To deal with a world that's getting ever more crowded and complex, our cars are becoming smarter. Or to be more precise, they're getting more computers and more software so that they can do more stuff.
But how about a car that was able to sense when you were too tired (or perhaps too tipsy) to drive? And what if it instructed you to perk up or perhaps chided you in the case of excessive drinking? Systems that observe your eyes and face for signs of alertness have been studied by IBM, Nissan and others.
Those systems are still too expensive and complicated to put in everyday cars, but the base for them is already here. Volvo, for instance, uses available lane departure sensing technology to detect when sleepy drivers make jerky, telltale steering wheel corrections. The system then "audibly suggests" the driver pull over and take a rest [source: Quain].
All-electric "smart" cars are expected to form an important piece of the electrical "smart grid" that's under development. They will be able to communicate with the power grid and figure out when the best time is to recharge -- typically at night when there's less demand on the power system.
You could program your car to only recharge when electricity is cheapest to buy, or only when it's being produced from renewable resources. Your car would then communicate with the grid wirelessly to accept juice to its batteries only during the conditions you specified [source: Ford Motor Company].
Don't expect car smarts to stop at just re-charging, either. The phrase "leave the driving to us" could take on new meaning with the cars of the not-so-distant future. Read the next page to see why.