The smarter thinking commentator is largely of the opinion that the automotive industry is going to change more in the next ten years than in the last 100. The move from petrol to electric power is already gaining momentum as fossil fuels dry out and get exponentially expensive, while clean, renewable energy becomes commonplace. Alongside that, Moore’s Law is kicking car automation up the exhaust pipe, enabling cars to safely and economically drive themselves, with advantages in safety, economy and traffic gridlock solutions. Here’s a glimpse at how the industry will change in the near, and far, future.
Your car used to squint through the night on conventional quartz-halogen bulb headlights, but these are expensive, suffer longevity issues and most of all, are inefficient. LEDs or fibre optics, it was thought, were the future, but now, the automotive industry has gone a bit “Austin Powers”, investing heavily in laser light technology. BMW’s i8 and the 2016 Audi R8 both feature laser headlights, the advantages being they fire twice as far as LEDs, consume far less electricity (enormously important for electric cars) and project light at 5,500 Kelvin – ideal conditions for the human eye, apparently, as drivers recognise contrast better and prevent fatigue.
Adaptive rear brake lights would not only show that the car in front has braked, but how hard they are braking, by strobing, for instance, which would be enormously useful for motorway driving.
Want more? How about linking your lights to GPS data to tailor illumination levels, direction and elevation to the exact stretch of road you’re driving? Rain detection that adjusts the brightness to take precipitation into account? Scanners which detect passing cars or people and adjusts the light so there’s no glare? Yes please.
Current cutting edge technology is mostly Tesla Model S’s delightful 17-inch touchscreen infotainment system which – boasting a full car manual, percentages of sunroof opening and ridiculous levels of air con control – is to all intents and purposes an iPad slapped onto the central car pillar. New Audi’s also have an instrument panel of one, beautiful TFT screen, which displays your selection of information, be it satnav, revs or song choice. But the future will be cars as rolling TV or cinema systems. The more cars become autonomous vehicles, the more dash displays are going to turn into entertainment centres to keep “drivers” amused as the car whisks its smart way to your destination.
Plus, those acres of windscreen would make a pretty good place to show a movie, right? Or a sweet, 6ft second screen for your future iThing to stream what ever’s in its digital innards.
Heading in a slightly different direction, but still to the same destination, Mini is developing virtual reality specs a bit like google Glass which incorporate navigation, “heads up” displays and information from the dash all screened (privately) in front of your eyes via goggles.
Keyless entry and start has been around for years. Though it still feels strange and cool to unlock, enter and start a car with a keyfob in a pocket. But already Tesla, Land Rover, Mercedes and BMW amongst others have smartphone apps that remotely lock, unlock and start or stop your car if you’ve lost your keys. The apps also show battery state, range and even GPS position. It’s only a short hop, then, to biometric technology introduction. A grab of the door will scan your fingerprints to allow access, then a camera scans your face, or the steering wheel checks your palm print before confirming your identity and authorising a start. This will add incredible levels of security, as only certain, programmed faces will be able to start your car.
The dangerous blind spots of the car’s pillars could also be a thing of the past. With displays getting thinner and thinner, your car’s pillars could be wrapped in paper thin displays, fed by cameras on the outside. Tracking your head when you lean round, for instance, to check your blind spot, the pillar would display the road on the other side, making it “invisible” and showing what you can’t see. This would also work on the front pillars, with pedestrians crossing in front sensed and displayed on “invisible” front pillars. Threat assessing logarithms might highlight them in red, for instance, to make sure that you’ve clocked them.
According to a post by The Wall Street Journal’s Brian R Fitzgerald, today’s average high-end car has roughly seven times more code than a Boeing 787 and last summer Audi’s CEO confidently asserted that there would be self-driving cars on the roads within two years. This was somewhat premature, but every major car manufacturer is furiously developing autonomous cars, made possible by the huge leaps in sensor technology and automotive computing power available. Like it or not, self piloted cars are the future of driving. Plus, there are surprising advantages, with the elderly, disabled and visually impaired suddenly given the gift of mobility.
Street lighting is expensive and light polluting, right? Well a team of futurologists came up with a neat, auto solution. Weave solar panels and LED lights throughout car roofs. They suck up energy during the day, and expel it as light when the suns sets. Voila! Every parked car is a streetlamp. Lights nearby would have sensors to turn themselves off if the ambient car light is sufficient to illuminate the street. Clever.
Manufacturers are already producing 3D printed cars. So it’s a short hop to bespoke designed vehicles. Want a bigger spoiler, wider rims or a scooped bonnet? Simple, personalise your car in an app and the manufacturer will 3D print your unique, individual motor directly on the assembly line, ready for delivery. Colour changing skins on the outside of your car will be able to change the colour to suit your trainers and flexible car bodies powered by internal motors will flex and change the aerodynamic shape of your car on the fly, depending on the GPS position of your car: increasing the downforce on motorways and aiding handling on country roads.
Our children will see individual car ownership as peculiar as smoking. With car expense crippling and the usage profiles – 20 minutes of driving, nine hours of parking, 20 minutes of driving, etc – lending themselves to car sharing, fewer customers will own cars outright, instead signing up to car sharing schemes which get exponentially cheaper as more customers join.
Another possibility is owning just the running gear and a separate, bolt on exterior. When your car isn’t being used, your chosen exterior would be hoisted off and a neighbour, for instance, would put their exterior on, and share an engine/chassis/running gear combination. This could be a winner in Asian countries, for instance, where attitudes towards hygiene mean users would be less likely to share a single vehicle, preferring to own individual, personal interiors.
In partnership with Microsoft, powered by the HP Spectre 360