Automobile manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, and Mercedes Benz are showing off some new technology that will allow customers to remotely track their cars, diagnose mechanical problems, and help drivers avoid collisions. The plan is to use the internet and develop new automotive technology that will give vehicles intelligence. Your automobile will not only get you to where you need to go, but will have the intelligence to be self aware of what’s happening around it and to it, and could even monitor how the driver is doing.

OnStar is encouraging developers to create apps that use its wireless service to control cars in new ways. The company already offers:

  • Automatic crash response
  • stolen vehicle tracking
  • turn-by-turn navigation
  • roadside assistance
  • real-time data such as mileage, fuel levels, oil life and tire pressure
  • remotely unlock doors, honk horns, shine lights, and start the engine

OnStar is also working with RelayRides, a neighbor to car-sharing service which will launch later this year on Apple’s iOS. The new app will allow car owners to unlock their cars remotely after the person renting their vehicle arrives, or even track where a renter has taken their car.

Most electric vehicles already use similar technology which allows customers to manage their car’s recharging cycles, and it is expected that over half of all new vehicles will be similarly equipped by 2016. But the growing volumes of information processed by the new technology not only creates distractions for drivers but also raises issues of privacy.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in traffic accidents. Many of these could have been avoided, as often they were caused by distracted drivers or by driver error. The scientists at Google feel that if cars were able to drive themselves, the amount of accidents could be greatly reduced, and that’s just what they set out to do.

Google has developed a self driving car which uses video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to see other traffic. The car is programmed with detailed maps and traffic information and uses Google’s data centers to process the information allowing it to navigate the roads safely. Google feels this technology will not only reduce traffic accident, but will increase the number of people being transported by allowing more cars on the road and transforming car sharing businesses. Because the cars will be safer, safety features could be removed from cars making them lighter and more efficient. The car can also be programed to drive at the optimal fuel efficiency.

These automated cars, manned by trained operators, drove from Google’s Mountain View campus to their Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. In total, the self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles.

According to Google, “We’ve always been optimistic about technology’s ability to advance society, which is why we have pushed so hard to improve the capabilities of self-driving cars beyond where they are today.” While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science.