the future of commuting.