Self Aware Cars: What To Expect and When [analysis]

Written by Ant Pruitt

Self-aware cars are closer than they might at first appear. Ant Pruitt does a deep dive and outlines just when and where you’ll see them. Cool! Analysis.

aNewDomain — In the summer of 2014 we found sugar plum dreams of the cars we currently drive. We saw visions of clean, intuitive user interfaces on the driver’s console that include all the bells and whistles of your favorite mobile device.

At the same time,  Android Auto and Apple CarPlay generated serious buzz. You want a beautiful interface with iHeart Radio? Boom, you got it. Want a navigation system that’s as simple and intuitive as Google Maps? Boom. Now you have Google Maps in your car.

Want your car to drive for you? Queue the screeching tires … but wait. Not yet, Grasshopper. Cool concept that it is, the self-driving car is just not ready for prime time. That said, during my recent visit to the QNX booth at #CES2015, I was able to have some cool conversations about car tech that will actually be ready for the roads as soon as 2016.

Self-aware cars.

Sure there are some cars that beep if you try to back the vehicle into a shopping cart. Sure, there are some vehicles that slow down your cruise control automatically if you approach a car too fast. But there’s more that can be done in aiding the driver and in truly making the vehicle self-aware. Here’s what I mean …


 Image credits Mat Lee  (left Ant Pruitt , right Mike Shane, QNX )

QNX has teamed up with the folks at Qualcomm to bring you some intriguing car tech and innovation that ought to help keep drivers and pedestrians safe. Using the Snapdragon chipset and QNX backend, you get a seamless user interface at your fingertips as you drive down the highways.

I spent lots of time at CES with exec Mike Shane. He detailed the proof of concept of a self-aware vehicle with the beautiful Maserati on display.

What’s Inside and Outside?

With this car, you get the luxurious layout you’d expect to find from a vehicle like Maserati, but you also get a simple layout within the console and driver’s instrument display.

The typical console where your radio and climate controls reside is now replaced with a 12-inch touch screen that offers all of your typical controls. Climate control, radio, navigation and more are all handled seamlessly in this console.

The touchscreen runs on an intuitive QNX operating system. No fumbling around with “options” and “pop-out menus” here. It’s all straightforward.

The rearview mirrors both inside and outside are actually LCD screens. These show you what a typical mirror would show you, but with a slightly wider point of view. The LCDs gather their images from from cameras mounted discreetly along the front quarter panels as well as the rear shark fin area of the vehicle.

Exactly What Makes This Vehicle Self-Aware?

Good question. The vehicle is armed with GPS and LTE connectivity, yes, but it also contains a wide array of sensors. These sensors use LIDAR to help detect what’s going on around the vehicle. You’ll know about cars approaching as you back out of your parking space, cars in your blind spot and the ambitious neighborhood dog looking to chase the postman across the street. All of these movements are detected and the driver is gently warned of the potential obstructions or dangers.

The driver also sees warnings along the bottom of the windshield as appropriate. The warning isn’t a big “WARNING” popup display, but instead it’s a soft warm red glow that illuminates the window’s lower edge.

It’s isn’t as distracting as it might sound. It is exactly enough to get the driver’s attention, though. QNX reps boast that this feature works especially well when driving at night and a big deer decides to come out of the woods towards the highway, and I believe it. The vehicle warns you for distances closes to a mile away from you. That means you may not see the brave deer before you, but your vehicle will.

What does this all mean for the car of tomorrow? And is tomorrow within a year? Probably not. But we are looking at seeing aspects of this tech to become more and more widely available through 2016 and into 2017.

But don’t think this is a concept car. It isn’t. And you won’t have to nab an $80,000 luxury car to get these new features. Average consumer-level vehicles will see them, for sure.

We already have great smart options available from Ford with Sync, right? Just think of the innovation of vehicle self-awareness as Sync on performance enhancing drugs.

I’m hooked. We are still far away from self-driving cars taking over. But self-aware vehilces? Well, they’re just down the block. And I’m ready.

For aNewDomain, I’m Ant Pruitt.