Automotive engineering is now in an age where new technology is being applied like never before. Automakers are no longer only manufacturers of machinery, we’re also developers and implementers of state-of-the-art technology.
This shift represents a significant investment by the automotive industry. Automakers spend about $102 billion annually on research and development (R&D)—that’s almost four times what the entire global aerospace and defense industry spent on R&D in 2013 ($25.5 billion). Further, automakers are now among the most innovative firms across industries. According to a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group, automakers comprised 14 of the top 50 most innovative companies in 2013. Furthermore, three automakers (Toyota, Ford and BMW) ranked in the top 10.
We’re innovating for two reasons: to keep pace with the ever-increasing consumer demand for technology and to improve vehicle safety through technological advances.
With over 90 percent of collisions the result of driver error, the innovation of today and tomorrow promises significant reduction in the number of incidents. Until recently, driver assistance programs have focused on in-vehicle advancements, so technology like radar and ultrasonic sensors that can assist the driver are already sold in cars today.
But the future looks toward vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) connections. This connected car technology, which is being developed through partnerships among automakers, telecommunications providers, and other technology firms, transforms vehicles into mobile platforms capable of connecting and communicating with their surroundings.
These interconnected driver assists can be passive in nature, like blind spot detection or lane change assistance systems, or they can be as active as emergency systems that can take control of the vehicle seconds before a potential crash.
All of these technologies represent important advancements in auto safety. The Department of Transportation estimates that V2V technology could prevent 80 percent of accidents that don’t involve driver impairment or mechanical failure.
The industry is changing faster than ever before, and in some respects the cars of the future are already here.
The future of mobile technology platforms is similarly exciting. A world where cars, phones, refrigerators, and TVs are all connected in a global ecosystem is not out of the question. In fact, Toyota’s Driver Awareness Vehicle (DAR-V) was developed to reduce driver distractions before the key is even in the ignition.
Developed in partnership with Microsoft Research, the DAR-V is utilizing Microsoft technologies like Kinect to integrate systems into the design of the vehicle, displaying highly personalized information on the side window as the driver approaches the car.
Using a combination of gesture, voice, and key fob control, drivers can navigate information like updates on traffic and the weather, appointments and schedules for the day ahead, and even route details including a gas station along the way if the vehicle is low on fuel. By presenting daily priorities based on the driver’s preferences before he or she sets foot in the vehicle, the DAR-V allows the driver to devote more focus on driving.
Automakers are not just manufacturing companies anymore; we are developing innovative technologies and working with other industries to revolutionize the way we drive.
Sandy Lobenstein is vice president of Connected Vehicle Technologies and Product Planning for Toyota.