The future car, let’s say a 2025 model, will be a very different machine back to the future to its present-day Grandfather. They will be packed with computers and safety devices, ensuring that not even a stunt driver can crash, and they will run on carbon dioxide and emit strawberry scented oxygen. Well, they might.
Predictions of future vehicles are usually wildly back to the future inaccurate. By now, we should all have space programs to rival NASA based out of our backyard. However, some of the automobile-related cutting-edge technology emerging now may well make it into production models of the future. But how much of this technology will be needed or even wanted? Car design of the present is already influenced by politicians, bureaucrats, health and safety regulations, and emissions regulations. Back to the future, the stunning concept seen at the Motorshow emerges into the world as a 1.0-liter shopping cart, but at least it’s legal.
Personally, I like the idea of fuel-efficient hybrid cars and fuel cell cars emitting nothing but water. However, like most enthusiasts, I also like powerful, loud convertibles with the ability to snap a vertebra at 10 paces. Therefore, a sensible mix is required, and this will be the job entrusted to car designers and engineers of the future to make a politically correct car that is also desirable. Another imminent problem facing designers of the future is coming up with styling ideas that are fresh and new. Some of the more recent concepts are certainly striking but not necessarily beautiful in the classic sense of the word. But if there is one thing the automobile industry is good at, that is innovation, and I, for one, am confident that radical and extreme concepts never before imagined will continue to appear at motor shows around the world.
Computer technology has already taken a firm hold of the automobile, and the modern driver is less and less responsible for the actions of their vehicle; soon, crash victims will try to use the electronics companies for accidents they caused because their computer system failed to brake the car even though they were fast asleep at the wheel on a three-lane highway. Until you have automation of every single vehicle on every single road, computer-driven cars are just not feasible; in my mind, there are just far too many on-the-road variables. With all the logic in the world, you cannot beat a brain. Computer-assisted driving is already available in certain Mercedes models, which break for you if you’re not looking where you’re going and your too close to the car in front, but there is still a driver in control of the car or is there. What if, for some reason, you wanted to get closer to the car in front? Did you need to get closer to the car? If you didn’t get closer to the car, something terrible would happen to civilization. Where do you draw the line with vehicle automation?
CCTV will be so prevalent in advanced cities of the future that visible crimes such as car theft are all but wiped out, but that still won’t stop the determined thief. GPS (Global Positioning System) units fitted as standard to all new automobiles will track any vehicle at any time anywhere. This technology is already common, but more widespread use is inevitable. In the UK, the government is already talking about fitting GPS to charge motorists depending on what road they travel on and at what times to cut spiraling congestion. This technology, coupled with an improved mobile phone and Bluetooth network, can track and recover stolen vehicles. When the vehicle is found to be stolen, a call can be made, which shuts down the engine of the car.
Simultaneously, a call is sent out, which alerts the available nearby police; by using the GPS installed in both the stolen car and the police car, officers can track the car even if they cannot see it. The police will also have much more insight into a vehicle’s record when out on patrol; using Bluetooth technology, a police car can tail a vehicle and receive information on the owner, the current driver, and their driving history, and even find out the recent top speed and acceleration figures. Of course, who wants that? You think you’ve just had a fun little blast on your favorite bit of road, you get pulled over five miles later, and the officer gives you a speeding ticket for something he didn’t see. But if this technology is mandatory, then what choice do you have.
Access to future automobiles may be very different from the keys of today, push button code entry and key card systems where the key doesn’t even leave your pocket, already available, will become commonplace. You hear the term keyless entry, but it still uses a remote control attached to a key which is then used to start the car. Biometrics available on some computer systems and use fingerprinting as a password could be an effective alternative to the key; you could even program it for members of your family, deciding between access only for the children or access and drive functions for those with licenses. However, I believe it will be some time before this is the only means of vehicle entry or start-up; what if you are lending your car to a friend and you cannot be present to allow start-up.
Multimedia systems will continue to develop in cars until the “are we there yet” phrase develops into “can we stay here.” Manufacturers are continuing to cram more and more video screens into increasingly ingenious places providing a rolling cinematic Dolby 7.0 surround sound experience. DVDs will go the way of the VCR, with hard disk recording of video being the dominant power, much as MP3s are killing off CDs. This MP4 technology will save space in the car and allow for far more footage to be kept on board. Improvements in wireless Internet connections could mean that the larger roads can support Internet-capable vehicles and constantly inform the driver with up-to-date, relevant road information.
A screen in the dash can display live images to show traffic reports and predict traffic jams by using the GPS systems in all vehicles to show areas where vehicles have been stopped or congested and then supply alternate routes. The sound systems of cars will also improve and become more personalized for the various passengers; with headphone sockets and multiple sound outlets, there might be four different radio stations that can be played at once through the different jacks, and a variety of MP3s that can be played at once.
Passenger safety is already a priority for modern-day car manufacturers, which will only increase in importance in the future. The widespread use of airbags will increase. The side impact protection airbags featured in some models have proved to be extremely effective in saving lives. More research and better positioning will continue to improve their performance and reliability. Airbags at the moment can only be deployed once, so in multiple collision crashes, their effectiveness is voided after the first impact; future airbag systems, however, may consider this and incorporate multiple single-use airbags in one position or reusable airbags which can be inflated several times. Some manufacturers use a dynamic headrest in some high-spec models; these move forward during a collision to stop the head snapping back quite so far and reducing the chance of spinal injury (whiplash.
It has been found that a vehicle’s bumper and frame height is a significant factor when it comes to safety during a collision. If a vehicle has a bumper that is too high, it can override the bumper of the other vehicle and plow directly into the passenger compartment putting the occupants at severe risk. Accidents like this usually occur when an average size car collides with a truck or SUV, this mismatch can be avoided by having adjustable ride heights on the larger vehicles, when they are on a smooth road lowering the vehicle to a suitable height would reduce the dangers normally associated with these sorts of collision, as a by-product, this would also reduce the top-heavy nature of trucks and SUVs, and rollover accidents could be avoided.