Modern technology could potentially find ways to help us deal with the coronavirus pandemic. There is some work being done by Apple and Google related to contact tracing, which alerts you about people who are infected. A few apps can also relay news and information for your area.
Yet, what we will likely start seeing are minor tech improvements – touch-free shopping at grocery stores, gadgets that help us obey social distancing rules.
You could argue that a hands-free trunk in the 2020 Volkswagen Arteon sedan is one of those minor enhancements. In the future, even without the pandemic, hands-free operation is going to assist us in every area of life, sometimes by talking to bots but also with motion sensors in our homes, at our places of work, and when we drive around town.
To use the hands-free option, you simply walk up to the back of the Arteon (with the keyfob in your pocket) and place your foot under the rear bumper.
Over several weeks, I tested this feature many times as my hands were full of groceries. It means I’m not touching the vehicle as often – and neither is anyone else in my family.
This was more important in the Arteon than you might think. The rear trunk is more like a hatch – it's massive, with a huge storage area. Lifting it would have been difficult, although it works electronically with the keyfob.
There is enough space in the back, with the seats folded down, to accommodate the Canyon Endurance bike I’m testing – which meant I was loading it in and out quite a few times. The beefy, high-tech bike with a carbon frame is light enough that it was easy to lift into the hatch but would not work in most sedans with a simple trunk.
One discovery, which I can only assume this is for security purposes: the Arteon will not respond to a kick under the bumper if you approach from the side. I can imagine someone maybe hiding behind the car in the bushes, the driver exiting and going to the trunk to kick under the bumper, and getting robbed. Unlikely, but who knows?
If you approach from behind the vehicle, it’s more likely you are carrying something and makes more sense for the hands-free trunk to work.
The next smart step
The hands-free hatch is one sign of more robotic operation in cars. I’m waiting for vehicles that also sense my presence based on facial recognition scans, unlocking automatically even if I don’t have the keyfob. And, if the car senses I am carrying a bike or groceries, it could lift the trunk for me as well, knowing that’s probably a desirable response.
Cars will eventually know us and understand us. In the future, a concierge robot would sense our presence and understand what we want to do. If we are carrying a bike, it could move the seats forward or even lower the rear bumper. Once we climb in, the nav could find bike trails in the area for us and even suggest the one that fits our riding style.
Eventually, we will be able to adjust all of these automations and determine which ones we like or don’t like, and which ones actually help us the most. I can’t wait for that.
On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully self-driving cars.