The recent Hyperloop announcement by Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has spurred a lot of conversation about the future of travel. But while Hyperloop technology may be years away, some really cool car technology is already on the road.
The three car technologies under consideration may not be in most cars, yet they're already making big waves in the auto industry – and they're paving the way for the car tech of the future.
No, we're not talking about Google's autonomous vehicles – although that's some amazing tech. Ford (NYSE:F) has it's own version of driverless vehicles that it currently uses to conduct strenuous road tests. The car company uses robots to drive vehicles through tests that are too intense and time-consuming for humans. The robots help Ford meet vehicle development timelines while protecting human testers at the same time.
The robots are used primarily on Ford's "Built Ford Tough" durability testing and allow the company to conduct unlimited tests until standards are met – where a human tester may only be able to do one test a day. The robotically driven vehicles steer, accelerate, and brake on their own – and follow specific routes based on GPS navigation. While the vehicles function on their own, an engineer in a control room can stop or course-correct vehicles at any time.
This technology has technically been in cars since the 1980s – when GM incorporated the idea from fighter jets – but it's really come into its own lately. While luxury car brands like BMW are committed to head-up display – or HUD – technology, Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) is bringing it to the masses. Last month, the company introduced a portable HUD, an aftermarket head-up display unit that projects navigation, speed, and turn-by-turn lane information onto a windshield or screen.
The device pairs with a smartphone via Bluetooth and uses the Garmin StreetPilot1 or NAVIGON apps for navigation information. But Garmin's HUD unit isn't the only way for the masses to get their hands on the technology. The 2014 Mazda 3 – which starts at just under $17,000 – will include HUD technology as well. It's one of the cheapest vehicles to incorporate HUD, showing that the technology is making its way into more inexpensive car models.
Much like Neo downloading new skills in "The Matrix", Tesla's Model S can receive vehicle improvements with a simple update to the car's computer. Rather than having to wait to release new features in redesigned models, the company can simply update current vehicles.
Tesla's working on such an update to help drivers plan trips based on how much electricity they'll use while driving from one destination to another – and suggest where to recharge the battery. The company told CNET back in May that it plans to do updates every two to three months for the Model S – down from about 10 updates when the vehicle first launched.
While a car can't receive limitless upgrades via software – at some point new hardware would need to be added – the Model S is a prime example of the future of upgradable vehicles. Part of Tesla's ability to do this comes from NVIDIA's (NASDAQ:NVDA) technology. The Model S uses two of the company's Tegra Visual Computing Modules for the infotainment and navigation systems. Tesla was the first to incorporate NVIDIA's system into a vehicle, but with the possibility of updating vehicles on the fly, it's likely we'll see more car tech trending toward this type of system.
Technologies like these take companies years to development and implement – and even longer before they're cheap enough for mid-priced models. But as consumers expect more tech-integration in their vehicles, investors can anticipate more tech companies and car manufactures working together to satisfy growing demand. Savvy investors would be wise not only to look at how car companies are working with tech companies, but also how tech companies can implement their components into the vast vehicle market. It's clear that the two industries will be a close-knit couple going forward.