It was only a few years ago that the president of Daimler-Benz stated that by 2010, fully 80 per cent of the value of a new car coming off the production line would be in the electronics.

Peering into the tea leaves, I see this trend continuing but with implications not obvious today. Not in the US, anyway, though all of the technology that will be common in thirty years time is already implemented in other countries.

Cars in the ‘naughties’ come with computer-controlled electronic fuel injection, computer-controlled anti-lock-brakes, computer-controlled airbag deployment, computer-controlled fuel economy and anti-pollution engine systems… They also come with increasingly sophisticated entertainment systems and GPS navigation.

Many also have electronic tags, which automatically bill users on tollways and bridges, and on trucks to record mileage for road-tax.

In Japan, many cars now come with automatic parking systems, either simple systems that use ultrasound to measure the distance to the rear and side of the car or more sophisticated models that will actually reverse-park the vehicle without human intervention.

What is still to come is the integration of these systems along with communication between cars and roads, and cars and other cars. My Mother-in-Law the Car will nag me when I’m approaching the speed limit and snitch on me if I exceed it. It will gossip with other cars, inaudibly via WiFi, selecting the best radio channels for my entertainment based on my stated preferences. It will warn me of changed traffic conditions and suggest detours to give me least-time or least-fuel consumption options, based on the ‘ladies sewing circle’ experiences of other cars in the area.

The criminal profession of auto-thief won’t become extinct. But it will require an expert hacker to break the security and Zombify the vehicle. Amateurs will have to have consultants on hand, while the existing organised gangs, the professional thieves, will have to go hi-tech.

And, if interrogated by a passing police vehicle, my Mother-in-Law the Car will happily broadcast all my sins and wickednesses, the stop light I was almost completely through before it turned red, the turn I made without adequately indicating according to the law (even though there were no other cars on the road). And, as new legislation is passed, or I cross a state border, the new set of road rules I must henceforth obey will be recorded in its electronic brain. And used against me in evidence.

Unless I hire a consultant of my own. That would void the warranty of course but I see a big future for those specialising in ‘customising’ automobile electronics so they’re not quite so annoying.


Zoe Brain is a real, live rocket scientist! She peers into the tea leaves, giving us a glimpse of our tech future, every second Wednesday in this space…

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