Illustration by Dilek BaykaraCar and Driver
From the July/August 2022 issue of Car and Driver.
Walk up to your car nowadays, and it recognizes your key fob and unlocks the door. It might also set the seat in your preferred position; wirelessly connect to your phone; change the interior accent lights to the yellow, green, and purple you chose last Mardi Gras and never updated; and ask if you want to play Centipede or maybe order a pizza. These are crucial upgrades to the motoring experience, and if this were 1982 or, heck, even 2012 (the pre–Apple CarPlay days), this hypothetical car would be a mind-blowing feat of futuristic technology. In 2022, it's just a Subaru. Or a Dodge. Or pretty much any moderately optioned new model from the past couple of years.
Automakers are racing to showcase new and interesting technology, and that means we also see a lot of useless features—or, at best, moderately amusing novelties. Everyone is pitching "connected" and "smart" cars, so why are so many of the perks of these brilliant, sensor-laden, and computer-heavy smart cars, well, kinda dumb? I'm not anti-dumb. Puddle lights that spell out the name of the car when you open the door? Glamorous. Even if they're less than useful for finding the house key you just dropped. Infotainment systems that offer nature sounds and radios that can change volume with a wizardly swoop of the hand are fine. But while product managers are busy copying one another's ideas for little LED light shows, there are still automotive inconveniences we have barely addressed since the Curved Dash Olds. Because I love to help, here are a few places where I think smart-car technology could go a long way toward improving the driving experience.
You want a light show, let's talk sun visors. The sun has been the enemy of travelers since the first person had to head westward in the afternoon. And yet, the biggest improvement I've ever seen in sun blocking is when there's a little extra flap that can extend to the back half of the side window. Sometimes there's a mirror, and the mirror has a light. That's nice, but the sun is still in my eyes. Several car companies use electrochromic tech in their glass roofs to adjust from clear to frosted. Couldn't we do the same on the windows? There are rules about tinting, but what if the windshield could track the hot spot and just darken that? What if the whole window went dark while the car is parked to keep the interior cool? Sunglasses can auto-darken. Is the automotive industry comfortable with being out-teched by a $200 pair of Ray-Bans?
I'm not done with visibility complaints. Mirrors should adjust themselves based on the driver's eyeline. Cadillac already tracks your face to make sure you're paying enough attention to use Super Cruise, and Subaru uses facial recognition to adjust seats and mirrors to preset positions. Why not go one step further and use the tech to see your position and automatically compute the best settings for your side and rearview mirrors?
Speaking of facial recognition, the new Genesis GV60 unlocks with a face-level camera and starts via a fingerprint sensor. Biometrics are already in use, mostly to sell us things, but if our cars are tracking us, can they at least be more best friend than tattletale? Maybe alert us when we're too sleepy to be driving, or flag low blood sugar and route us to the nearest Wendy's, or notice when we're crying and play something sad. I recommend Joni Mitchell's Blue to match the lighting.
Engineers, if you're reading this, I have many more suggestions: airbag nap pillows, phone coolers, self-cleaning steering wheels. Have your car contact mine; we'll connect.
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