What Car? Technology Award 2020

"Thatcham Research is a strong supporter of innovation that makes driving safer, so we are proud to back the What Car? Technology Award for the first time in 2020. Our focus is on embracing the future – but also making sure new technology is adopted safely and responsibly. By monitoring development and working closely with carmakers, we believe the technologies in contention for this award can deliver huge societal benefit."

Jonathan Hewett
Chief Executive, Thatcham Research
What Car? Technology Award 2020


Why are these 10 technologies important? Read more below, including insights from our director of research Matthew Avery


Drive Recorder on various models

Uses integrated cameras to record video footage from different points around the vehicle, before saving them for USB export or later viewing on the control display. In the event of a collision, footage of the 20 seconds leading up to impact – and the 20 seconds after it – is saved automatically, providing video evidence of the incident.

This trend-setting tech from BMW enables drivers to record events, helping them to refute bogus claims. In the long term, in-vehicle data will only become more and more important as Automated Driving is ushered in.”


Centre Side Airbag on various models

Centre console airbag that expands into the space between driver and front-seat passenger in the event of a side impact, reducing the potential for head injuries caused by lateral movement between front seat occupants.

“This is a genuine step forward in ‘passive’ safety. Around 20% of fatal and serious injuries are caused not by the collision itself but by the resulting interaction between driver and front passenger. Mounting the airbag in the centre console segregates occupants to offer both thorax and head protection in lateral impacts.”


Driver Monitoring on Mazda3 and CX-30

Part of the wider I-ACTIVSENSE array of safety technology, uses infrared camera and LED technology to monitor the driver’s eye width, blink rate, and facial expressions to determine levels of drowsiness and fatigue. Also monitors the driver’s line of sight and eye movements to assess whether they are paying attention to the road. Driver Monitoring sounds a warning alert if the situation becomes dangerous and will activate automated features such as braking to address the problem.

“The first of two pioneering Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) in contention for the award. We believe DMS is the next big thing in safety technology. That Mazda is making this emerging technology available on an affordable vehicle is commendable.”


Route-Based Speed Adaptation on various models

Uses map data to anticipate bends, roundabouts and junctions by slowing the vehicle to appropriate speeds. Once navigated, the vehicle accelerates back up to speeds pre-set by the driver. Integration with Active Distance Assist maintains a safe distance from vehicles in front.

“This represents an evolution in Assisted Driving, and uses mapping and information captured by the camera to automatically slow the vehicle down when approaching bends, junctions and roundabouts.”


800-volt battery architecture on Taycan

Offers twice the normal operating voltage for an electric vehicle, which means faster charging, cooler running temperatures and better acceleration. Currents are halved in the 800-volt architecture, meaning only half the cable cross-section is required to achieve the same power output. This reduces transmission loss so higher continuous power is achieved when driving.

“Battery technology has been a barrier to the wide adoption of Electric Vehicles (EVs). Porsche’s innovation will improve usability and help to convert more people to the benefits of EVs.”

Range Rover

ClearSight Rear View Mirror on Evoque

Classic rear-view mirror becomes an HD video screen at the push of a button, displaying live footage from a rear-facing camera mounted on top of the vehicle. Gives an unobstructed, 50-degree view of what is behind the vehicle – great for when boot contents block the back window.

“With modern vehicle design increasingly offering restricted visibility to drivers, this tech reinstates the idea of good all-round visibility and will help keep drivers, along with cyclists and pedestrians, safe and secure.”


Driver Monitoring System on Forester e-Boxer

Dashboard camera uses facial recognition software to monitor eye movements while driving. DMS detects if the driver’s gaze is wandering, or if they are falling asleep, and sounds a warning alert. Also recognises the faces of different drivers and automatically sets preferences such as seat position, door-mirror angles and air-conditioning settings.

“This helpful Driver Monitoring System can not only keep you attentive during long journeys but can also identify individual drivers and pre-set comfort systems accordingly, creating a more seamless integration of the driver into the vehicle’s operating environment. The car essentially knows you as an individual and is ready for you when you get in.”


Car2X communication on Golf 8

Exchanges road data with all Car2X-equipped vehicles within 800 metres, irrespective of make and model. Combines with information from road infrastructure, such as traffic lights, to warn drivers of upcoming hazards and give current traffic updates.

“Car-to-car communication will in future offer significant benefits to enable safer, more efficient driving, reduce congestion and even help with finding that ever-elusive parking space. This new tech introduces a clever crowd-sourced approach to collecting and disseminating traffic and hazard information.”


Emergency Assist on Volkswagen Arteon

Integrates Adaptive Cruise Control, Side Assist, Lane Assist and Park Assist functions to bring the car safely to a standstill in the event of driver blackout. Before taking action, Emergency Assist attempts to rouse the driver with brake jolts, steering jerks and by sounding an alarm.

“Emergency Assist offers huge safety benefits for all road users in the event of an incapacitated driver situation. Although this may appear to be a niche function, it is essential technology for the Automated vehicles of the future.”


Android Automotive OS on Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge

In-car infotainment system developed in partnership with Google and based on Android Automotive OS. Embeds Google services such as Google Maps, Assistant and the Play Store for apps, while over-the-air updates keep the technology fresh.

“The integration of familiar operating systems is a signpost to the future of vehicle design. This technology allows your car to be updated ‘Over the Air’, just as your mobile phone does today. It is also paving the way for greater functionality in voice control, which when introduced effectively, will reduce driver reliance on potentially distracting touchscreens and controls.”

"We are delighted that Thatcham is not only sponsoring the 2020 What Car? Technology Award, but that its experts have joined the judging panel. This is a time of huge innovation in the car industry, with the next few years likely to bring more change than the previous 50. It's therefore hugely helpful to be able to combine their experience with those of the What Car? team. The What Car? Awards are the culmination of 12 months of testing and set the highest standard for the automotive industry."

Steve Huntingford
Editor of What Car? Magazine