This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was not much different than in previous years; exhibitors showed off new gadgets and applications, and revealed other developments that will affect our automobile's overall performance. There were the ubiquitous concept cars and latest engine technologies, but among all of the car-show hype, most of the buzz revolved around smartphone and app-integration into today's vehicles.

Carmakers understand that most of their consumers own smartphones and that these devices can be leveraged to deliver new features into their cars via ‘infotainment’ platforms. These new platforms are allowing radio listeners to get their favorite shows on-demand and create custom music or talk show playlists.

Users can also expect the addition of smartphone-enabled features like automatic crash notification, geo-fencing, roadside assistance and parked vehicle locators. These new vehicles have a modular central computer that provides easy updates of hardware and software so that vehicles can stay current with the latest voice control, media, navigation and telephony technologies. Cars of the future are being built right now.

The future of driving

What are some future trends in the automobile industry? Car manufacturers and the US government are teaming up to develop technologies that will enable future cars to communicate with each other and with objects around them. Yes, you heard that right. Someday your Toyota Prius could actually have a conversation with that cute little Honda Civic around the corner.

The development of augmented reality is just around the corner as well. Very soon, information about external objects will be displayed directly onto the windshield. Not only will the objects be displayed, but the distance to them will be as well, making accidents less likely to happen.

Energy-storing body panels are being developed and could be the answer to current hybrid cars whose battery takes up far too much space. These panels will capture energy produced not only by the sun, but from other technologies like regenerative braking, or when the car is plugged in at night, and feed that energy back to the car when needed.

No jet packs, but cars that drive themselves?

Remember Knight Rider with KITT, the talking, self-driving car? That long-forgotten 80s show will soon become a reality for many drivers - or NOT drivers. In Nevada and California, Google engineers have already tested self-driving cars on over 300,000 accident-free miles of public highways and roads.

How were these cars able to successfully drive themselves for over 300,000 miles? By using cameras, lasers and radars, Google’s test cars are able to evaluate and process information about their surroundings even faster than a human can.

The search engine giant has teamed up with makers at Toyota, Audi and Lexus, and has equipped a test fleet of cars that will continue the drive toward eventual and full autonomy of vehicles. But first, more research and development will need to be done, as Google’s current self-driving cars have yet to master snow and icy conditions, nor are they yet able to interpret temporary construction signals and other tricky situations that most everyday drivers face.

As opponents of autonomous cars voice their concerns about the legal and ethical ramifications of these machines, no one can really dispute that with zero accidents in over 300,000 miles, technology has a much better driving record than the average American.

About the author

Ryan Sauer is a writer and editor for University Alliance in association with Bisk Education. He covers topics such as project management training, manufacturing methodologies, and software development. Through the University Alliance, Ryan strives to help professionals succeed in passing their PMP certification exam.