Earlier vehicular innovations "were all mechanical," says Egil Juliussen of iSuppli Corp., a market research firm specializing in automotive technology trends. Now, increasingly, they're digital and "happening in a shorter time frame," he says.
Smart cars could also be the key to winning back younger buyers -- the 20- and 30-somethings who are abandoning car ownership, no longer seeing it as a mark of independence and financial success. Their passion for technology, combined with greater driving convenience of autonomous cars, may draw them back.
Here's a peek at what's coming just a few years down the road.
Hate to parallel park? No worries. Just let your car do it. Ford Motor Co., one of the leading innovators, is already taking the technology mainstream with its "active park assist." That's a fancy name for a system of electronic sensors that scans for suitable spaces, then handles the steering to back the car in without risk of a fender bender. The driver simply works the gas and brake pedals and shifts the transmission from reverse to drive to pull forward when the system gives the signal that the car is aligned properly.
Ford says that the next generation of active park assist will be able to handle perpendicular parking, too. Other automakers will follow with similar parking systems.