Autonomous driving was the hot topic at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and at the Detroit auto show. When will the first fully automated -- the so-called Level 4 cars -- be commercially available? Probably not until 2020 or 2021.
Now is the time, however, to think about what motorists will do with the extra time they have when the car is handling the driving. BMW provided a peek at the possibilities in Las Vegas. What we saw went way beyond taking a nap, checking emails, reading your favorite newspaper or magazine (hopefully the latter includes Automotive News Europe!), or watching a movie.
I tried out some of the cutting-edge interactive possibilities BMW is considering during a test drive in a 5-series self-driving prototype, which piloted itself on Las Vegas's highways in hands-free, eyes-free fully autonomous mode.
1. Checking out local attractions
A more advanced version of BMW's gesture control offered in the latest 7- and 5-series models allows the driver and front seat passenger to check out interesting looking buildings along the route.
I picked out the Las Vegas aquarium on the car's 3-D navigation map supplied by Here. By pointing at it, the car's Connected Open Mobility Cloud accessed the internet to provide me with information about the aquarium's attractions.
2. Booking a restaurant
The Connected Open Mobility Cloud makes your diary and address book available on all your portable devices -- including the car -- so you can keep everything organized. This means you can complete a restaurant booking that you forgot. The car's system will know from your diary what time and where you had planned to pick up a guest and you can use Microsoft's Cortana voice recognition feature to book a table at a nearby restaurant. I tried it and it worked amazingly well. The system figured out that since I had just one guest, I only needed a table for two. It came up with nearby restaurants that had availability for two diners at the scheduled time.
After you have selected a restaurant, you can have the details added to your diary, as well as having an email sent to your guest. During the demonstration, I was provided with just two choices, neither of which fit my Italian tastes (one Japanese and one Thai), but I forgave the system since it is still being tested!
3. Shopping online
The Connected Open Mobility Cloud's integration with Amazon's Prime Now fast delivery service allowed us to order some chocolates and schedule them to be delivered to our final destination. When we arrived, the chocolates were waiting for us. Since this was a demonstration, the delivery was pre-arranged, but the point was to show how the integration of various cloud services will add value to the extra time people have when the car is in autonomous mode.
Being an avid user of e-commerce, I'm sure my bank account would prefer that I keep my hands on the steering wheel rather than making purchases while on the road.
This snapshot of the potential features we will have access to during our commutes is both fascinating and frightening. It is fascinating because we will be able to do more than ever before while traveling in a piloted car, but frightening because there could be a vast amount of unprotected personal information floating around in cyberspace.