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Future car tech: Smarter, safer and self-driving
Predicting the future of transport is never easy, as these 1940s ads from the Bohn Aluminum & Brass company will attest. Back then, predictions included three-story airplanes, stretch firetrucks and sky motorways that criss cross above our heads – but all we got was this lousy flying car. Okay, that’s actually quite impressive, but car tech of the near future is unlikely to require a pilot’s license.
As the global automotive industry continues to move towards economical hybrid vehicles, in-car tech could prove an important battleground for companies looking to differentiate themselves. So, what does the future look like on four wheels?
Future car tech: 5 things to expect
1. Autonomous vehicles
Let’s start with a big one – self-driving cars are coming, and sooner than you think. Google has said it wants to see autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020, which will mean improving its prototype so that it’s both 100% road-safe and affordable, as well as making sure that all of the necessary infrastructure is in place. It’s claimed that, if widely adopted, self-driving technology could greatly reduce the number of traffic accidents by eliminating driver error. In fact, drivers are taken out of the picture completely, replacing the car’s controls with a simple on/off button. Thankfully for Google’s engineers, some pedals have been included in the testing models while they work out the kinks.
As well as Google, seemingly every major car company including Mercedes, Nissan, Volvo and Jaguar are working on their own self-driving vehicles. That’s not to mention a smart concept from BMW, which is designing a smartwatch app that will park your car, squeezing your ride into the tightest of spots as you look on smugly from the outside.
2. Biometric security
The key to car security in the future is in our own hands. No, literally, it’s in our hands, as we could soon be using fingerprint scans to access our vehicles. Following the success of biometric scans in Apple and Android smartphones, motor companies are looking to take biometrics seriously. Ford, for instance, recently acquired a patent for a keyless concept that accepts not just our thumbs and fingers, but also retina scanning and voice activation. Watch this space.
3. Active windows
It’s not just under the hood where car tech could change dramatically, but also windows and displays. A HUD (head-up display) device was unveiled from Navdy late last year, projecting apps and nav onto your windscreen so you can check your WhatsApp messages without taking your eyes off of the road. Controlled by gestures, Navdy claims that it’s product “feels like driving in the future,” and except for the part where we have to do the driving ourselves, they could be right.
Meanwhile, Mini’s vision for the future sees us strapping on driving goggles to access all manner of additional information while we’re on the road. To be completely honest, the ‘wearing goggles’ part of this plan feels a lot less futuristic than Navdy’s approacvh, but early reviews have indicated that its augmented reality device works great. Whether you’re as sold on the product’s aesthetic is more a question of taste.
4. Energy-storing body panels
According to Exxon Mobil, around half of all vehicles will be hybrids by the year 2040. Hybrid cars of the future could be up to 15 percent lighter, though, should they take advantage of new energy-storing body panels designed by Volvo in collaboration with Imperial College of London. The carbon fiber panels are lighter and less bulky than the batteries found in today’s electric cars, incorporating nano batteries and super capacitors using an advanced resin.
5. Car-to-car communication
Traffic accidents take only seconds to happen, but our current warning system – a sharp honk of the car horn – isn’t exactly the most sophisticated bit of preventive technology. Thankfully, it won’t be long before this is brought right up-to-date, with a high-tech form of car-to-car communication thought to be 1-2 years away from being fit for service.
Sometimes referred to as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the system consists of onboard computers which broadcast your position, speed, steering wheel position, brake status and more, giving the vehicles around you ample warning if you’re about to put them in danger. Similarly, if a truck is about to abruptly swerve in front of you while you adjust the radio setting, the two vehicles can communicate in an instant to alert you both to the danger. Now that’s smart.