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Models for masses go hi-tech

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With the market getting more competitive, manufacturers are working on developing applications to woo consumers with add-on experiences.

While voice-recognition and navigation software were to be found only in high-end cars till not so long ago, on Sunday even entry-level cars come fitted with such things. Ford’s Figo, the mass-market car for India, is enabled with voice-recognition technology that allows users to place a phone call on the move. The software in the car has been developed to help users access phone book, call logs via bluetooth and stream music on the go. This application is also available in other Ford vehicles like and Endeavour.

The Figo is also loaded with intelligent features like rapid deceleration warning, distance to empty meter and speed sensing volume control that automatically monitors the audio volume depending on the engine rpm (revolutions per minute) to compensate for increased road noise at high speed.

The Endeavour is equipped with the system that automatically shifts the camera into the reverse parking mode to help the driver keep his eyes on the road while reversing the car. The voice control mechanism in the global Fiesta dials important phone numbers, adjusts audio volume and air-conditioning, and selects your favourite tracks from the iPod while on the move.

It is not just Ford which has upped the ante in introducing advanced technological solutions in mass market cars. Hyundai, which recently introduced an upgraded version of premium hatchback i20 in the Indian market, has packed auto headlamp control application into the vehicle. The feature automatically switches on and off the headlamps depending on visibility conditions for convenient and safe driving. Rain sensing wipers operate automatically. In case of panic braking, the smart pedal in the car overrides the accelerator pedal to ensure safety of all occupants.

Hyundai offers smart key on i20, Verna and Sonata. It facilitates keyless ignition and remote opening of doors and the boot. The start/stop button – made popular by the Nissan Micra – allows the engine to be turned on and off at the touch of a button.

In case of Sonata, passenger comfort has been enhanced with seat warmers and seat ventilators. The integrated air circulation option permits both front and rear seat passengers to control moisture level between the occupant’s body and the seat. Electronic seat warmers provide comfort to passenger in the front row. To optimise driving positions, Sonata comes with 10-way electrically adjustable seats. The car comes with the option of retaining the settings for two drivers based on their driving positions.

Industry estimates indicate that 25-30 per cent of material costs in manufacturing a vehicle go towards integrating electronics and software systems in cars. In value terms, over 90 per cent of the features on offer are IT driven.

It is perhaps this recognition that has made US-based automotive manufacturer Ford Motor Company to launch the Open XC programme to foster global cross-functional innovation and leverage the vehicle as a software platform where features and services could be beamed in from the outside without incremental built-in hardware. Initiated in San Francisco last year, the project aims to introduce open-source applications for vehicles from developers the world over.

“The architecture is based on built-in, brought-in and beamed-in elements. The built-in parts are meant for 5-10-year cycles; brought in elements have a two-year period and beamed-in elements have a 3 to 6-month cycle. Internet music, Google applications for directions are fast moving through the power of the cloud and the phone. On the car itself we don’t want to add any application unless absolutely necessary. We want to minimise the risk of seeing something that is outdated”, says , member of technical advisory board, Ford Motor Company. The company is working on developing applications which would enable users to beam back messages to peer groups in the event of being caught in a traffic snare, monitor glucose levels of co-passengers, etc.

With scale, Prasad is hopeful the cost of applications will come down.

In what would pave the way for integration of self-driving technology in vehicles, General Motors has also commenced testing its Super Cruise technology on its 2013 XTS and ATS Cadillac sedans. The vehicles have on board driver assist packages that use sensors to detect objects and brake cars autonomously on highways. The built-in cameras detect lane markings on highways and allow the car to steer by itself by maintaining its driving lane position.

By combining lane centering technology with object-detection and automatic braking, Cadillac cars can operate autonomously for long periods on the highway, even in stop and go traffic, according to GM. On the flip side, however, the lane centering would not work if lane markings are not sufficiently visible. The technology is an extension of the cruise control mechanisms that are now being integrated in most high-end vehicles.

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