Sensor Technology And The Future
Of The Automotive Industry: 
3 Promising Use Cases

July 2023

Not long ago, vehicles were considered just modes of transportation. However, a new wave of innovation has washed over the automotive industry, transforming how people interact with vehicles. Now they are more than just used for mobility and are sanctuaries of comfort, productivity, and personal expression. 

The new era in the automotive industry is driven by IoT-powered sensor technology. Think of a future where cars become your highly intelligent companions, where vehicles can be tuned to the passenger’s desires and well-being, or imagine stepping into a car that instantly adjusts the seat, mirrors, and ambient lighting to your preferences.

The good news is that the amalgamation of sensor technology and automotive excellence is taking the world to a newer realm of possibilities. With 400 million connected cars predicted to be in operation by 2025,  here are the three use cases driven by the age of new sensors you should know to avoid getting lost in the fast-growing market.

Types Of Sensors

Here are some notable sensor technologies that will be used increasingly in the vehicles of the future.

  • Cameras to identify and track objects, read road signs, and interpret traffic signals;
  • Radars to detect obstacles with radio waves;
  • LIDAR to emit laser beams that bounce off objects in the vehicle’s vicinity and return to the sensor, enabling the vehicle to detect and recognize objects, like other vehicles, pedestrians, and obstacles;
  • GPS for accurate location information and route planning.

#1 – Personalized In-Cabin Experience

Cabin personalization refers to monitoring and analyzing passengers’ presence and behavior and anticipating their needs. So, unlike the sensors that detect the outer environment and vehicle condition, sensors used in this context include weight sensors, pressure sensors, facial expression analyzers, etc., placed strategically within the vehicle’s interior to gather data about passengers’ presence, positions, and interactions. The information gained is then used to improve various aspects of the cabin, such as experience, safety, and comfort.

Two specific features under this use case are garnering huge attention. First is the “Wellness Monitor,” which uses advanced passenger monitoring sensors to gather data and assess various aspects of the passenger’s well-being, including heart rate, body temperature, stress levels, and overall comfort. Based on the insights gained, the system suggests personalized wellness experiences. For example, if the system detects a passenger’s high-stress levels, it might recommend a soothing seat massage or a calming scent to help them relax.

The second is “Sleep Assist,” a system that employs intelligent sensors to detect if a passenger is sleeping, thereby automatically adjusting the lighting and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) to create a more conducive sleeping environment. Furthermore, a notification is provided in the front-row IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) system, allowing the driver or other occupants to be aware of the sleeping passenger. This feature is particularly beneficial for long-haul trips, where passengers may want to rest and recharge.

In the future, when more automobile manufacturers integrate cabin personalization sensor technology into their vehicles, it can bring about several benefits, including:

  • Improved Safety – Advanced safety features like adaptive airbags can adjust their deployment strategy based on the occupant. For instance, if a child is detected in the front seat, the system can modify the airbag deployment to minimize potential harm.
  • Seatbelt Reminders – By tracking the presence of occupants and analyzing their seating positions, the system can provide auditory or visual alerts to encourage participants to buckle up.
  • Personalized Comfort – Occupant detection and tracking can contribute to a more comfortable cabin environment as the system can automatically adjust seat positions, interior lighting, and temperature based on occupant preferences and characteristics. For instance, it can recognize a driver and automatically adjust the seat, mirrors, and steering wheel to their preferred settings.
  • Infotainment Customization – The vehicle’s infotainment system can personalize the content, such as the music playlist, radio station, movie genres, etc., according to individual preferences.

#2 – Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

The previous trend discusses complete automation, while Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) form an integral part of partial automation, where a human is involved in monitoring the driving process.

ADAS is integrated into vehicles to remove the human errors component. These systems support the driver with information about potential dangers and spare them the effort of manually doing specific tasks, thereby improving performance and safety.

ADAS relies on a network of sensors deployed throughout the vehicle to gather real-time data about the vehicle, its surroundings, and road conditions. This data is then transferred to the centralized AI system that analyzes it and applies machine learning techniques to offer a range of capabilities, including:

  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Emergency Braking
  • Collision Avoidance
  • Blind Spot Detection
  • Cross Traffic Alert
  • Pedestrian Detection
  • Park Assist

Automobile manufacturers across the world have already embraced ADAS and are currently working on developing the next generation of ADAS that could power self-driving vehicles.

At another end of this specific use case are proximity POIs (Points of Interest) that aim to deliver targeted and contextually relevant information to passengers during their journey. The system leverages GPS and mapping services to gather location data and identify passenger affinities to nearby points of interest, such as restaurants, landmarks, tourist attractions, gas stations, etc. It also analyzes passenger data, including preferences, interests, and previous choices, to offer tailored recommendations matching their tastes.

The future of proximity POIs is vast. Apart from enhancing the travel experience and enabling passengers to explore their surroundings more effectively, integrating proximity POIs with smart vehicles opens up numerous opportunities for businesses. By appearing as recommendations to passengers, small businesses get to attract new customers who might not be aware of their presence. For instance, a small boutique hotel near a popular tourist destination might be recommended to passengers looking for accommodation options. This drives more customers to local businesses, boosting the local economy and promoting tourism.

#3 – Autonomous Vehicles

Beyond electrification, the future of driving is more closely tied to automation. Imagine a driverless car that drops you off and picks you up from the office every morning and evening. Or a vehicle that lets you video call a friend, watch a movie, or work while spending hours on the road.

Such autonomous cars combine the convenience of being driven around with improved safety because a driverless car won’t put its passengers at risk in accidents caused by dangerous human driving behaviors such as speeding, drowsiness, reckless driving, etc. Furthermore, autonomous vehicles could also mean less traffic congestion since the vehicles can communicate with each other and change routes.

Of the several technologies that power autonomous vehicles, sensors are the most important since they help the vehicle sense its surroundings, navigate their way around obstacles, reach the chosen destination, and obey traffic laws. The sensors collect vast amounts of data about a vehicle’s environment, which is then processed by onboard computers for the AI algorithms to make real-time decisions, such as accelerating, braking, or changing lanes. Hence, a combination of these sensor technologies will allow autonomous cars to have a comprehensive understanding of their surroundings and thereby make informed decisions.

However, the question is, is the era of autonomous vehicles near?

Currently, most vehicles feature semi-autonomous hands-free technologies. Nonetheless, significant advancements in autonomous driving capabilities are already being made. According to a McKinsey consumer survey conducted in 2021, consumers wish to access autonomous driving features and are willing to pay for them. This is a sign for automobile manufacturers to embrace the latest technology and make their vehicles more capable of offering their consumers a hands-free driving experience.

Final Thoughts

Sensor technology in the automotive industry has significantly revolutionized the vehicles of the future. People expect their vehicles to be safer, more efficient, and nothing less than a whole software platform.

From advanced driver assistance features to transforming the driving experience through personalized and intuitive interactions, sensors are turning the future of driving more seamless and engaging. Beyond safety and driver experience, sensors also optimize operational efficiency in the automotive industry, facilitating vehicle-to-vehicle communication and enabling autonomous driving capabilities, paving the way for a more connected and efficient transportation ecosystem.

As sensor technology continues to evolve, automobile manufacturers must keep a close eye on these developments. Embracing sensor technology and its potential use cases will not only help you stay ahead of the curve but also contribute to creating a safer, more sustainable, and more efficient mobility landscape.

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