When Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently said his cars would feature auto-steering by this summer, it caused a bit of a scare. But drivers, be forewarned: It doesn't take a robot actually taking the wheel to show artificially intelligent cars are already veering into our lanes.
While Silicon Valley and the automotive world like to focus on things like flying cars and self-driving vehicles, there's a lot of impressively advanced technology that's already on the road today.
Advanced computer systems and passenger features might stop a bit short of the artificial intelligence we've been promised by the tech utopians, but they're real and available (though they're not cheap). From cars that steer themselves to brakes that adjust for individual drivers, here's a look at some of the most high-tech vehicles you can drive in—or that might be passing or tailgating your car already.
—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
Posted 28 March 2015
Tesla has been leading the pack when it comes to futuristic technology for a while now, but it's regularly widening its lead. It has the greatest range of any electric vehicle and can go from 0–60 in 4.2 seconds.
The robotic experience starts long before you get behind the wheel, though. Walk up to the car with its controlling fob in your pocket and it will unlock the doors and extend the handles. Once you sit down, the touchscreen lights up and you simply press D to drive.
And while it's a bit premature to call it a driverless car, the auto-steering feature will do what it claims—let the car control the steering wheel, acceleration or braking when it is on a highway. It will also warn drivers if they're driving out of charging range and help them plan routes with charging stations to ensure they're never left stranded. So what's called electric car "range anxiety" may lessen, but robot anxiety is just revving up.
This plug-in hybrid from BMW looks like something a manufacturer would showcase as a concept car, but it's very real. Like most hybrids, it uses its electric motor when possible, but it utilizes the onboard navigation system to scan ahead and adjust power, or flip over to the combustion engine when it sees a challenge ahead.
Entertainment features are controlled with voice commands, and a heads-up display puts the vehicle's speed on the windshield, keeping your eyes on the road at all times. And it's all encased in a carbon fiber body (the same as a Formula One race car), which helps with fuel efficiency.
Whether you choose the Mercedes S-550 or S-600, you're going to get an advanced piece of road technology with these luxury sedans. Forget about the leg room. The front seats offer seven (seven!) different massage settings, and the glove compartment offers an aromatherapy option "scent container."
There are no analog systems on the dashboard of the S550. Everything is shown on a wide LCD panel and can be controlled via a much-lauded voice-control system. It's the Steering Assist feature that's the most impressive, though. Using radar to detect the speed of cars ahead, it matches the speed of traffic when in cruise control, even if that speed is below your setting. Cameras mounted on the front of the rearview mirrors, meanwhile, let the car know where lane lines are and let it steer between them. You won't be able to let go of the wheel most times, but it's a big help.
The S600, meanwhile, will scan the road surface for variations, alerting the suspension to take action before they're hit for a more comfortable ride. And the car will monitor 70 facets of your driving behavior, sounding a visual and audio alarm if it believes you are getting drowsy on a long trip.
The Lexus flagship vehicle is a lot more than a hybrid. Even as you approach the car, it's aware, welcoming you with warm lights outside, guiding you to the driver's seat. The headlights turn as you steer—so you're always aware of what's in front of you—and intelligent high beams will flood the road with light when you're alone, switching to low-beam when they sense another vehicle nearby.
The vehicle's pre-collision system monitors the road for pedestrians and vehicles. It's also looking at the driver, noticing if you're not facing your attention forward and signaling if there's an object ahead. If the car thinks it's about to have a collision, it tightens the seat belts and preloads the brake system for a quicker response time.
The Landaulet's price tag isn't the only thing that sounds out of this world. Equipped with a "Sensotronic Brake Control," the car modulates the pressure on each wheel, resulting in greater precision and quicker stops. And like the Lexus, the vehicle's headlights work in conjunction with the steering wheel, helping you better see your surroundings as you make a turn.
Riding in the backseat? You've got your own sliding roof, letting you enjoy the breeze, while your driver sits in a fully enclosed and separate compartment.
Jeep's high-end SUV isn't as advanced as some other cars on this list, but it's also a lot more affordable, especially compared to the luxury Landaulet. The GPS can be controlled with reliable voice commands, and using Bing local search, it can help you find local businesses by name easily. The touchscreen panel is not overly complicated, should you prefer that interface.
It also offers a blind-spot monitor and adaptive cruise control, which maintains the distance between you and the car in front of you, and sounds an alarm if it thinks you should take over.
You probably won't be driving alongside or in front or behind this model anytime, but it is technically on the roads and decidedly the Terminator option among robotic cars.
That's a necessary feature when you drive the U.S. president around on a day-to-day basis. Coated with armor that's between 5 and 8 inches thick and an explosion-resistant fuel tank, The Beast (as it's reportedly called by Secret Service agents) has its own oxygen supply and can withstand a biochemical attach.
Flat tires? Not here! This thing has Kevlar enforced tires that are puncture- and shred-resistant. And while we don't know how the sound system is, the car reportedly also has a foldaway desk and laptop with Wi-Fi in the backseat, as well as a direct line to the vice president and Pentagon.
The downside? It only gets 8 mpg. But hey, it is a Caddy, and whoever said the U.S. president needs to abide by his own national fuel-efficiency standards.