There are two ways cars of the future will become connected – dashboard interfaces and smart windshields. The former is the more realistic, near-term solution. The latter is the more futuristic solution, which is still several years away.
Every major auto manufacturer is already starting to produce dashboard systems which enable internet radio providers such as Pandora and Slacker. From that perspective, connected cars are already on the road in large scale. However, today’s smart dashboards are mostly just piggybacking on the driver’s smartphone. This is a clever solution to getting internet into cars, not requiring the car itself to have an internet connection.
Today’s first generation of smart dashboards typically have large glass video displays, but this trend will likely subside. Automakers are finding that glass interfaces are not ideal for use while driving – it is tough to tell which button you are touching. The next generation will see a return to knobs and tactile buttons on the interface.
The next step for connected dashboards will be enabling functions beyond audio entertainment. They could also use the driver’s phone to read Facebook and Twitter timelines or use the phone’s GPS to provide directions.
The longer-term, more fantastic trend in connected cars is augmented reality windshields. This would mean having information and alerts shown directly on the windshield of the car, in the driver’s field of vision. The possible functions of an AR windshield range from display of speed, to alerts of quickly-approaching obstacles, to more smartphone-like features of calendars, texts, or video calls.
The tech behind new dashboards and windshields will likely be years ahead of government regulations. Car makers have strict safety rules they must adhere to in order to sell cars in the U.S., such as a number of seconds a driver can look down from the road and at the dashboard. This is why some functions are limited. For example, in the in-dash version of Pandora Radio, a driver can “like” a song, but not create a new station.
These government regulations will have a major influence in shaping the future of connected cars, particularly for augmented reality windshields. It is likely that the first generations of this technology will only allow safety information and alerts.