You don't have to be a petrol head or a technophile to get excited about the car of the future. After all, for most of us, our car is our most personal (and valuable) consumer device. Soon, it'll be the smartest as well.
Flying cars are still science fiction, but today's smartest vehicles have the processing power of 20 PCs and feature close to 100 million lines of code. And that's just the beginning.
Compare the capabilities of mobile phones from the 1990s to the smartphones of today. In the next decade, we'll see automotive technology taking the same quantum leaps. In fact, more than 7.5 million cars currently on the road use our supercomputing architecture--and we're just getting started.
Care-free commuting via computing
In a few years from now, your commute to work might go something like this. Start with an empty car arriving outside your front door. Maybe you used an app or wearable device to order its arrival.
As it transports you from home to the office, you catch up on your emails, watch the news and take a call. As you glance across the road into other cars, you notice that very few have someone at the steering wheel and most have no driver at all.
Thanks to the information being shared by these cars, traffic management systems have dealt with congestion black spots before they can affect you, so your journey is smooth and fast.
On arriving at the office, the car drops you off, takes itself to the nearest garage where it refuels, automatically debiting your account. It then parks itself and awaits your scheduled departure time.
The road to self-piloting auto
In 2014 few advances in technology have caught the public's imagination as thoroughly as the "self-piloted" car. Hundreds of companies are bringing together software, hardware, safety devices and information systems, transforming the car from a mode of transport into the most powerful computer consumers will ever own.
It's a process that's picking up speed. Over 90 years ago, electronics first appeared on car dashboards. Ten years ago, the value of the electronics in an average car exceeded the value of the engine. Today, the cutting edge of automotive technology puts more computing horsepower under the bonnet than the world's fastest supercomputer of 15 years ago.
The rapid pace of innovation and competition between carmakers has pushed the implementation of autonomous-driving technologies into today's cars, and governments and regulators have been quick to follow.
Last year the EU ruled on the mandatory installation of an "eCall" system in new cars by the end of 2017. This chip will wirelessly send airbag impact sensor data with GPS information to emergency services in the event of a crash.
Although the idea of a car that's constantly monitoring every aspect of your journey raises important questions about information security and privacy, the power of the data generated would be considerable. From cheaper car insurance and new marketing approaches to the design of our cities, big data is big news in the automotive space.
The car as consumer device
As the integration of cars with the other digital devices in our lives moves beyond hands-free calls, Google's Open Automotive Alliance has garnered an impressive line-up of partners in support of its ultimate aim of making the car a connected Android device.
In October 2014 Honda became the world's first carmaker to announce an embedded Android infotainment system powered by NVIDIA. Apple has also entered the fray with its CarPlay infotainment system.
The mobile phone analogy also has implications for how the relationship between car manufacturers and drivers could change. Today, phone makers maintain your device via software updates. As cars become computers, it's easy to imagine that auto manufacturers will move into this same role. Tesla Motors pioneered this practice, allowing it to add new features to Model S cars sitting in their garages overnight. It's likely other manufacturers won't be far behind.
Up ahead: deep learning
Automotive manufacturers face the challenge of keeping up with the blistering pace of innovation set by the consumer tech industry. We expect new generations of phones and tablets on an almost monthly basis, while automaker product rollout cycles still average two to three years.
Moving closer to this cadence without compromising safety or reliability is by no means easy, but the benefits make it a compelling goal. Car makers could do worse than follow mobile device makers' lead: overlaying a highly capable technology platform with a flexible operating system that can adapt to future needs.
And this points to the next revolution in automotive technology: deep learning. Cars come equipped with cameras, software and sensors to detect information. The next challenge is for them to possess the intelligence to understand the information, and to learn from their environment.
Deep learning will allow cars to tell the difference between a delivery van and a school bus letting out children. Between a parked car, and one about to pull into traffic. And to identify pedestrians, even those partially blocked by traffic.
By interpreting what is taking place around it, the car will do more than just warn its driver: it will inform them. That capability holds the key for auto-piloted driving and it's the area in which I believe we'll see the most compelling advances in automotive technology over the next few years.