Some may remember that back in the 1980s power windows were regarded as a luxury item in an automobile. Others may remember that in those very years we were imagining the automobile of the early 2000s as something spectacular and Star Trek like. It turns out that the automobile has evolved and matured into a rather safer, more comfortable and more reliable technology. But what will it be like in the near future? Laser guided navigation, talking cars, truly automated driving, holograms and in-vehicle broadband internet are just a few of the answers to that question.
For many years creative minds have dreamed about a world where vehicles can drive autonomously without human interaction. We see them in science-fiction movies or we read about them in books. It seems like these ideas are closer to coming true as one car manufacturer after another have been making considerable progress in this field. And like in many other cutting edge technologies, Nissan and Toyota are the closest to demonstrate cars equipped with complex systems that can successfully drive a car in real traffic conditions such as school areas, fast highways or single lane roads.
Where can we see it in action: Certainly the most interesting concept in this field would be the mini robot-car Nissan Eporo which aside from sophisticated laser systems used to establish distances between itself and possible obstacles, also allows a group of Eporos driving together on the same road to effectively communicate with each other in order to establish the most efficient way to travel together.
Time frame: Modern cars can steer, brake and accelerate all by themselves, but they still need a human driver behind the wheel. While technologies that allow cars to be more and more autonomous are maturing every year the way to a fully automated vehicle that can safely transport people without their intervention is a long evolutionary path, so we won’t be expecting true autopilot cars at our local dealership for another ten to twenty years.
The Smart Key
Apparently there will be a future where car owners will be able to perform contactless payments for day by day transactions like general shopping, paying for gas, parking and road tolls or even groceries, doing away with the need to carry cash and extra cards. It might even be equipped with technologies like voice print and hand print recognition.
Where can we see it in action: It looks like transforming the car key into a futuristic gadget idea belongs to BMW and it’s been under tests since 2008. Ford has been working on its own intelligent car key, although it’s more safety oriented, as it allows the main owner to program it to limit the car to a certain speed when someone else is driving it.
Time frame: There has been no actual release on when and if the BMW technology will be implemented on mass production vehicles as it requires large infrastructure improvements, however it might be a thing we can realistically expect within the next few years.
Electric Window Tinting
Electric window tinting could take windows or a moon roof from clear to tinted to even opaque with the push of a button. It sounds pretty simple but it’s in fact a pretty advanced and expensive technology to implement.
Where can we see it in action: This innovation is actually a current item on the road as we speak, although it’s only been developed for one model, the all-luxury Maybach, a car that has a base price of $344,000.
Time frame: Many other luxury car manufacturers have announced their intention to equip their vehicles with this gadget, so we’re expecting to see more instantly opaque windows on the road in a matter of a couple of years.
Holographic Heads-Up Displays
In the last few years, head-up displays (HUDs) have started appearing in quite a few high-end vehicles. But an evolution of the technology behind it allows for a more compact kind of device, small enough to fit inside a rearview mirror so we expect this kind of display to be widely spread in the future. What it actually does for you is display your speed or distance between other vehicles or obstacles around you in real time, superimposing it over the actual road view depicted in the mirror, with computer powered accuracy, helping a great deal with safety issues caused by miscalculations of such distances.
Where can we see it in action: UK based Light Blue Optics is the designer of the prototype and it looks like they’re planning big.
Time frame: Light Blue Optics is in discussions with several major manufacturers about implementing their design on a larger scale, however, they do estimate that it will take at least four years before the concept is ready for the market.
Bring out the old leather jacket, Knight Rider nostalgics. ‘Talking’ cars are a thing of the near future and not only they will communicate with us KITT style, but they are also expected to reduce road fatalities by half. That goal is achievable not only because our car’s computer will vocalize its safety concerns, but they will also be able to communicate with each other, via a complex Wi-Fi and GPS system which allows your vehicle to gather data from surrounding cars, which in turn receive the same type of information. The more nodes in the network, the better and more accurate the system gets. And you, the driver, will simply get advice from your car’s pleasant voice on how to approach an upcoming tight corner or how fast you should go for the next 10 miles.
Where can we see it in action: Cohda wireless is the Australian project that designed the system in the first place and they have apparently conducted road tests over a period of two years, using 200 to 700 cars in their network. So if you happen to see two cars politely whispering to each other on the roads of South Australia, don’t be scared, it’s just the future.
Time frame: The supporting devices behind this innovation are technically already market tested and with the system successfully passing road tests, it is expected to run of regular vehicles in 2012, starting with the United States. No talk yet about a front scan bar with red flashing lights.
The .car Concept
Bringing the Internet to your car is not exactly a breakthrough invention anymore, but checking your Facebook page while doing 70 mph is not exactly safe and it’s contrary to all possible road safety rules. So the inventors of the .car concept will want to bring the power of broadband internet to your vehicle, in a whole new unique and custom experience. This will surely create a whole new industry standard. As the .car top level domain name will be slowly implemented, special website designs, input methods, display modalities, custom designed firewalls and a ton of safety issues are being taking into consideration.
Where can we see it in action: With makers like GM, BMW and most of the reputed Japanese companies already bringing Internet access in one form or another to their vehicles, this technology is already half way into the mainstream market, but there are issues are still to be resolved.
Time frame: A truly unique .car style web navigation is yet to be a mature concept, but specialized companies have been working on the specifics for several years now and they expect this to be a common thing for the coveted next-generation buyers.
We’re guessing that most people have been involved in a little parking-lot fender bender accident before. Though many manufacturers in today’s world equip their vehicles with rearview cameras, parking sensors and even computer generated projections of surrounding obstacles people still manage to scrape, ding and dent their way into parking spaces. Well, there is actually a technology that allows cars to park on their own, while drivers just pull next to the spot and then sit back and get parked with their feet off the pedals.
Where can we see it in action: Currently the Lexus LS 460 L is the only mass production vehicle that offers this technology at this level, so lucky buyers may opt for it.
Time frame: Although what we have now is a good enough example of an intelligent self-parking car, it is estimated that the perfection of this technology will be reached in 2018
Games Console Which Allows You ‘Race Yourself’
This is actually an amazingly entertaining advancement in the gaming/car technology which basically allows you to measure and record your lap times on a track, then unplug the memory card, insert it into your gaming console and pretty much race against yourself. Chances are you’ll always win the virtual races, but that’s how great champions are made.
Where can we see it in action: The ready-for-production Toyota FT-86 concept is actually offering this gadget as an after-market optional package and a lot of people tested it at the Tokyo Salon. You will be able to do this too, provided you own a Play Station 3 and a copy of Gran Turismo 5.
Time frame: The final production model will be launched close to the end of 2011, but it hasn’t yet been confirmed that this is still definite equipment for the mass-production series. We can only hope.
The emerging field of neurotechnology might not seem to have many useful applications to the automobile industry, but according to recent reports, it could be an important step in improving road safety, especially for the elderly. This system consists of networks of sensors that can control temperature to keep the driver alert or sense if the driver is hitting the gas pedal for no apparent reason.
Where can we see it in action: Since late 2007, Toyota has been working with the developer of Nintendo’s Brain Age games on a program specifically focused on senior drivers with results in temperature control, anti-lock system sensitivity, gas pedal locking and other intelligent systems that can prevent any overly eager, but distracted driver from making a wrong decision.
Time frame: A final decision on the specific date of implementation is yet to be announced, but sources say that this project will go on road-testing within the next 5 years.
In reality this is a system of cameras and projection screens that allows the driver behind a semi-truck to see what’s on the other side, eliminating accidents caused by cars trying to pass trucks when there’s actually upcoming traffic. The idea is pretty simple: capture screen in the front, projection screen in the back of the semi.
Where can we see it in action: This has actually been developed by a Russian design studio and it was presented as more or less of a promotional material, offered purely as a conceptual take on future road safety.
Time frame: Being prohibitively expensive at the moment, though in essence a great idea, this project will not see the light of day until projection technology improves to the point where it’s cheaper to build and more efficient during bright daylight. On the other hand, that might not take all that long.
Could we re-invent the original car tire that has evolved over the last 100 years into what we use today? Apparently airless tires could be a safer choice and there have been reports on real road conditions tests with them. They are said to offer five times better handling response than traditional pneumatic tires and of course, they can’t really get a flat. On the downside, they appear to be quite noisy and you can’t mount them on your custom chrome plated rims.
Where can we see it in action: This has been a Michelin idea all the way and they call it The Tweel. Most Segways today use the very same concept.
Time frame: Although a viable idea even today, there is no way to know for sure if the automotive industry is going to change the way they think of car tires until further testing and researching improves what the airless tire has to offer.
The Smart Stop
Many times you’ll go through an intersection after the light has already been yellow for a little too long, but you either don’t notice or simply don’t want to slam on the brakes to stop your vehicle. The concept of Smart Stop will prevent that from happening by actually forcing the car to a full stop while your foot is still on the gas pedal. For those of us who still don’t care, it will probably have a deactivate option. This system actually works in conjunction with compatible traffic lights that send a signal to you car’s wireless receiver.
Where can we see it in action: Mercedes-Benz is currently experimenting with this very scenario and they are very optimistic about their system being a common safety equipment in the future.
Time frame: Apart from a few trial installations, it could be ten years or more before the technology is standardized and available in the U.S. because it would have to be a system that incorporates intelligent stoplights as well and there is currently no available infrastructure for that.