On The Road

Future Forward: Making Sense of Tomorrow’s Cars Today

This is the second installment in the Future Forward series from Allstate Canada (read the first installment here). The initiative aims to help inform and educate Canadians on what prevention and protection look like today and the technologies that are already impacting our lives as we look towards the future. We’ll help you navigate the complexities of this world and provide an outlook on how this can affect every aspect of your life, whether that’s in the home, on the road or with someone you love.


The automobile has come a long way since first being introduced in 1886. At that time, cars served the simple function of getting people from point A to point B. Since then, cars have evolved from four wheels and a carriage to a mode of transportation that’s increasingly efficient, safe and reliable. With so many vehicles on the road today, modern day drivers need their cars to be safe. Drivers have also come to expect, however, that their cars help make everyday life easier through great performance, smart design, fuel economy, and added bells and whistles – and all, of course, for a competitive price!

headshot of Sanjay Khanna
Sanjay Khanna, Futurist

This is where the realm of new and exciting car technology comes in. The advancements in the industry are happening at lightning speed — so much so, it is nearly impossible for the average car-buyer to keep up.

With that in mind, it’s a priority of mine to understand how these new technologies can potentially shape a driver’s experience and safety on the road. To help keep our finger on the pulse, I spoke with Sanjay Khanna, Futurist, to hear his expert opinions on the latest in car technology, and what we may expect in the near future.

 

Glen King: We know the auto industry is constantly evolving. What are some of the noteworthy things happening with cars today?

Sanjay Khanna: It’s definitely an interesting and exciting time to be talking about cars. The auto industry is always changing and technology plays a big part in that. Today’s cars are equipped with an impressive range of technologies that the likes of Henry Ford could never have predicted. That includes everything from GPS technology, digital dashboards, lane departure sensors and active headlight cornering systems. There’s big demand for reliable navigation systems integrated into the car, so digital dashboards are fitted with maps that are extremely precise with real-world images. Smart headlight technology has also come a long way. Headlight beams are more intuitive, shining on hard-to-see objects and helping drivers better navigate windy roads in the dark.

GK: Speaking of roads, can you tell us a bit about how roads and cars may work together to increase road safety?

SK: Our roads can be safer if emerging road and car technology work together, and cities are constantly looking for ways to improve how people get around. Whether that’s by foot, bike, public transit, roller blades, skateboard, vehicle or wheelchair — sharing the road safely is a top priority.

To help make roads safer, the needs of everyday commuters have to be considered. Many cities are keen to promote different transport options to address traffic congestion from booming populations, to encourage people to be environmentally conscious, and to help communities better connect with one another.Calgary is one city that’s doing this very well by increasing their walkability scores and creating dedicated cycling routes. Their transportation program called, “Calgary’s On-It”, creates centralized hubs for walking, cycling, and transit routes.

New York City will spend about $20 million piloting an intelligent transportation system on a key commuting route in Midtown Manhattan. The system will make it possible for up to 10,000 cars, buses, and limousines to communicate with each other, with traffic signals, and with other infrastructure. The aim is to reduce traffic congestion, increase safety for drivers and pedestrians, and limit harmful greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring vehicles maintain safer speeds and distances from one another, and signals respond to changing traffic in real time.

Car driving on road

GK: Of course, cars themselves are becoming safer too. Why do you think there’s a need for new car technologies?

SK: There are a number of reasons for automakers to invest in advancements in car technology. Those reasons range from entertainment and efficiency to simply wanting to outdo and out-innovate their competitors. But without question, one of the biggest motives is usually safety. If you think about how the car has evolved today from its early beginnings, safety measures have been a driving force.

Today, many people find work and life to be increasingly stressful and distracting due to the amount of tech devices at their disposal — and the expectation that with these devices they will always be available. One tech observer coined the term “continuous partial attention” to describe North Americans’ persistent need to be multitasking all the time. Since chronic stress and lack of sleep reduce driver alertness, automakers can help further develop these technologies so that drivers have more focus on the road. We are actually starting to see some automakers address the issue of attentiveness in new ways. For instance, drowsiness-detection systems that sense when a driver isn’t alert at the wheel are currently available on some vehicles.

GK: Do you think there is a learning curve when it comes to using and adopting new car technologies?

SK: I believe there is a learning curve. As cars become more digital, drivers will find they aren’t using (or even aware of) all the new features available to them. Car buyers need more hands-on advice with experienced trainers. Similar to what you would see from the “geniuses” at the Apple Genius Bar in the mall, these trainers should help empower users with product knowledge. Automakers should probably spend more time demonstrating features to customers that could potentially distract them if they don’t know how to set them up in advance.

Automakers should also make sure to share additional information on how each car model has integrated safety features for drivers and passengers, and what the limitations of these features can be. Local governments will continue to produce safety campaigns around drivers being distracted — especially the impact of smartphone texting on accident rates and injuries. Of course, no matter how sophisticated or advanced car safety features become, the best defense will always be driving with attention and care.

GK: That’s a very good point. When it comes to driving and safety, you can never underestimate the importance of the human touch. In-car technology can definitely help keep drivers safe on the road. What are some examples of car safety technologies currently in market?

SK: Safety features that are currently widely available include detection technology that help drivers better manage blind spots, lane departure, front and rear collision and alert warnings for pedestrians and cyclists. That being said, there’s an increasing need for having integrated sensor features that can help drivers avoid accidents.

Pushing on car screen interface

GK: A lot of the technologies you just mentioned are new, is there anything drivers should be mindful of before purchasing a vehicle?

SK: Absolutely. Automakers want cars to be as smart as possible. Even so, there will likely be features in a new vehicle that aren’t familiar or necessarily obvious to drivers. For instance, if you’re not familiar with your new car’s high-tech navigation or audio systems, that might increase your risk of an accident. I’d encourage drivers to become very familiar with the systems and menus in their car so they aren’t using them for the first time while in traffic.

GK: That’s great advice. So what I’m hearing is that it’s important for drivers to understand the technology available to them so they can be proactive about using it and protecting themselves, their passengers, as well as their car. You also mentioned a few technologies that are already shaping how drivers manage the roads. What advancements do you see happening in the near future?

SK: Well, with so many interconnected technologies in vehicles, automakers will need to take steps to ensure the features inside them are kept up-to-date and reliable. Car owners should pay attention to which automakers are integrating these new technologies without losing reliability. From a safety standpoint, I expect we will see more technology designed to keep drivers both alert on the road and familiar to their surroundings. GPS technology, on the other hand, will become even more sophisticated as time goes on by having improved guiding features and traffic updates in real-time.

It’s also important to consider the future of the “connected car” and how vehicles will respond to driver devices and other vehicles while on the road. In the future, vehicle-to-vehicle communications will help cars maintain safe distances from each other in traffic. Cars with built-in dashboard apps, such as wallets, will also be a popular feature as drivers are increasingly looking for easier ways to go about their daily activities. Just imagine how grabbing your coffee from a drive-thru will become that much easier as you’ll be able to pay for it from your dashboard!

GK: Well, there’s no denying that would be a convenient way to grab a latte on the go! Thanks, Sanjay, for giving us a glimpse into the future.

It’s great to hear that automakers are keen to develop technologies that not only keep us safer on the road, but that have the added value of providing comfort and convenience. It will be interesting to see how these technologies will be further developed and how they’ll impact road safety in the future.