Trick or Treat: 10 Tricky Auto Tech Tidbits to Ponder This Hallowe’en

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Self-driving cars, cars that can lock and unlock from anywhere, cars that are so connected you feel like sometimes it’s them that are watching you, as opposed to the other way ’round; when you think about it, as advanced as car tech has become, it really can be seen as a little on the creepy side. With All Hallows’ Eve on the horizon, we take a look at some of the behind-the-scenes trickery on display from all parts of the motoring spectrum today.

The Rolls-Royce Wraith’s GPS-aided transmission

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What’s that, you say? GPS is just to get you to the opera and back? Well, Rolls-Royce has laid out an enthusiastic “Negative, sir” to that statement. Instead of the GPS system just telling you which path to follow, it will read what the road’s doing ahead and adjust the transmission accordingly. Plus, the car itself – especially in Black Badge guise – is sinister enough to be on any Hallowe’en list.

The BMW 7 Series’ gesture controls

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While it may take a while to seeing drivers and passengers moving their hands as if conducting a symphony as they sit at a red light, the tea leaves suggest that gesture commands are the next frontier of the driver-machine interface. Twist your hand to change the volume, or swipe right to decline a call from that person you originally “swept right” for on your Tinder app. For the Poltergeist in all of us.

The BMW 7 Series Display Key

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Speaking of the 7 Series: at the opposite end of the spectrum from gesture control is the Display Key, which kind of brings the in-car experience to you, wherever you are. You can set the climate control and make sure the car’s locked, and in some markets, you can even tell the car to park itself… while you stand outside. Spooky.

Mercedes E-Class Digital Key

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Well, leave it to Mercedes to do one better over one of its biggest domestic rivals. Forget the key entirely, Mercedes says; if you’ve got a smartphone (and I’m willing to bet that 99% of Mercedes buyers in North America do), we’ve got you covered. Even when your phone’s dead, the car can sense it’s the right device, and it will let you in. At which point, go ahead and charge it. Wirelessly, of course.

Mercedes S-Class night vision

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Yes, yes, I know; it’s actually called “Night View Assist Plus”, but how much better, how much less Germanic does simply “night vision” sound? Right. That’s what I thought. At any rate, when activated, the screen between the two main gauges becomes better than a pair of night vision goggles, showing potential hazards as red boxes on the display. It’s good for up to 160 m for people, and 100 m for larger animals, and works at any speed. Vampire recognition = undetermined.

Audi laser lighting

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Because LED HIDs are so 2014, Audi has gone the extra mile and augmented the lighting on cars like the R8 supercar by adding (Dr. Evil voice and air quotes, please) frickin’ lasers that activate above 60 km/h for even more forward visibility without affecting oncoming traffic.

The Jaguar F-Pace’s Activity Key

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Essentially a key that you wear, the Activity Key allows you to leave your keyfob locked in the car so you don’t have to worry about it dropping out of your tattered zombie trousers when out hunting for brains. Simply walk to the tailgate, wave your wrist at the Jaguar emblem, and everything unlocks. The recently revealed Land Rover Discovery will have this tech.

Land Rover Discovery seating

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Speaking of the new Disco: in an effort to better align the hitherto “mainly for farmers and old school Landie fans” Discovery, the 2017 model recently revealed at the Paris Auto Show is set to do battle with the leaders in the three-row full-size crossover biz like the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and Audi Q7. Of course, to do that, you need a good seating system. What Land Rover’s done is develop seats that can be configured from an app on your phone, so the third row will be accessible as soon as you arrive at the car. In addition, the seats have what Land Rover calls “AI”, meaning they will move around if they have to. Say your front seats are too close to the second row for the latter to properly fold; the front seats will first move themselves forward, allow the second-row seat to fold, then snap back into place.

Tesla Autopilot

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Yes, yes; this tech’s gotten a bit of a bad rap lately, but that only partially detracts from how good it is. In stop-and-go traffic, the Model Xs and S’ that are equipped with the option will get you as close as anything to being in an autonomous car, as it slows you down and speeds you up depending on what’s going on around you. Oh, and for highway drivers, it can also automatically switch lanes safely with the press of a button. If cars were driven by ghosts….

GM Magnetic Dampers

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As crazy as it sounds, these are actually on the older side of the spectrum when you consider the rest of this list. Still; that shouldn’t take away from just how smart these things are. When required, millions of tiny metal particles realign themselves within a shock absorber’s fluid, either stiffening or softening the ride in less than the blink on an eye, and all of their own accord.

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Dan Heyman

Dan Heyman

Dan Heyman is a car guy through-and-through, ever since his first word was “Toyota”. Dan has worked as a full-time automotive journalist since 2010, having driven and written about everything from Abarths to Sierras and tackled race tracks from Texas to Toronto during that time.