A week ago I was driving a car on the empty roads of Goa when I received an SMS. Instantly, the car read out the message to me. Soon, the cabin started getting hot and I gave a voice command. Instantly, the car increased the blower speed. I didnt like the music being played and I asked the car to change it. Instantly, the car played me another song. No, I am not talking about some high-end luxury car, it is a soon-to-be-launched sub-4 metre entry-level sedanthe Tata Zest.
While the Tata Zest may be a one-off exampleand its voice command system is yet to be tested by customersas far as luxury cars are concerned, the in-car infotainment systems have clearly come of age. Consider Volvo cars. Sudeep Narayan, marketing & PR director, Volvo Cars India, recently told me about the Volvo App. In many countries across the world, using the Volvo App, the driver can not only switch on the AC of the car remotely but the car itself can book service directly with the dealer.
Narayan then told me about the City Safety feature that many Volvo cars in India come equipped with. We know that you want to avoid collisions under all circumstances, also at low speeds. And it only takes a moments distraction in a busy city centre to find yourself in such a scenario. Thats where City Safety helps. It is a laser-based technology that can sense an impending collision at speeds of up to 50 kmph. He elaborates: In the first instance, City Safety prepares the brakes so that they respond faster when you press the pedal. And if you fail to brake, City Safety applies the brakes for you and switches off the throttle to lessen the effects of a collision. If the difference in speed between your car and the one in front is less than 15 kmph, City Safety can even prevent a collision from happening in the first place.
Mention must be made here of the Active Bending Lights that many Volvo cars in India come equipped with. Now, lets say you are driving on a winding road at night and the headlights dont really show you everything coming up around the next bend. In such a case, the Active Bending Lights feature makes the cars headlights swivel like eyes, so that you can see around the cornersin Volvo cars, the motorised headlamps can turn up to 15 degrees in either direction and follow the way you steer.
In fact, City Safety and Active Bending Lights are just two elements of Volvos complete approach to car safety. The company calls this approach as IntelliSafe, and it is a programme targeted at fulfilling the companys aim to create cars that will help avoid collisions altogetherit includes features such as Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, Park Assist and more, some of which are yet to be launched in India.
One car that is less of a car and more of a gizmo is the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Approach this mammoth of a vehicle with its key in your pocket and simply touch the inside of the car handle. Lo! The car unlocks itself. Leave a mall with your hands full of shopping bags, approach this cars trunk, swipe of your foot beneath the rear bumper and the boot opens! And then there is the Mercedes-Benz COMAND system that has a fully automated car manualamong other things, what it does is (in combination with an appropriate mobile phone) connect to the internet while the car is stationary and uses Mercedes-Benz apps for location searches, weather forecasts, etc.
Two more features that are now getting common in most high-end luxury carsespecially the BMW 7 Series and the Audi A8are the Active Parking Assist and the Attention Assist. If you are a novice and are not comfortable reversing your car, leave that to the Active Parking Assist. The system, with the help of cameras all around the car, automatically steers the vehicle into parking spaces and spares the driver the steering and braking actions. The Attention Assist, on the other hand, analyses the drivers driving style at speeds between 60-200 kmph and issues an audible and visual warning as soon as it detects a deviation from the drivers established way of driving. The latter feature, especially, is a boon during long trips and when driving at night, and considerably increases driving safety.
So, what is the future of such technologies The good news is that they are, steadily, percolating into other, more affordable cars such as the Tata Zest. And the better news is that the in-car infotainment system is just the tip of the iceberg. In the days to come, vehicular connectivity will expanded to include passenger and car safety, economising energy consumption, containment of environmental pollution and, most of all, providing an amazing experience for the users.