The New Robo Cars

But when Kevin Harper brought home his Volvo XC60 with the turbo V-6 engine, he didn’t really spend any time reveling in the hepped-up horsepower or the 12-speaker surround sound. For the 36-year-old Clinton, Md., patent examiner, the real wow factor came when he tested the high-tech “queue assist” feature of his adaptive cruise control.Through five miles of stop-and-go rush hour traffic and numerous red lights, he marveled (nervously) as the car did all its own braking, without his foot ever touching the pedal. “It’s like being a backseat driver, only in the driver’s seat,” says Harper…

Many of the technologies, like Harper’s adaptive cruise control, have been around for years, but they’re being continually tweaked to help vehicles operate more autonomously. And new smart-car features keep coming, from proactive safety systems (like cars that self-slam their brakes for errant pedestrians) to parental controls that can limit radio volume for teen drivers. Of course, the biggest tech trend hitting the auto world is all that voice-activated, wireless Web surfing we’ll be doing, having the car read our texts aloud or find the nearest Mongolian barbecue joint.