- Electric vehicles may be poised to take over the market
- Cars are increasingly connected to a host of other electronic devices
- Advanced driver assistance systems will reduce human errors
We are currently living through a revolution in car manufacturing, with vehicles becoming increasingly dependent on electronics and computing. Gone are the days of purely mechanical machines: now, when you go to your local mechanic, he will plug his diagnostic machine in before he even opens the bonnet.
Aside from the fact that repairs on new cars will soon require specialist attention – Which might at least reassure relatives of those convinced they can fix anything with some elbow grease and a spanner – there are a number of benefits to these technological advances: cars are becoming more reliable, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly.
As driver assistance systems become ever more sophisticated, cars will also become safer and easier to handle.
Manufacturers are constantly researching different ways to squeeze extra miles out of every single drop, while maintaining levels of performance drivers have become accustomed to.
The most recent small turbocharged engines are achieving unprecedented performance figures, such as Ford’s tiny 1-litre 3-cylinder engine that has the same power density as the 8-l 1001bhp engine of a Bugatti Veyron (the world’s fastest production car).
Smaller engines are also helping cut down on vehicle emissions, making cars more environmentally friendly. However, in terms of emissions, a combustion engine will never be able to compete with hybrid and fully electric cars.
Hybrid and electric
Electric propulsion is no longer reserved for the morning milk floats, now powering a wide range of vehicles, from small two-seaters to high-performance racing cars – the famous 24 Hour Race in Le Mans was won last year by a Porsche 919 hybrid, while Tesla Motors have brought out a range of consumer vehicles to cater for different buyers.
For years, the main argument against electric cars was the lack of charging infrastructure. Today, the UK has more than 9600 public electric vehicle charging points.
Electric cars are not only cheaper to run but also emit zero fumes, a feat that even the greenest conventional combustion engines cannot match.
Driver Assistance systems
Parking sensors that beep when vehicles neared objects were the forefathers of the range of systems aimed at assisting the driver, but this family now extends to lane monitoring that keeps cars driving straight, automatic headlights that save the driver from dipping their beams and even enhanced cruise control that slows down the car automatically in traffic.
BMW is one of the leaders in this field and already offers night vision in many of its commercially available cars, which uses an infrared camera to detect and clearly illuminate potential hazards, as well as an advanced heads-up display that helps drivers keep their eyes on the road by projecting key driving information directly into their line of sight.
The connected car
The latest trend in car technology is the connected car: vehicles linked to a wide number of electronic devices, services and even other vehicles.
Drivers are already using systems where they can link their smartphones to their car’s infotainment system to make calls hands-free and play music through the audio system, but the connected car will take this one step further.
By using a close-range network comparable to WiFi, vehicles will soon receive and transmit real-time information on speed, location, direction of travel, braking and stability, as well as road and weather conditions, with other cars and road traffic systems.
Connected cars will be more aware of travel conditions and be able to react in an emergency. For example, your car will be able to detect another vehicle coming around a blind corner and stop, even if you are still pressing the accelerator.
Connected cars are likely to affect the future of car insurance too thanks to GPS car insurance, or smartbox insurance, which uses telematics to help drivers track their driving habits, and then potentially generates premiums or discounts that reflect how safe and fuel-efficient their driving is.
Autonomous driving, one step further on from connected cars, is a focus for automotive researchers. In recent years there have been a number of exciting developments: Google has been testing small autonomous vehicles on public roads while Audi has built a self-driving car that can race around a circuit at more than 150mph.
Toyota recently announced a $1 billion investment to create the Toyota Research Institute: a new research and development company focused on the application of artificial intelligence to mobility.
Dr Gill Pratt, Toyota Executive Technical Advisor and Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Research Institute, says that we should be excited, but there is still some way to go.
“Society tolerates a lot of human error but we expect machines to be much better. We expect them to be ever-ready and nearly perfect,” she observes.
The most current advances in automotive technology are helping drivers become safer, more fuel-efficient and more aware of the driving conditions around them, but until autonomous cars become a reality, the onus is still on the owners to respect their vehicles and other drivers on the road.