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Auto Technology

Self-driving cars aren’t so far off in the future anymore. In fact, Google has announced that its compact prototype vehicle will start driving Mountain View, California’s public streets this summer. Though the cars are autonomous, each will be manned by a safety driver aboard who can use a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal if need be. The vehicles’ speed will be capped at 25 miles per hour.

The arrival of the Google-built cars on public roads follows Google’s extensive tests of a fleet of Lexus SUVs the company turned into self-driving vehicles. Those cars have driven nearly one million miles autonomously and are now traveling about 10,000 miles per week.

Earlier this week, Google revealed that its self-driving cars have been involved in 11 minor accidents over the last six years, though the company says they were all the fault of other human drivers that collided with Google’s vehicles.

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Will the technology enhancements in vehicles ever end? Car manufacturers seem to chomping at the bit to out modernize the other with whose vehicle is more modern. Have you ever tried to change a clock on a car? The older ones it seems easier, you have two buttons. That’s it, however now that just doesn’t seem good enough.

An example of this is cars with a GPS. Some vehicles require the system to be re-programmed to set the time. The navigation system comes with a CD that contains details of the geographic area and territory as set by the selling dealer. The vehicle then links up with the appropriate satellite that provides the GPS guidance.

This disc must be initialized into your navigation system to set the correct time zone and recognized landmarks. Once the time zone is set, you must activate daylight savings to get the correct time displayed for your location.

Another example is scrolling through your radio tuner one frequency at a time. I’d much rather choose the station myself, not arrive at what the radio thinks is the next best frequency.

 

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What the cloud system has done for computers may be implemented within vehicles in the near future.  Trips to your local mechanic might become less frequent as new technology develops that could make it possible for cars to essentially fix minor glitches themselves.  Whether it’s realigning the sensors that prevent you from backing into a pole, or updating the guts of the dashboard software, new technology from a subsidiary of smartphone maker BlackBerry (TSX:BB) will give car manufacturers the tools to communicate directly with vehicles linked to their system.

QNX Software Systems executive Derek Kuhn said automakers will work as technical assistants from afar.  “Instead of going into the dealer to get something fixed or adjusted, that could be done remotely,” the sales and marketing vice-president said in an interview.  “They can update and keep the car fresh.”

While the technology isn’t yet built into vehicles, Kuhn said it will soon be available to consumers.  The development is part of Project Ion, a move by BlackBerry to become a leader in the technology that connects everyday things, such as home appliances and smart watches, to wireless networks.

Kuhn spoke from CE Week, a consumer electronics show in New York City, where QNX is showcasing its latest vehicle acoustics and noise-reduction technology. The event also brings experts from the industry together to discuss what’s on the horizon.  BlackBerry’s QNX, which is based in Ottawa, already develops technology for cars and trucks, including dashboard systems that connect directly with a driver’s mobile phone and outside networks.

Audi uses QNX’s technology to give drivers instant access to the cheapest gas prices and parking lots near their destination. Drivers can also link their smartphones to the dashboard computer system to read out and transcribe text messages.

Dashboard technology has become the next frontier for interactivity, with Canadian Tire (TSX:CTC.A) president Michael Medline telling a retail conference earlier this month that he believes consumers will soon have the option to shop from their car.

The in-car retail technology is already in the works, said Kuhn. He believes the fast food industry will likely be early adopters — giving drivers the ability to select a restaurant, a location, and a menu.  “You can actually place your order so, by the time you get to the window, (the food) is already done and ready for you,” he said. This new technology makes driving  easier, and safer.  It will certainly be a game changer.