From ‘talking car’ to ‘thinking car’

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Published: December 7, 2015 12:17:54 AM

In 2003, the Scorpio started advising the occupants to wear seatbelts. When it’s launched in early 2016, the Tata Zica will, among other things, calculate the estimated time you will take to reach your destination. In-car communication technologies are no longer the exclusive domain of luxury cars

Few years ago a Mercedes-Benz used to talk back, as did an Audi and a BMW. Today, a Ford talks back, as does a Mahindra, a Tata and even the humble Maruti. Increasingly, in-car communication technologies are percolating into entry-level car models in India. Consider compact sedan Ford Figo Aspire (see below story), which not only changes a song at your voice command, but also calls an emergency number in the unfortunate event of an accident. The technology is called SYNC, which has been developed in association with Microsoft.

However, there is more to in-car technologies than simply voice command or emergency assistance. How about a car keeping its headlights switched on after you exit, illuminating the pathway to your home? The technology is called follow-me-home headlamps. Among other entry-level cars, Mahindra TUV300 has it. How about a car clearing the wind-shield at the first drop of a rain? The technology is called rain-sensing wipers. Maruti Suzuki S-Cross has it. How about a car switching on the headlights as it senses it’s getting darker outside?The technology is called automatic headlamps. Hyundai i20 Active has it.

You aren’t confident parking in tight spaces? Use the park assist system that detects obstructions while
reversing with the help of a proximity sensing buzzer. Hyundai Grand i10 has it.

You don’t want to fiddle with the car keys. No worries. Smart key is the answer. Approach the car with the smart key in your pocket, press a tiny black button on the door handle to open the door, fire the engine by pressing a button on the dashboard, stop the engine using the same button, step out, and lock the car by pressing the tiny black button again. Almost every second entry-level car today comes with this feature. The smart key doesn’t look like a key, but like a compact plastic remote control.

The fact of the matter is that entry-level cars in India are increasingly getting intelligent systems that were earlier found only in luxury marques. The latest to get several such smart features is the Tata Zica hatchback, which will be launched early next year. Among other features, the Zica raises the volume of the music as you increase speed. It also gets the Turn-by-Turn Navi app, which, when connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth, not only navigates you to your destination but also tells you the estimated time you will take to reach there.

However, not many people know that such technologies, in the so-called affordable cars segment, were first introduced by Mahindra & Mahindra, with the Scorpio. In 2003, Mahindra Scorpio must have surprised its occupants when it asked them to wear seatbelts for a safe drive, thus becoming the first ‘talking car’ of India! By 2007, it already had technologies such as letting the driver know the tyre pressure, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and cruise control. And by 2009, the Scorpio had become intelligent enough to switch off the engine by itself as the car comes to a stop at a traffic intersection, to save fuel. Needless to say, today’s Scorpio even has a few technologies that are found only in some upper-end luxury cars.

Clearly, in today’s always-on world, carmakers and technology companies are working in tandem to deploy powerful new tools into their latest models. Driving is only going to get more convenient in the times to come.

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