While there’s been no shortage of development related to automobiles, the items getting the most advertising lately are in the area of performance, alternative fuels and increasing gas mileage. But that’s not all. Auto makers are investigating ways to implement technology to transform the driving experience. From auto pilot to butt identification, the new ways to change the driving experience are about to really shake things up.

Lately Ford Motor Company has been out in front with a comprehensive touch-screen system, scheduled to get an extensive upgrade this month. The system, according to reports, replaced the knobs and buttons with a touch screen interface, voice commands and steering wheel-mounted controls. These include climate controls, navigation, reverse camera, entertainment, hands-free communications and a customizable display where the speedometer is usually located. Critics say Ford rolled out this super system too soon and its glitches have seriously dented the automaker’s customer satisfaction ratings. The upgrade, which should fix the problems, includes a redesign of hundreds of screens, using larger buttons and fonts.

Also out in front for the near future are autopilot-type strategies for parking. The automatic parking now available gives the driver the option of an assist, with the car parallel parking itself if the driver chooses, a possible advantage in tight spots or for people just not good at the mechanics of parking. But General Motor’s recently announced its idea is to have the car drop the driver off curbside, find an open parking space and park itself, returning to pick up the driver when activated later by a smartphone app. An interesting twist, but how many people are really ready for the car to self-valet?

An interesting, though less science fiction type, vehicle addition is the economy mode. This has been added to many cars and is designed to switch off or turn down non-essential systems. Cars with this feature, which include some Ford, Lexus, Infiniti and Mercedes models, have an economy button that, when pushed, increases fuel efficiency, decreases the load of the air conditioning on the engine, adjusts the electrical system of the car and improves the operating efficiency of the engine.

These changes in conjunction with driver changes – maintaining a constant speed in the city, using cruise control on the highway, and speeding and slowing smoothly – can reportedly increase fuel efficiency by as much as 24 percent, resulting in a significant monetary and natural resource savings.

Safety improvements keep coming too, with curtain airbags and run-flat tires topping the list. In many new models, airbags have been added over the windows in the car to provide safety from head injury for people in the front and rear seats. Run-flat tires, that maintain shape without air pressure, can keep a vehicle moving for an additional 50 miles or so, allowing the driver to choose where to stop to change it or request assistance. Instead of an arbitrary spot, repairs can be sought in a secure area with good mobile phone reception or at any other location with trusted assistance.
Now back to the inside of the car, soon to be equipped with touch-screen fabric.

According to Canadian researchers at the Polytechnic School, the fabric is designed to allow drivers to control automobile features by touching specific spots. So instead of a handle to change car seat position or a knob to change the radio volume, a passenger would just have to touch or swipe the fabric on their seat.

But by far the most interesting interior automobile innovation is coming from the Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology in Tokyo, Japan, where they are taking biometric recognition technology to, if not a new level, a new spot. Researchers there are working on a sensor system that identifies a person by their butt print. The technology measures the pressures and contours of a person’s posterior. It uses over 350 sensors to get the measurements, making accurate identifications about 98 percent of the time. Researchers see this as an added security feature for cars in the next few years.

While 98 percent seems significantly short of optimal, there are still some interesting applications for this technology. It could be used now as a way for drivers to save seat, mirror, steering wheel, air temperature, interior lighting and radio preference.

Just imagine, the driver sits down and the car moves everything around to the last recorded setting for that behind. ?Wonder if that feature is backward compatible with older models? Older model cars, that is, not butts.

Happy motoring. 

Talibah Chikwendu

Special to the AFRO