As we speedily head towards a world where autonomous and electric vehicles are the new normal, car tech is getting more interesting by the day. From emergency alerts to smarter voice navigation, here’s a round up of the world’s most exciting car innovations of the year.

  1. Alexa: In with the old, in with the new

In your car, you might ask Alexa to turn up the air con or to play your favourite songs – if you drive a newer model, that is. But now that Amazon Echo Auto is available, you can befriend Alexa in your trusty old banger too.

With Amazon Echo Auto, now you can start inundating Alexa with requests simply by connecting the device to your cigarette lighter. No matter the model, you can now ask Alexa to start playing the podcasts you like, get navigation routes, listen to news and more.

  1. HEY Mercedes…

Amazon isn’t the only company powering ahead with in-car voice-activated assistants. This year, Mercedes-Benz introduced its voice-controlled dashboard to its A-Class series. Drivers can say ‘Hey Mercedes’ for their car to respond to any voice requests.

  1. what3words voice navigation

Ever sworn in frustration at your sat nav after it sent you the wrong way? Six out of ten motorists have, according to one study. Thankfully, Mercedes-Benz is eliminating this problem by integrating what3words.

what3words voice navigation is one of the most exciting functions of the new Mercedes-Benz voice assistant. The first location technology designed for voice, it’s helping drivers to navigate more easily, accurately and with minimal error.

How does it work? what3words has divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares, each with a unique 3 word address. It means that every location, anywhere in the world, can be described accurately in just three words. For example ///enjoyable.evenly.closer marks a 3m x 3m area in the Outer Circle of Regent’s Park, London.

As Mercedes-Benz was the first automaker to integrate what3words this year, drivers of its new cars now can say three words to navigate to any destination.

Because of its simplicity and precision, the technology will save you from the usual frustrations that come with voice navigation – from receiving directions to the wrong destination from your sat nav, to experiencing difficulties when entering the right address. With what3words, entering a street name that exists in multiple locations, mispronouncing addresses or misspelling a postcode, are becoming things of the past.

The fact that the system is a great deal more precise than postcodes means you can get to any exact destination without searching for the right building or entrance – especially useful for journeys to the countryside!

‘The world connects billions of devices to one another and the internet in an instant. But sometimes we tend to forget about the simplest – and arguably most important – connections: People and places.’ said Dieter Zetsche, Daimler CEO. ‘We like the idea. And we integrated their amazing navigation technology into our new Mercedes-Benz A-Class which we just most fittingly revealed in ///connects.drove.safety’.

Learn more about what3words voice navigation here

  1. Autonomous

Autonomous driving is the future – a future that is now closer than ever. Thankfully, driving in a crowded city during rush hour, or on holiday when there’s congested traffic on the highway won’t always be so painful.

Tesla has set the pace with its suite of autonomous technologies. Its Enhanced Autopilot hardware is now fitted in all its models, featuring lane centering, adaptive cruise control, self-parking and the ability to automatically change lanes without driver steering. More on this below!

  1. Traffic jam pilot

More traditional automakers are determined to keep up with Tesla. Nissan’s newer models have ProPilot, which combines lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control and traffic jam pilot. The latter takes over the task of driving in slowly moving traffic. With traffic jam pilot engaged, you simply need to stay alert so that you can take back control when the system prompts you to. You can activate traffic jam pilot by tapping the ProPilot button on the steering wheel.

  1. Predictive cruise control

Predictive cruise control uses sensors and navigation data to adapt the car’s pace in line with what lies ahead. If you’re driving too fast for a sharp bend ahead, the system will alert you of the speed which it intends to slow down to, via the infotainment display.

Although drivers still need to be attentive, this is another great step on the journey towards fully autonomous driving.

  1. Blind spot monitoring

Blind spot monitoring is one of the most useful driver-assistance products that’s become integrated into car systems in the last few years. The piece of tech is a small radar sensor that informs you when a vehicle is creeping into your blind spots, alerting you to not change lanes in that direction at that moment.

  1. Wireless charging

A growing number of automakers are adding wireless charging pads to their interiors. Battery low? Just pop your phone onto the pad and it’ll charge as you drive. This is especially useful when you’ve got a full car and a long journey ahead.

  1. Remote access

“Did I lock the car? Or maybe I left the headlights on… do you remember?”

Remote control of cars can save you from those niggling feelings when you’re at a party, or lying awake in bed. In some models, you can open an app to check the status of your car’s doors and lights.

With the electric Volkswagen, you can even use your smartphone remotely to turn up the heating and defrost your car so that it’s ready to go exactly when you need it on those icy winter mornings.

The Tesla Model 3 has no key at all – just an app. This is proving especially useful for home deliveries. Rather than missing a delivery, people are instructing couriers to place packages in the boot of their Teslas, using the smartphone app to remotely open its rear hatch. Once the package is inside, they use the app to close and lock the boot to securely store delivered items for later.

  1. Cooled seats

It’s a hot summer’s day. The skies are bright blue, but your car seats are burning hot! Thankfully, cooled seats are becoming more and more common. And you no longer have to buy a luxury car to enjoy them. Jeep, Ford, Hyundai, Chevrolet and Lexus all offer models with cooled seats at affordable prices.

  1. Heated steering wheel

If cool seats are a luxury in the summer heat, heated steering wheels are more of a winter necessity.

Say goodbye to freezing, achy hands on cold winter mornings!

  1. Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance is making sure that car manufacturers foresee problems before they happen. One example of this tech at work is Michelin’s tyre monitoring service. By collecting data from trucks, it gives companies real-time performance analysis and wear data of specific truck tyres.
Another great piece of tech is the AA’s Car Genie, which plugs into cars and tracks journeys. The app gives you access to your fuel spend and car battery health. When it spots a fault, it’ll send you a push notification. Watch the video to see how it works.

  1. Colour heads-up displays

Heads Up Displays (HUDs), project information into your line of sight without you having to take your eyes off the road.

So, rather than looking down at your dashboard, your car’s most important information can exist in a less distracting, safer place. The latest versions have colour displays and can give clear sat-nav directions as well as a car’s speed.
Few car manufacturers fit this equipment as a standard. At the moment, it’s an add-on feature – at a cost. In the BMW 318i SE, it costs £825.
You can opt for a pop-up head-up display on much of the Mini range, including the Mini Hatchback and Clubman.

  1. Emergency alerts

Ford and Vodafone are testing a technology that alerts drivers of upcoming incidents and lets them know how to clear a smoother path for emergency services through traffic. The tech is called eCall Plus and builds on the current eCall system, which automatically alerts emergency services if a car is involved in a serious accident.

The tech will use car infotainment systems to warn drivers of incidents up to half a mile ahead. It will also notify them that emergency services are approaching, and instruct them to move to a specific side of the road.
This will save rescue vehicles from having to weave between vehicles that pull over on random sides of the road. And in an emergency when every second counts, this piece of tech could be life-saving.

  1. Cars on subscription models

Some automakers are experimenting with subscription models that combine elements of leasing, renting and owning a new car.
Essentially, this is paying a monthly fee to a manufacturer for access to to a fleet of cars they can swap between as they see fit. Several automakers have started rolling out the concept, including Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Cadillac, Volvo and BMW.

Access by BMW is the pilot programme running in Nashville for its subscription service. The programme costs $2000, a month, providing customers access to cars like the 4-Series, 5-Series, and X5 as well as the M2. The subscription fee covers the cost of insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance.
Users can order vehicles through BMW’s Access app and the programme is to be facilitated by local dealers. However, BMW hasn’t given word on when it will expand the program beyond Nashville.

  1. Electric car chargers

As we move to a future where electric vehicles are the norm, the speed at which we can charge them is becoming increasingly important. Researchers at North Carolina State University have built a promising prototype for an electric vehicle charger that’s 10 times smaller and 60 percent more efficient than existing ones.

It’s called the medium voltage fast charger (MVFC). The team is now working on a version that is capable of charging multiple vehicles at once.

  1. Tesla’s most recent updates

Tesla updated its software in early October, meaning that lucky drivers can send destinations to their car’s navigation system remotely with their smartphone. Newer models can now record and store video taken by the vehicle’s front-facing camera too.
Even more exciting are Tesla’s upcoming Autopilot features, like the ability for driver assistance systems to recommend lane changes, navigate transitions between highways and take exits – with driver supervision, of course.