Rearview cameras used to be the stuff of science fiction. Now they're available in cars that cost less than $20,000. Cars and trucks have become offices on wheels, thanks to built-in Wi-Fi that lets up to six passengers connect to an onboard router through a cellphone. And, cars may not fly yet, but they continue to become more amazing every year. Let's take a look at four tech trends for the next-generation of driving.
One of the most exciting developments in safe driving is the inclusion of blind spot monitoring systems in new cars. Available only in luxury cars until just a few years ago, blind spot systems are now found in more economical cars like the Dodge Dart, the Chevrolet Cruze, and Kia Forte. Most systems include a light in or around the rearview mirror that flashes when the system detects a vehicle in your blind spot (an area that is often hidden from the driver's view).
Lane departure systems are another important safety enhancement that is trickling down from luxury manufacturers like Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo to more affordable carmakers like Chevrolet, Chrysler, Jeep, and Mazda. These systems are designed for freeway driving and use cameras to detect lane markers. If a driver starts to veer out of a lane, the system will beep—or the driver's seat in Cadillac vehicles will vibrate—to alert drivers to the imminent risk. Sophisticated versions of the system will even briefly take control of the vehicle's steering to keep it safely within its own lane.
The best-selling hybrid vehicle of all time, the Toyota Prius, has been available since 1997 and has sold nearly 2 million vehicles. Hybrids are here to stay and today you can find a hybrid model—a car that uses both a conventional gas engine and electric motor to propel the vehicle—from nearly half of all major car manufacturers.
But hybrids aren't the only game in town. Plug-in hybrids and electric cars (cars you can recharge by plugging into a battery charger or standard wall outlet) are gaining interest and attention. The BMW i8 first appeared in Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol and is a plug-in hybrid that uses two motors and an engine to race from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds and can reach a top speed of 155 mph. Meanwhile, the all-electric Tesla Model S can drive between 200 to 300 miles on electric charge only. Both vehicles feature game-changing design and are two real-life glimpses into the future of driving.
Most of us have circled city streets looking for the most precious of all commodities: a parking spot. Companies are developing apps that help you find a parking space in a busy city. Some apps have partnered with local cities to list open spaces and nearby garages. These are often the most effective, but parking spaces fill and empty quickly, so these apps aren't always completely accurate.
If you regularly travel to different cities, you'll want an app that has data for big cities around the country. A few popular and top-rated apps include BestParking, SpotHero, and ParkMe. Most apps are available through the iTunes and Android stores.
One other useful fact: many parking apps use GPS to help you find your car in a crowded parking lot. That may be enough reason to download and try a few of these apps.:
Why hassle with parallel parking when your car can do it for you? Many recent vehicles are using cameras and sensors to park themselves. Vehicles from BMW, Cadillac, Ford, Nissan, Range Rover, and others offer this futuristic capability.
And here's a glimpse of what's next: within the next decade, you'll likely use your smartphone to perfectly park your vehicle at home or in a parking garage—while you stand outside the vehicle. The future looks bright, indeed.