This week the auto industry met in Los Angeles to show off the new cars for 2013. The first two days are strictly for the Press. The public will see mostly the same things through the weekend and December 2nd. The media folks attend press conferences and unveiling of new product that have been under wraps until the wall opens or the curtain comes down. Sometime they have celebrities introduce the new car or truck like Jay Leno.
Well, for me I have been disappointed by the slow growth of the industry that has been wanting for big strides in technological breakthroughs. Until there is a miracle in terms of cars that fly or a transporter is developed to “beam me up – Scotty” it will have to be business as usual.
Concept car of the 1950s
That being said, there are some pretty good indicators that the industry is progressing more quickly for some, for the followers of futuristic series on TV like “Buck Rogers”, or for kids, a couple of decades earlier, who watched “The Jetson’s” (1962 through 1988), we’re expecting car makers to leap ahead far more quickly than ‘reality’ allows.
I too am impatient for the future. About 7 years ago I tested and wrote a review on the “Hy Wire” Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered car by GM. Finally, I thought, we’re on the move in the life cycle of cars and soon there will be exciting revelations as there were in the early 1950s. My parents took the entire family to the LA Auto Show where I recall vividly watching a video (film) of the future of automobiles. They showed how cars would drive themselves via a copper strip down the middle of each lane to guide you to your destination off ramp. There were towers along the highway where control folks would watch and control the flow of traffic. Wow, you couldn’t help but be excited and wide eyed in amazement on what was being shown. Surely it would be right around the corner. Well, in the real world, after all is said and done, much is said and little is done.
Ok, so here’s the scoop according to Jim Lentz, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, who gave the mornings Keynote Address November 28, 2012 at the LA Convention Center’s West Hall. It was titled “The Auto Industry: Architects of the Future”.
Jim was quite right in saying “the auto industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the US” and probably in the world, I might add. It truly has shaped America as much or more than the Railroads did earlier in the 19thCentury. But even those two transportation methods took a long-long time to evolve. George Washington said “True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation. So too is any worthwhile achievement. The auto industry is a great combination of achievements from a human spirit of indomitable pursuit.
Jim talked about some current trends in the economy and then told us of some fun and interesting developments being worked on at Toyota. But before he did, he pointed out there are more than 245 Million cars in the US with a record high average age of 11 years. And 20% are over 16 years old. That tells me that there is a lot of deferred maintenance and a fear of jumping into a new monthly payment. What it told Jim is that “there are a lot of positives helping drive optimism and sales, and all automakers are showing revitalized momentum”.
Some of that revitalization comes from gadget technology that keep us ‘connected’ to our world while driving. “The key is to make that connectivity ‘SAFE’” he said. All one needs to do is watch how drivers think they can text, call, get directions to a destination like a gas station, restaurant or whatever, all via the screen on the dash, an iPad or iPhone. That connectivity means that you are distracted from keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
Car makers are working to overcome the distractions with new developing technologies including: Kinect Motion/ Sensor Software so you’ll raise or lower your hand to control the throttle or volume on the audio system, or even open the doors. It may mean that the vehicle will swerve on its own to avoid a pedestrian stepping out in front of the car. Voice Recognition so you can control various functions of the car while staying “connected” with the matter of ‘driving the car’. In addition to motion and voice sensing Behavior Predictions are being developed to have the car watch for traffic and pedestrians to predict and avoid accidents given circumstances like slowing traffic, drifting out of lane, or avoiding objects behind or around the car, etc. A Virtual Agent would communicate with the driver, set the destination and, operate various other functions of the car. Eventually Pre-collision systems such as “lane Keeping” and “automatic parking” will become standard equipment on all cars.
Perhaps the most interesting new feature is what they call Invisibility Cloaking. That will take the back-up camera to a new dimension as researchers at the Keio University in Japan have developed an optical camouflage technology making the back seat seem invisible in order to eliminate blind spots. The cloaking is making use of reflective materials that captures footage from cameras and then projects the images onto the cloak visible to the driver giving the illusion of invisibility of the outer shell of the car. One of the developers said it will feel like you’re driving a glass car.
Future developments in electric technology include a “Next Generation Battery for much longer charge life and Wireless Battery Charging to eliminate the current need to use wire cable to plug in at home or while parking at the office.
Although such developments are slow in coming, from the consumer’s perspective, the industry says improvements in technology are made, on average, every 6 months. That, thanks to partnerships with Microsoft and others.
I don’t know about you, but I’m waiting to be ‘dazzled’ by some real leaps into the future of automobiles that will be a small step for man and a giant leap for mankind.
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