Harman noise control

Shhh! Car cabins of the future could be quieter places

Harman noise control

Car cabins of the future could be quieter places thanks to new technology developed by Harman.

The company claims its Road-Noise Active Noise Control (RANC) system reduces cabin noise by cancelling out unwanted sounds. The tyres and road surfaces are the primary sources of unwanted noise in a car.

Harman says it’s important to distinguish between sound and noise. Sound has an essential role to play, it claims, as a key influencer in customers’ purchasing decisions. On the other hand, noise is a nuisance – too much of it can ruin a driving experience.

The company points to research that suggests road noise is the biggest auditory distraction for drivers.

RANC attempts to solve that. A control processor uses a reference signal received from acceleration sensors placed along the suspension and chassis. It predicts noise transferred into the cabin and generates an anti-noise wave in real-time.

By analysing the intruding noise, it launches the anti-noise within milliseconds, before it has a chance to reach the occupants’ ears. In theory, this means unwanted noise is reduced by up to 50 percent.

Good sounds in the Genesis – that’s all

Genesis GV80 SUV interior

Sounds impressive. Just how impressive it is will be revealed to owners of the new Genesis GV80. The Korean luxury SUV is the first production car to feature the technology.

The GV80 made its debut at the Seoul Motor Show last month. It features a 14.5-inch split-screen infotainment system, a reduced number of buttons and switches, along with what Genesis calls a ‘luxury in space’ approach. SangYup Lee, head of Genesis design, said: “The concept of the ‘beauty of white space’ is a hallmark of Korean design”.

In another world-first, the Genesis GV80 features an active motion driver’s seat that contains seven air cells. Genesis says it is designed to reduce fatigue from long hours of driving.

You can expect the Harman RANC sound technology to filter down into other Genesis, Hyundai and Kia models in the future. 

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

The best automotive tech at CES 2020

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show) is one of the biggest technology events of the year. Held in Las Vegas, CES has become a beacon for car manufacturers and suppliers, as they seek to integrate ever-more technology into new vehicles.

Join us as we investigate the biggest automotive announcements at CES 2020. 

More cool car tech on Motoring Research:

Sony’s Vision-S is a concept car from the tech giant

Sony Vision-S concept car

One of the biggest surprises at CES 2020 was the unveiling of a concept car by Sony. The Japanese technology company has created its own electric vehicle, designed to show what technology it foresees appearing in future cars.

Safety is high on the agenda, with 33 sensors throughout the Vision-S to give a 360 degree ‘safety cocoon’ for driver and passengers. A panoramic display stretches the entire width of the dashboard, whilst audio speakers are integrated into the seats.

Sony states this is only a concept vehicle, but the details make it look like production might not be an impossible dream.

Could the Fisker Ocean be the electric SUV we need?

Fisker Ocean

Having been teased for months, CES 2020 is where Fisker Inc. finally launches the Ocean electric SUV. With federal tax credits the Ocean will be priced in the United States from $29,999 (£22,600), undercutting the Tesla Model Y.

Competitive and flexible leasing deals are also promised for the Ocean, which features a range of up to 300 miles from its 80 kWh battery pack. Fisker also wants the Ocean to be the most sustainable car ever made, with carpets made from recycled materials, a vegan interior, and a roof incorporating a full-length solar panel.

Production is scheduled for late 2021, with the first deliveries to customers in 2022.

Meet the high-tech rush hour refuge – the Audi AI ME

Audi AI:ME

Dealing with the daily commute can be a grind, but Audi wants the AI:ME to offer a break from the stresses of gridlock. Billed as being an ‘empathetic car’, the AI:ME is able to pick an interior lighting scheme based upon how the driver is feeling. It can also learn climate control preferences, and even which air freshener scent is most liked.

Passengers in the AI:ME can wear VR goggles to experience a ‘wellness experience’ of a mountain view, whilst the car orders takeaway food to be delivered on time. The AI:ME also routes drivers the best way to avoid traffic, helping further reduce stress.

Mercedes-Benz and James Cameron team up for AVTR concept

Mercedes-Benz AVTR

Developed with the people responsible for the Avatar movie, this Mercedes-Benz concept is intended to display the car as a living creature. The wheels took inspiration from the Tree of Souls from AVATAR, whilst the rear of the AVTR has 33 ‘bionic flaps’ that can move independently. These flaps can communicate with the driver, and the wider outside world.

Beneath the reptile-like exterior is a new graphene-based battery system, created without precious metals. Mercedes-Benz states the batteries are fully recyclable, aiding the sustainability of the AVTR. Vegan Diminica leather, and rattan flooring, add to the eco-credentials for this concept.

Jaguar Land Rover Pivi Pro is inspired by smartphones

JLR Pivi Pro

An all-new infotainment system for future Jaguar Land Rover models has made a debut at CES 2020, ahead of being rolled out for the new Defender. Named Pivi Pro, the system shares its appearance, and technology, with modern smartphones.

Said to be ‘ultra-fast’ courtesy of the BlackBerry QNX Hypervisor platform controlling it all, Pivi Pro can also has the world’s first dual-modem, dual-eSim in-car technology. One eSIM is dedicated to software updates, whilst the other focuses on streaming music and uploading information to the cloud to be used later.

OnePlus Concept One phone uses clever McLaren glass tech

OnePlus Concept One

The McLaren 720S Spider uses clever electrochromic tech in its glass roof, that switches it from solid black to see-through clear glass in an instant. The technology means the firm doesn’t have to fit sunshades to its open-top supercars, saving weight… and it’s so clever, a smartphone manufacturer has now taken it up.

High-end brand OnePlus debuted the Concept One phone at CES 2020, which has miniaturized the tech to use it on its camera lenses. They switch from ‘hidden’ to ready for use in less than the time it takes to open the camera app itself. Set off with a rich McLaren Papaya Orange leather case, the phone is sadly just a concept – for now, at least…  

Sennheiser and Continental make Ac2ated speakerless audio

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

A collaboration between audio company Sennheiser and Continental has resulted in a sound system that needs no speakers. Instead, specific surfaces throughout the interior of the vehicle are used to create sound, taking inspiration from classical music instruments.

Along with the promise of incredible 3D sound, the system also reduces weight by 90% compared to traditional speaker setups. Other benefits include car designers having more freedom to sculpt interiors, without needing to worry about speaker placement. 

The BMW i3 Urban Suite is inspired by boutique hotels

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

BMW has a number of concepts on display at CES 2020, including a version of the electric i3 designed to offer passengers a luxurious experience. BMW admits that boutique hotels have provided the interior influence, which includes a large seat and a footrest.

A screen can be deployed from the headliner, whilst passengers benefit what BMW describes as being a personal ‘Sound Zone’. In keeping with many of the exhibits as CES 2020, BMW has used sustainable materials inside the i3 Urban Suite, including olive-tanned leather upholstery. 

BMW X7 ZeroG Lounger – is this the comfiest car seat, ever?

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Whilst many of the ideas on show at CES 2020 are radical ideas of the future, BMW does have at least one creation slated for future production. The X7 ZeroG Lounger will be ready for sale in around five years, and aims to seriously upgrade your car seat experience.

With an integrated seat belt and airbag system, the ZeroG Lounger allows passengers to recline up to 60 degrees, but also meet all safety requirements. A screen can also be mounted to the headliner, allowing passengers to still keep watching the infotainment display whilst reclining.

Keep it quiet with Nissan’s new acoustic meta-material

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

It might not be the most exciting product being previewed at CES 2020, but Nissan’s lightweight meta-material aims to make car cabins quieter whilst improving efficiency. Instead of traditional heavy insulation, the meta-material use plastic film and a lattice structure to control air movement.

This material helps deaden wide frequency band noise, such as road or engine sounds, but weighs only 25% of the equivalent contemporary insulation. Nissan also promises that its low cost, and thin size, means even economy cars will be able to benefit from the lightweight noise insulation in future.

Nissan electric twin-motor all-wheel drive technology

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Using lessons learned from the performance GT-R supercar, and Patrol off-roader, Nissan has developed an electric motor system that provides instant torque to all four wheels. It boasts that handling and power delivery can be on par with dedicated sports cars, but with all the efficiency of electric power.

The 4ORCE system juggles torque between each wheel, and also helps contribute to overall passenger comfort. The level of regenerative braking can be automatically adjusted in urban situations, making stop-start traffic seem less dramatic.

Lamborghini is first for full Amazon Alexa control

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Supercar manufacturer Lamborghini has become the first car manufacturer to offer full integration with Amazon’s Alexa service. The new Huracan Evo’s infotainment and climate control systems can be adjusted purely using voice commands, alongside asking for navigation data or weather updates.

Using Alexa inside a Lamborghini also allows external Alexa-connected devices, such as gates or garage doors, to be controlled through voice commands. Amazon and Lamborghini are committed to increasing the number of opportunities for Alexa to assist drivers, letting them concentrate on having fun behind the wheel.

Uber and Hyundai combine to build flying taxi

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Forget ride-sharing in just a car, as the future will see a fleet or air taxis transporting passengers to their destination. That is the vision according to Hyundai and Uber, who have made a full-scale flying machine to display at CES 2020.

The all-electric S-A1 is claimed to have a potential range of up to 60 miles, and can travel at a top speed of 180 mph. Recharging will take mere minutes, whilst the cabin can accommodate four passengers and small amounts of luggage.

This is not just idle fantasy – initial flight tests are planned for later this year, with deployment possible by 2023. 

Bosch developing virtual sun visors

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Already chosen as the Best of Innovation in the CES 2020 Innovation Awards, Bosch’s Virtual Visor is said to be a sun visor fit for the future. Instead of traditional materials, the Virtual Visor uses an LCD screen fitted with a camera to monitor the driver or passenger.

Artificial intelligence monitors facial landmarks, and then reacts to darken sections of the LCD screen to block out light from the driver’s eyes. As the car moves, the visor adjusts to maintain coverage, whilst the remainder of the visor remains transparent.  

Chrysler has a special Airflow Vision concept car

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Taking a name from a radical Chrysler produced in the 1930s, the Airflow Vision is a demonstration of how car and driver will interact in the future. Based on the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, the flat floor of the interior is aimed at maximizing space, along with materials chosen for their calming hues.

Multiple display screens can be tailored to suit the driver and passenger, whilst Chrysler promises they will also be easy and safe to use on the move. Other intriguing elements include the use of LED crystal lighting, plus wheels said to have been inspired by the insides of an electric motor. 

Jeep is making three plug-in hybrid models

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

More conventional, but still important, Jeep is previewing three new plug-in hybrid models at CES 2020. Electrification has been seen as vital to the future of the 4×4 brand, with the company aiming to offer electric options for all models in the range by 2022.

Plug-in versions of the Wrangler, Renegade, and Compass are first to be released. All will be badged as ‘4xe’, highlight the new electric drivetrain elements. Jeep plans to release more information at motor shows throughout 2020.

Toyota wants to build a prototype connected city

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Forget building cars, or even integrated transport, as Toyota wants to build an entire city of the future. Using a 175-acre site at the base of Mount Fuji, Toyota’s ‘Woven City’ will be home to 2,000 inhabitants who want to help test the technology for the next generation.

Woven City will include homes integrated with robots, AI to monitor the health of residents, and transport said to be fully zero-emissions ready. Plans for the city are already well in development, with Toyota promising to break ground on the project in 2021. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels will be responsible for the design of the city.

Harman Voice-Sensing Volume Fade to make conversations better

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Turning down the volume on your car stereo could become a thing of the past, thanks to new technology from Harman. As part of its EV Plus+ Solutions package, Harman has included Voice-Sensing Volume Fade, which automatically detects when conversations are happening in the cabin.

The volume is reduced during the conversation, and then returned to normal once the talking stops, meaning no need to manually fiddle with knobs and switches. EV Plus+ Solutions is now available to car manufacturers, and allows drivers to download new software to their car as desired.

Harman 5G technology to look around corners and through objects

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Another important development being shown at CES 2020 by Harman makes use of 5G communications technology. Called vehicle-to-pedestrian, the safety system is able to make use of peer-to-peer 5G signals to detect the presence of people or cyclists.

This could allow a car to automatically brake before a corner, knowing that a pedestrian is crossing the street around the bend. Pedestrians and cyclists can also receive warnings when carrying a 5G-enabled device.

NAWA Technologies crazy Racer electric bike

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Based in France, NAWA Technologies has made an all-electric motorbike currently on display at CES 2020. What makes it special is a world-first hybrid battery system, which combines a lithium-ion battery with ultracapacitor technology. This is said to offer ten times more power than traditional batteries, along with improved efficiency.

Despite having only a 9 kWh battery, the NAWA Racer can cover up to 93 miles on a full charge. It can also hit 0-62 mph in 3 seconds, and power on to a top speed in excess of 100 mph. Sadly the Racer exists to solely to demonstrate NAWA’s ultracapacitor technology, meaning there are no plans for a production version. 

Ford is the first customer to get Digit robots

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Your next Ford might not come with a Digit robot, but you may find it delivering your packages in future. The Blue Oval has worked with Agility Robotics on its bipedal robot, which can hold parcels and carry them along routes to homes. It can also react to instructions on where to leave items, and ask for help if needed.

Ford views this as important for building the next-generation of commercial vehicles. Self-driving delivery trucks and vans could incorporate Digit into their design, allowing robots to undertake the final process of handing over your latest e-commerce order.

Control your home with a Renault

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Owners of select Renaults across Europe will soon be able to control their automated homes from the comfort of their car. A partnership with French company Otodo allows for instructions to be based between car and home, for models fitted with the Easy Link system.

Instructions could include a ‘Leaving Home’ function, which turns off the lights and puts the heating system into energy-saving mode. On returning home, the driver can use the touchscreen to send commands to prepare the house for their arrival. The software will be rolled out to cars later in 2020.

Honda’s Augmented Driving Concept

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

Fully-autonomous vehicles are still in development, but Honda is already thinking about how drivers will react when they finally become a production reality. Enter the Augmented Driving Concept car, which demonstrates how drivers would be able to switch between manual and self-driving modes.

The Augmented Driving Concept is constantly ready to take control should it need, and lets the driver use switches to choose between eight levels of autonomous assistance. The concept also previews a new steering wheel, which operates more like a joystick in allowing the driver to control acceleration and braking by pushing and pulling on it. 

The electric Byton M-Byte is now ready for production

Best automotive tech at CES 2020

One of the shocks at CES 2018 was the concept version of the M-Byte from Chinese manufacturer, Byton. The reason for the surprise was the giant 48-inch wide multimedia screen, spanning the full width of the dashboard. Now the production version is here, and the huge screen has made the journey to reality.

The reason for the big screen is a number of partnerships with companies like ViacomCBS, allowing for TV shows to be streamed directly to the M-Byte. Weather data from AccuWeather can also be displayed, and Byton is now seeking more brands to develop apps for the M-Byte SUV. The company is accepting reservations for the finished vehicle.

Sony Vision-S

Sony reveals Vision-S concept car at CES 2020

Sony Vision-S

The Sony Vision-S is a surprise new electric concept car revealed at CES 2020 to showcase the Japanese giant’s vision of mobility in the future.

Driving onto the stage during its CES press conference, Sony corporation president and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said the electric car had been developed because “I believe the next mega-trend will be mobility”.

Transport in the future will be as exciting as mobile has been for the past decade, he stated.

The Vision-S EV is therefore packed with gadgetry Sony believes will all feature in tomorrow’s cars, focused in three areas: safety, entertainment and adaptability.

Sony Vision-S: in detail

Sony Vision-S

On the safety side, the Vision-S features no fewer than 33 sensors inside the vehicle. These include CMOS image sensors (usually seen in digital cameras) and ToF sensors (Time of Flight – the tech helps accurately judge distances between objects and the camera), to detect and recognise people both outside and in.

The array of sensors help provide “highly advanced driving support”: note, Sony is not describing it as a fully autonomous car. Instead, it gives the car a 360 degree ‘safety cocoon’, detecting risks almost before they occur.

The ToF sensors, adds Sony, also help optimise the infotainment system, giving the Vision-S ‘intuitive’ gesture control (rather than the somewhat basic / infuriating systems seen in some of today’s BMWs).

Sony Vision-S

As for the infotainment screens, there are three high-resolution panoramic displays stretching the full width of the dashboard, flanked by digital rear-view screens at either end.

Sony calls the user interface “intuitive” and adds there is a ‘jog dial’ between the front seats for controlling the displays when the seats are fully reclined.

The Vision-S also features Sony ‘360 Reality Audio’ for rich audio fed through speakers built into each seat (yes, the rear two chairs, as well as the front).

Sony Vision-S

The audio experience has been engineered from the ground up – the beauty of building your own car – and uses Sony’s own digital processing technology.  

The Vision-S is a fully interconnected car, continually evolving via software-over-the-air (SOTA) updates. The firm wants to see the “continual evolution of cars via networks, and the creation of a car society in which each owner possesses a single vehicle for a long time, and minimises their environmental impact”.

In short, you won’t have to buy a new car every few years: your Sony Vision-S will develop and update itself for you. This is an interesting alternative to today’s auto industry model…

Sony Vision-S

A seamless link between mobile devices and Sony’s mobility concept will see, for example, music on a smartphone automatically pass over to the car when the owner gets in. They’ll be able to autonomously summon it from their mobile device, too.

Sony Vision-S

The interior will be fully personalised – and if a sleeping passenger is detected, the lights in their area will auto-dim and the climate control will set a suitable temperature.

Video: Sony Vision-S


Sony Vision-S: tech specs

Sony Vision-S

Sony has developed the Vision-S with tech partners including Magna, Bosch, BlackBerry, Nvidia and Qualcomm. It’s a newly-designed EV platform with the ‘skateboard’ layout that’s becoming common for electric cars – it means multiple body styles can easily be created.

Sony references saloon cars, SUVs, MPVs and coupes.  

There are two electric motors giving a total of 544 hp, and it’s good for 0-62 mph in 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 149 mph.

Sony Vision-S

The Vision-S is 4,895 mm long and 1,900 mm wide: just a little bit smaller than a Tesla Model S, in other words.

We don’t know the capacity of the electric batteries, but we do know the Vision-S is, like most high-power electric cars, no lightweight: it weighs 2,350 kg.

There are no official plans for production, but you can bet many will be crossing their fingers. After all, it’s no mean feat to create a car as convincing-looking as this from scratch; as we go from Sony’s self-described mobile decade to the mobility decade, is it at least considering a mobility product of its own?

One to watch with interest…

In pictures: Sony Vision-S

The Garmin DriveSmart 50 and a potted history of the sat nav


In-car satellite navigation systems – often shortened to ‘sat nav’ – have come a long way in three decades. But their development stretches back to 1909, when an engineer named J.W.Jones invented the Jones Live-Map in-car navigation system.

As reported by The New Yorker, the Live-Map was connected to a car’s odometer and consisted of a glass-enclosed dial, on which you could place a disk representing a particular trip.

The disk had mileage numbers around the edge, along with driving directions printed on the face. As you made your way along the road, the disk would rotate, telling you where you needed to go. In truth, it wasn’t all that good, but it laid the foundations for future development.

OnStar: born in 1966?

That said, the pace of development was surprisingly slow. The motoring world had to wait until 1966 for the next chapter in the history of the sat nav, when General Motors engineers designed a system called DAIR, or Driver Aid, Information and Routing.

DAIR relied on punch cards to provide information for basic turn-by-turn directions. The driver could ‘record’ a route with turns being represented as different gaps in the card’s surface. GM proposed a series of radio relay stations and magnetic sensors buried in roads, communicating everything from directions to road conditions and accident reports.

In many ways, DAIR was an early, albeit primitive version of the modern OnStar system, found in new Vauxhall models.

“Picture yourself on a long, lonely segment of highway,” said the research material distributed to GM personnel only. “It’s a rainy night, and you’re trying to stretch your gasoline to the next service station.

“Sure enough, the engine begins to stutter. You coast to the shoulder and stop. Your wife, who suggested a stop at the last town, gives you the special look she saves for such occasions. It’s a bad situation at best.”

GM promised motorists that DAIR could avoid such situations, but while the company’s ambitions must be applauded, it never really stood a chance. Just imagine how much investment would have been required to provide the necessary infrastructure.

The Electro Gyrocator


It was left to the Japanese to accelerate the growth in development. The brilliantly named Electro Gyrocator was launched as an optional extra in the Honda Accord in 1981, and is widely accepted to be the world’s first commercially available in-car navigation system.

Nine years later, the tech-laden Mazda Eunos Cosmo became the first car to be fitted with a built-in GPS-based navigation system, with Toyota another early pioneer of navigation systems.

The availability of GPS (global positioning by satellite) was the real turning point for in-car navigation. The technology was developed by the United States in the 1950s, with President Reagan making it available for civilian use in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, from a spare bedroom in Surrey, NextBase created the AutoRoute journey planner: a complete digital road map of Britain. For the first time, motorists had an alternative to the humble road atlas.

In the early days, in-car sat navs were the preserve of flagship motors, such as the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Renault Safrane, which featured Carminat in 1995: a European CD-based system featuring a colour interface and 2D map not too dissimilar to the systems of today.

The birth of intelligent sat nav

Today’s systems are far more advanced. The Rolls-Royce Wraith, for example, uses GPS to select the right gear for an approaching corner. Meanwhile, Audi’s adaptive cruise control works with the navigation to select the appropriate pace for corners, junctions and speed limits.

After the turn of the millennium, the in-car navigation system came into its own. No longer the preserve of luxobarges, the availability of sat nav filtered down to humble superminis and city cars. There was a cost, of course, but there was also a choice.

The likes of Garmin, TomTom and Navigon flooded the market with aftermarket devices, the majority of which were considerably cheaper than the OEM systems. A manufacturer might have offered a system for a four-figure sum, while an aftermarket sat nav could cost a couple of hundred pounds.

For years, experts warned against splashing the cash on an expensive OEM system, arguing that it would be obsolete in a few years and you’ve never be able to recoup the cost when it came to resale.

Today, the lines are a little more blurred. Many motorists buy a car via a PCP deal, meaning the issue of obsolescence is no longer an issue. Equally, the growth of smartphone connectivity has meant that motorists already have the maps and apps required before they buy a new car.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: short review


Does this mean the end of the aftermarket sat nav system? Garmin doesn’t think so, which is why we were sent a DriveSmart 50 to review.

Truth be told, it’s been a while since we used an aftermarket sat nav. The majority of test cars are loaded up with gadgets, while we tend to rely on traditional maps when driving our own cars (for the true retro experience).

Garmin unveiled its latest range of sat nav systems at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2016, with the DriveSmart sitting just above the entry-level Garmin Drive.

The DriveSmart is aimed squarely at the smartphone generation, featuring customisable smart notifications that allow drivers to display calls, text messages and app notifications on the navigation screen.

Press the appropriate button on the screen and the Garmin lady will read your text, email or social update to you and anybody else travelling in the car. It’s a little like Apple CarPlay in this respect, although there’s no option to voice a reply to a text.

Other advantages of the DriveSmart over the basic Drive are the availability of a voice-activated navigation, Bluetooth for hands-free calling and real-time access to traffic and weather reports via a Smartphone Link app.

The 50 in DriveSmart 50 refers to the size of the screen – in this case five inches. If size matters and you fancy something a little larger, the DriveSmart is also available with six-inch (60) and seven-inch screen (70).

Garmin DriveSmart 50: what’s in the box?


In the box you’ll find the obligatory suction mount, 12v socket to mini USB charging cable, USB to mini USB charging cable and a few leaflets. There’s no manual, so you’ll have to find this online.

Be warned: although the DriveSmart 50 will operate straight from the box, you’ll need to download Garmin Express via the internet to take advantage of its features, not to mention the most current software. There’s no clear instruction to tell you this, just a diagram hinting that this might be the case.

Using a 60mb broadband connection and an iMac, it look less than an hour to install the required software and update the maps, but it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re intending to use the sat nav before a long trip or a holiday. Update it first!

There’s a bewildering array of options to scroll through, including the vehicle icon to show on the map, driving map view, map detail, layers and audible driving alerts. But once you’ve established your ideal settings, you’re unlikely to feel the need to change them again.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: audible driving alerts


The audible driving alerts are a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s good to be alerted to schools, animal crossing points, speed limits and bends, but it can also be incredibly annoying.

After three ‘bongs’ alerting you to various bends ahead, you will be reaching for the off button. Fortunately you can pick and choose the alerts you want. Our guess is that the majority of drivers will remove them all.

They’re not exactly consistent, either. On the rural roads of Dartmoor, we were warned about animal crossing points a number of times, but not once did it alert us about a school. Some consistency is required.

On the plus side, the voice control system is very good. Even with Ken Bruce chattering away in the background, the Garmin was able to recognise our commands and reacted accordingly. Again, you’ll need to spend a few minutes to set things up, but the reward is a reliable and intuitive system.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: maps and guidance


As you’d expect from Garmin, the maps and route guidance are very good. It’s easy to get carried away with the array of apps and smartphone integration, but the primary role of the DriveSmart 50 is to get you from A to B with the least amount of hassle.

Inputting a town or postcode is easy, not least because it features predictive text, while the voice control allows you to make changes on the move. A neat touch, and something you don’t often find on OEM systems, is its ability to provide street names as part of the instructions.

In other words, while the OEM system we tested alongside the Garmin simply told us to turn right, the DriveSmart instructed us to ‘turn right onto Rose Cottages’. Makes things a bit easier, especially in a built-up area.

It’s not perfect. On a few occasions, the estimated time of arrival was a little pessimistic, saying we’d arrive at our destination a full 10 minutes later than the actual ETA. Not a problem on a four-hour journey, but not great when the journey only took 25 minutes.

It also warned us about traffic delays that simply weren’t there. In fairness to Garmin, this problem tends to affect other systems, but it might result in a few needless diversions.

The screen itself is clear, if a little prone to reflections, while the maps are easy to use. Zooming and panning is simple thanks to ‘pinch and zoom’, although this can lead to a few smeary marks on the screen.

Garmin DriveSmart 50: clutter


In fact, an aftermarket sat nav probably isn’t the best choice if you’re not a fan of clutter or mess. With the Garmin attached to the windscreen, you’ll need to find a safe home for the trailing charging cable, while the suction mount will leave a circular mark on the glass when removed.

Being picky, we’d also like some kind of pouch or sleeve to keep the sat nav safe when not in use. We’re forever being told to remove sat navs from our cars when parked up, so some kind of protection would be handy.

Other gripes – which aren’t isolated to the DriveSmart 50 – include the fact that, unlike OEM systems, the volume of the stereo isn’t lowered when commands are being read out. Furthermore, the commands sound a little ‘tinny’ compared to the OEM sat navs which have the advantage of using the car’s speakers.

Garmin DriveSmart: conclusion

But with prices starting from under £150, it’s hard to argue with the Garmin DriveSmart 50. Our system is the more expensive 50LMT-D, which features lifetime map and traffic updates, along with UK, Ireland and Western Europe maps, and costs £189.99.

The OCD in us would prefer the simplicity and uncluttered convenience of an OEM navigation system, but when even the Media Nav Evolution on a Dacia Sandero costs £300, it’s easy to see the appeal of an aftermarket system.

Besides, the DriveSmart is as smart as the name suggests, with an ability to look at previous journeys to inform you if there are any expected delays on your daily commute. Features such as this will encourage you to continue using the system, rather than leaving it in the glovebox.

Equally, the free traffic and map updates for life will keep the DriveSmart current, long after after sat nav units have been condemned to that drawer containing all the other gadgets you’ll never use again.

One final point: for us, the jury is out on the whole notifications thing. While we can see the attraction of having texts, emails and social updates read out on the move, isn’t it just another distraction for drivers?

What’s more, without the ability to voice command a reply, isn’t there a temptation for drivers to pick up their smartphones and respond in real-time? At least with Apple CarPlay you can reply to a text message without touching your phone.

Thanks to Halfords for the loan of the Garmin DriveSmart.

BBCThe New YorkerGeneral Motors

Amazon Alexa BMW Connected

Amazon Echo already supported by BMW in the UK

Amazon Alexa BMW ConnectedWhen the Amazon Echo virtual assistant device ships in the UK (and Germany) later this month, early-adopters who own a BMW will find they’re immediately able to operate BMW Connected functions by their voice alone.

BMW has confirmed its integration with the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant technology will be functional from launch when the new Echo speakers launch in the UK – meaning British BMW owners are likely to number among the first buyers now Amazon has opened pre-orders here.

BMW Connected is a personal digital mobility assistant: via a so-called ‘Alexa skill’, Echo owners will be able to control it in their home via voice activation alone, in addition to the existing BMW Connected iPhone, Apple Watch and Android smartphone apps.

So what can you do? Use your voice, says BMW, to:

  • Check your BMW’s fuel level…
  • … Or your BMW i3 and i8’s battery charge
  • Lock and unlock the vehicle
  • Set sat nav destinations
  • Ask Alexa what time you need to leave in order to make your next appointment

You use it simply by speaking ‘Alexa, BMW’, followed by the question. Wondering if you have time for another round of toast and a coffee in the morning? Don’t bother checking your phone – simply say: “Alexa, ask BMW when I should leave for my next appointment”.

Which, you have to admit, is pretty cool.

BMW is the first car manufacturer to announce it’ll be fully integrated with Alexa in the UK: if you’ve an Echo device on pre-order for September 28th delivery, best get to your local BMW dealer double-quick to buy a car you can use it to talk to.

BMW 5 Series Remote View 3D

The new BMW 5 Series will let you watch over it from afar

BMW 5 Series Remote View 3DThis is the new BMW 5 Series, uncovered and in all its glory… albeit viewed from above by someone watching over it on an app.

So while this technically is a world reveal, it doesn’t tell us much about the car. What it does reveal is a cool new app BMW’s developed for new 5 Series owners – that lets them watch over their car from their smartphone.

Using the car’s 3D cameras, BMW looks to be letting owners watch the same reverse parking camera view seen on the iDrive screen via the BMW Connected app.

As this works ‘live’ when in use during reversing, it will also mean owners can watch almost-live overhead footage of their parked car, wherever they are in the world (it seems to let them refresh the image, which presumably instructs the cameras to turn on so it can take another screengrab). How cool is that?

There’s likely to be more: it’s probably going to be linked into the car’s alarm sensors and other detectors, so would be able to alert owners if it picks up something untoward. Someone trying to break into your BMW? Watch what’s going on via the app.

It may even record incidents if someone drives into it, which would also be smart. And, we’re sure, BMW has loads of other functionality built into this new app – perhaps allowing owners to isolate individual cameras to spy in more detail, for example.

For now the firm, literally, isn’t saying much: in revealing the image, it simply stated: “Always know what is happening around your vehicle.

“The next generation of the BMW 5 Series with the BMW Connected feature ‘Remote View 3D. Coming soon.”

Consider us eager to see more, BMW. Not least of the new 5 Series you’ve actually given the world debut to here…

Audi SQ7

New Audi suspension charges the battery as you drive

Audi SQ7Audi is developing a new type of suspension that replaces traditional suspension dampers with electromechanical ones – which have the ability to convert kinetic energy into electricity.

This means the suspension can generate power as the car drives along – from 3 watts on a smooth motorway to a hefty 613 watts on rougher roads.

In other words, the worse the road, the more electricity the car suspension generates. Which is much better than today’s systems says Audi AG technical board member Dr.-Ing Stefan Knirsch, which merely absorb energy and then lose it in the form of heat.

“With the new electromechanical damper system in the 48-volt electrical system, we put this energy to use.”

Audi eROT suspension

That’s not all the prototype new eROT system can do. As it’s actively controlled, it responds ultra-quickly to changes in the road surface, and can also allow suspension to be soft in compression but firm in rebound – comfort with control, in other words.

And as the electric motors that replace the traditional dampers are mounted horizontally, it means there’s no need for suspension turrets so the boot can be bigger.

Audi says it’s “certainly plausible” to use this new type of suspension in future production models – as it’s going public with it, you’d have to imagine it’s a near-certain. It does require cars to use high-capacity 48-volt electrical systems though, which the firm is rolling out for the first time next year (although todays Q7 already uses a 48-volt system in the suspension).

So, bets on the first Audi to have suspension that can charge the battery as you drive? The next-generation Audi A8? Watch this space.

Although we’re not fully sure eROT is an acronym that works universally, Audi…

Volvo IntelliSafe Auto Pilot interface

Video: How does a Volvo self-driving car work?

So how will self-driving cars actually work? This video reveals Volvo’s vision…

Lotus Cars

Lotus weighs up savings in a year of cuts

Lotus CarsLotus has revealed it’s cut a hefty 207kg from its model range in the past year alone, proving the spirit of founder Colin Chapman, whose mantra was ‘just add lightness’, is alive and well.

Significant weight savings include 70kg cut from the Lotus Evora Sport 410 over the already-honed Evora 400, 91kg from the Exige Sport 350 over the Exige S, while even the familiar Elise has benefitted from a weight reduction of 15kg.

It means even the heaviest Lotus model tips the scales at under 1,400kg – significantly lighter than even the lightest, supposedly-lightweight all-aluminium Jaguar F-Type, which in base 340hp V6 guise tips the scales at 1,537kg.

“To perfect a pure sports car, you must consider weight your enemy,” said Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales. “Lose weight and you will make significant gains: hard er and faster cornering, better braking, greater agility and responsiveness, along with faster acceleration.

“Colin Chapman famously said, ‘Adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere,” and that thinking has become part of our DNA.”

Lotus Elise

As such, the inspirational new Lotus boss has, for the past few years, been running a so-called Lightweight Lab, where all Lotus models are stripped bare and each part analysed to see how to make it lighter. It’s this strategy that’s led to such significant ongoing savings.

Examples include the Lotus Exige Sport 350, where detail engineering cut the weight piece-by piece:

  • Louvred tailgate: -3kg
  • Redesigned gearshift mechanism: -3kg
  • Revised subrame: -3kg
  • Optimised body panels: -12kg

Optional carbon composite components cut another 30kg, giving the roadster a kerbweight of just 1,085kg – outrageous for a 350hp rear-drive sports car (and key to its impressive performance).

Lotus also points out its bonded aluminium chassis technology is still considered a benchmark in the automotive industry, more than 20 years since it was introduced.

Lotus Elise Chassis

Lightweight extrusions are bonded together with epoxy adhesive which means the ultra-strong chassis for the Elise and Exige weighs just 68kg. That’s half that of an equivalent steel chassis  – and, significantly, roughly the same weight as a carbon fibre chassis, despite being significantly cheaper and more adaptable.

Now, Lotus continues to find weight savings in the lightweight lab, with Gales coining the phrase, ‘the Lotus approach to light is right engineering’.

So, 207kg has been cut in a single year alone. How much more lightness can be added?

Volvo autonomous driver

1 in 2 new cars already have autonomous tech

Volvo autonomous driverDriverless cars may sound like tech for the future but new research from the SMMT has revealed 1.5 million new British cars are already fitted with semi-autonomous ‘driverless’ technology.

Such autonomous safety tech, which includes collision warning, adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, takes over from the driving in safety-critical situations – and the tech behind it is also the same used by fully self-driving cars.

The new research thus shows the building blocks of the driverless car is already sitting on the driveways of 1.5 million new car owners. And uptake continues to grow.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “Fully driverless cars are still a long way off from everyday use, but this data shows advanced autonomous technology is already making its way into the majority of new cars.

“Connected and autonomous cars will transform our society – vastly improving safety and reducing congestion and emissions – and will contribute billions to the economy.”

Driverless car boom

Uptake of autonomous new car tech is rapidly growing. Five years ago, less than 7% of new cars sold featured a collision warning system either as standard or a fitted option. Today, that figure has grown to more than 58%.

More than 1 in 3 new cars has blind spot monitoring and more than 30% have adaptive cruise control.

Such autonomous safety tech will have a big impact on road safety. Research by the SMMT suggests that serious accidents could fall by 25,000 a year by 2030 – and 2,500 lives could be saved every year.

Autonomous tech will also give a huge boost to the economy, predicts the SMMT: the annual saving to consumers could be as high as £40 billion, it believes.