Smart cars are not just for science fiction anymore. Car manufacturers and tech companies are teaming up to find ways to advance transportation technology and make the roads safer.

So, for those of you wondering, are smart cars the future for drivers? The answer is a resounding yes.

What Makes a Car Smart?

The term “smart car” is not synonymous with “automatic car.” A smart car isn’t going to drive to your location on autopilot or serve as your personal Batmobile. A car is called “smart” when it can connect to other technological devices and perform certain actions such as parking assistance.

Who Can Benefit From Smart Cars?

Anyone really, but there are some subsets of the population who can certainly gain access to the road where they otherwise may not be confident or enabled. For example, elderly drivers and those with certain disabilities or vision impairments can be safer on the roads, especially at night.

The Dangers of Smart Cars

One of the biggest dangers is that smart cars may make drivers lazier. If a car can park, switch lanes safely and avoid an accident, drivers are likely to become accustomed to the assistance and rely less on their own knowledge and skills and more on the semi-autonomy of the vehicle. This changes the original question from, are smart cars the future to should smart cars be the future?

It’s hard to program a car to be smart in every situation. Programmers are working hard to develop algorithms that perform seamlessly in typical driving situations; however, the unpredictability of the road and interactions with other drivers, road obstructions, pedestrians, animals and weather all add to the complexity of the problem and can make drivers overly reliant on the car. When manual control is necessary, the interaction between the driver and car becomes even more complex, and the driver’s ability to make sound decisions may be skewed or muddled from prior reliance on the car’s mechanisms. Smart cars essentially require drivers to learn how to drive differently and acquire a new set of skills.

Who Is Making Smart Cars?

It may come as a surprise that tech companies like Google and Apple are spearheading projects to create safe smart cars for the mainstream market. Car manufacturers such as Volvo, Toyota and Tesla are certainly interested and working on prototypes, but due to the nature of the smart car, the tech industry holds the expertise for programming and making the cars “smart.” These techies certainly aren’t twiddling their thumbs wondering, are smart cars the future? They’re working hard to drive us all into the future and fast.

What Does the Future Hold?

It seems that car manufacturers are not necessarily interested in making fully automated vehicles quite yet, but they do want to provide features that make driving safer, enhance better decision-making and allow drivers to remain in full control but with assisted vehicle intelligence. For example, there is a big push to program cars to communicate with other vehicles on the road. This can increase road awareness such that drivers may avoid accidents while merging and switching lanes.

For many researchers, the big dream for the distant future is to create autonomous vehicles that require no driver assistance with the intention on creating collision-free roads. Though plenty of consumers would still desire to have their own vehicles, this would certainly affect other transportation markets such as taxis and bus services. Automatic cars could also have positive impacts on traffic in busy urban environments.

Overall, the most difficult challenge for both smart and automatic cars is the ability to communicate or have awareness of non-wireless objects present on and surrounding the road. This isn’t stopping techies from dreaming and designing, though. If you’re still sitting there asking, are smart cars the future? Look around. The future is already here.