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For those who think that the New Year is going to be the year of smart phones. Give a second thought. It could be the year of cars.
The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class has cameras that can read road signs and sensors to judge distance to the car in front, but is not yet able to make full use of the hardware.
Taking their cue from gadget makers such as Apple, Daimler and rivals are developing cars to receive software updates that include new tools or even improve fuel efficiency, much in the way an iPad gets new capabilities with each successive operating system.
That is a big change for an industry used to spending heavily to revamp ageing models.
While some drivers remain skeptical about surrendering control, many are ready to embrace functions which let them access information, make calls, e-mail or listen to music in traffic.
Software is also starting to help drivers in a myriad of other ways. For example, it allows drivers of BMW’s i3 electric vehicle to gauge whether a battery has sufficient charge to reach a destination.
Increasingly, system updates can alter a car’s actual driving performance. An upgrade to Tesla’s electric Model S sedan, for instance, commanded the suspension to increase ground clearance at highway speeds.
Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, is working to offer predictive cruise control in its cars and trucks, a tool to adapt a vehicle’s engine revs and gear to suit the gradient of a slope.
Few doubt, though, that the growing power and ambition of on-board software can only accelerate in the next generation of upscale cars.