Fantastic New Tech for Our Cars: Do We Actually Want It? Part Two

Last time, we looked at three pieces of new technology that could be in our cars soon — and asked the frankly unthinkable question of whether we actually wanted it. So far the tally is one definite yes and two maybes.

This time, we have three more promising new techs to look at. Once again, we’re trying to steer a course between being grumpy oldies and star-struck tech addicts.

1. Intelligent Headlights

Picture courtesy

The concept:

Intelligent/adaptive headlights have been around for some time, especially in higher-end cars. One such system is designed by Bosch, who explain it like this:

The intelligent headlight control uses a video camera to measure the ambient brightness and to estimate the distance from vehicles in front and oncoming traffic. This data is used to implement a variety of light functions.

The ‘variety of functions’ means automatically dipping headlights, altering intensity to suit the surroundings, switching off parts of the headlights to avoid dazzling other road users, and more.

Intelligent headlights are getting smarter all the time, and the best systems are now able to maintain a high beam without blinding the driver in front. The system continually tracks where the vehicle ahead is positioned and switches off the appropriate LED lights. You can see them in action on this Mercedes E Class (take a look at 2:00 – 4:00)

Do we want it?

This should be absolutely straightforward yes. After all, driving at night on a single carriageway has to be one of the most wearing activities known to humans, and intelligent headlights have the potential to really improve that.

Unfortunately, we’ve had some personal experience where the reality of intelligent headlights doesn’t match up to the promise. In some situations, we found that the sensor systems just couldn’t adapt as quickly (or intelligently) as a human driver — for example, when an oncoming car that we’d spotted miles off suddenly reappeared from a dip in the road. And if the system reacts more poorly than a human, what’s really the point of it?

For that reason, until the technology catches up, we’re going to have to give this one a maybe.

2. Driver & Occupant Monitoring

Picture courtesy of Bosch

The concept:

Driver monitoring systems (DMS) use a driver-facing camera to detect when he or she is ‘impaired’ — for example, if they’re fatigued or not paying attention to the road. The DMS then alerts the driver. DMS systems are already in use, especially in commercial truck fleets. There’s no doubt they will become a key feature of new cars in the near future. According to Automotive World:

Euro NCAP recognised the importance of DMS in its revised crash-test safety standards, which starting this year require DMS for a five-star rating. By 2022, DMS will become mandatory across the European Union for M1, M2, M3, N1, N2, and N3 new vehicle categories.

As DMS tech becomes more sophisticated, it may take more active steps when the driver is impaired, such as guiding the vehicle to a safe stopping place. The technology may also converge with Occupant Monitoring Systems, which — as the name suggests — check the status of other car occupants. It’s generally agreed that any development of robotaxis would need this feature.

Do we want it?

We’re going to give DMS an uneasy yes, we want it. Given that 90% of road accidents are caused by human error, it’s hard to object to a system that may really reduce that. No one wants to see another story of motorway carnage caused by a driver falling asleep or checking their phone.

But here’s the thing: in the quest for safety, are we handing over more and more control to computer algorithms? The little blighters already monitor us everywhere else, influencing what information we get (Google searches), what adverts we see (Google again), what we watch for entertainment (Netflix, YouTube) and maybe even who we date (matchmaking sites, dating apps). Now the simple pleasure of driving will be monitored and controlled by yet another algorithm.

Does any of this matter if it saves lives? We’ll leave you to ponder that.

3. Adaptive Tyres

Image courtesy of Continental Tyres

The concept:

If you thought tyre pressure monitoring was witchcraft, wait until you see adaptive tyres!  Here’s a great summary from What Car:

Integrated microcompressors [will] adjust the tyre pressure and the width of the wheel rim, changing the amount of rubber that’s in contact with the road to best suit the current conditions. There are four settings: Normal, Wet, Uneven and Slippery. The wheel is made narrower and the tyre pumped up for driving on smooth, dry roads, while width is increased and pressure reduced for slippery surfaces.

This is a developing technology that should, all being well, be with us in the mid-2020s.

Do we want it?

Phew! Back to something that doesn’t raise philosophical questions about freedom. Yes, we want adaptive tyres. They promise better grip, performance, economy and comfort.

Though we do wonder if it might be a massively over-engineered solution. After all, existing tyres work well enough in most circumstances, most of the time. And was life really so bad in a light, nimble, low-tech Golf Mk1, with just one set of very non-adaptive tyres? Excuse us while we go misty-eyed with nostalgia…

The Welsh VW Specialist blog covers a wide range of automotive topics, from the contentious to the light-hearted. We are an independent garage specialising (as the name suggests!) in all the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. Welsh VW Specialists provide services, repairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.