“Star Trek” fans love to point out that, over the last five decades, many of the show’s futuristic technologies have gone from science fiction to fact. Mobile communicators (cell phones), non-invasive surgery (focused ultrasound surgery), food replicators (3D printers) and phasers (now being tested by the U.S. military) are but a few examples.
But in its own way, a show in the 1980s was just as prescient: “Knight Rider”– a show about the exploits of Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) and his car KITT, a talking, thinking and feeling car is nearly spot on.
In the show, this highly autonomous vehicle could map locations, conduct video calls and talk much like Apple’s Siri system. In reality that’s headed our way, automobiles that feel and virtually think will be made possible by technologies that include augmented reality, microscopic sensors and mini-microprocessors. These technologies will enable vehicles to perform a variety of tasks now done by humans – from assessing the damage caused by accidents and ordering replacement parts to booking rental cars and assessing liability.
Tomorrow’s vehicles will, in part, assume the roles of insurance adjusters, collision-repair technicians and drivers. And “tomorrow” may not be too far off.
Already, engineers at the British defense, security and aerospace company BAE are developing a “smart skin” – a thin surface that could be embedded with thousands of micro-sensors (aka “motes”). The company says that when this layer is applied to an aircraft, it will gain the ability to sense wind speed, temperature, physical strain and movement with a high degree of accuracy.
According to several articles, the micro-sensors could be as small as dust particles and could be sprayed on the surface of the aircraft (and on a car or truck). The motes would have their own power source and, when paired with the right software, communicate in much the same way that human skin communicates with the brain.
Once sensory and virtual-reality technologies have evolved to the point where our vehicles can genuinely “feel” and evaluate changes to themselves and their environment, the main thing needed to complete this automotive Internet of Things will be data – lots of real-time data that is freely exchanged between car owners, insurance companies, auto repair shops and auto manufacturers. Achieving a consensus among consumers and corporations about when, what and how much data should be exchanged may be a sticking point, but, once that agreement is reached, it will be just a matter of time before self-diagnosing cars start hitting the roads.
The Car of Tomorrow
Imagine a future in which your car is covered with an intelligent “skin” that monitors every component and function – from the engine to the exterior sheet metal.
Now imagine the moment your car gets into an accident. The car will instantly calculate how much damage has been done, where it was done and what needs to be repaired or replaced. This information will be quickly ascertained and collected by the vehicle’s computer. From there, it will be transmitted to the cloud, where it can be downloaded by a repair facility or insurance company. By viewing a three-dimensional virtual-reality image of the automobile, the repair technician and insurance adjuster could literally “see” – and almost feel and touch – the damage.
Imagine a time when all that damage is self-assessed by the vehicle. It diagnoses itself, feeds the information into estimating software and tells the collision-repair shop what needs to be done. The vehicle also determines how long repairs should take and even orders parts by automatically sourcing suppliers. All this ensures that your vehicle is fixed ASAP. In addition, your hyper-smart car can order a rental, so you’ll have alternative transportation while the claim is being processed.
All the information regarding your accident – the speed at which you were traveling, location, direction of travel, etc. – will be instantly transmitted to your insurer, enabling the adjuster to make more educated decisions. Think of all that information being fed to a predictive, cognitive claims system that can make intelligent recommendations, helping consumers receive the best possible outcome on every claim.
This is the future – an era when data, sensor and cognitive computing technology are meshed to create a seamless auto claims process that speeds repairs, handles claims more efficiently and provides an amazing customer experience.