Car manufacturing is one of the fastest changing industries. A big turning point was the economic crisis of 2008, which drastically lowered car prices in most parts of the world and increased consumer expectations. Advancing IT industry and worldwide fast Internet availability introduced many new and exciting features in new car models.
Although car prices are constantly falling (at least comparing to average household income), future looks bright for car manufacturers that are able to adapt to the new market needs with installing latest technology in their models. Here are some of the latest trends in car production and predict innovative car features that will probably become widely popular during our lifetime.
This is the number one innovation when it comes to the automotive industry, and several autonomous car models are already released by different manufacturers. The idea of self-driven car dates from the eighties, when the first prototype was released in the project called Navlab, developed by Mercedes-Benz and Carnegie Mellon and Munich Bundeswehr Universities. First car auto-pilot was released by Tesla for its S model in October this year.
Currently, there’s also a highly popular ongoing project called the Google Self-Driving Car, developed by Google X, which created several self-driving models and equip older models made by other manufacturers with auto-pilot equipment. Since Google is a highly pragmatic company it is also lobbying for self-driven car laws in several American states.
Google also focuses on promoting their new cars online. Few weeks ago Google posted a photo, where we see policemen stopping self-driven car in Mountain View, which was turned into a great marketing stunt.
Self-driven cars are using the system of sensors to perfectly navigate vehicle’s path. It also uses vehicular communication systems, for peer-to-peer network communication between the vehicles. In theory, this feature alone will decrease road accidents by eliminating the human error factor for an amazing 79%
MMI Touch is new system released by Audi that is built on regular knob, touch screen and voice technologies, but offers much easier and safer scrolling, that can be used for everything from navigation address lists to favorite songs on audio player.
Drivers are now not required to find the first letter of an address, command or a song in the list by scrolling, but can input it, by finger-drawing on the touch pad. This system also supports many different languages and comes with regular voice and touch controls for drivers.
Biometric Vehicle Access:
Some models produced today already have key-less entry and this technology will soon become much more refined. Drivers will be able to start their car with some of the latest methods used in smartphone security. Cars will use exactly the same concept and drivers will be able to ignite them with their fingerprints or smartphone commands from devices with fingerprint scanning feature.
Car Apps (Toyota and Tesla):
Smartphones, tablets and computers won’t be the only gadgets that come with range of useful apps. Car computers will soon include dozens of different apps that won’t be more demanding when it comes to battery and internet usage than apps seen on smartphones. Imagine a feature that tells you the main tourist sites, best hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs and navigate you to these places, after entering certain city area.
Toyota already made a concept vehicle whose computer includes many different smart app features. Concept is called Fun Vii, which stands for “Vehicle, Interactive, Internet”. This technology enables drivers to connect to anyone they like in matter of seconds and adjust many different car features, including: tire pressure, radio, electric charging, etc. Other than Toyota’s Vii concept, there’s also a Tesla Model S that comes with a few smart apps, in its car computer and it is the first production version with these features.
Augmented Reality Windscreen Display:
Cars with augmented reality displays on windscreens still sound like sci-fi, but there is an iPhone app that can project navigation and driving information on car’s windscreen. Projection is incorporated in minimalist design that doesn’t block any part of the driver’s field of view.
This app is just the beginning of this concept development. Soon we can expect several big car manufacturers to launch their windscreen augment reality displays. These projections enable drivers to keep their eyes on the road, instead of looking for information on infotainment display or smartphone screen.
New Tire Concepts:
One year ago, South Korean tire manufacturer Hankook Tires, unveiled several futuristic tire concepts. This part of car exterior hasn’t changed much since the earliest days of car production, and that’s why automotive experts expect some drastic changes in shape, dimensions and tread patterns. To stay informed, I suggest reading this useful blog.
When it comes to new Handkook tire concepts, these will be able to change their pattern depending on terrain characteristics.
Tire made for off-road conditions comes with hexagonal tread blocks that expand and decrease, tire made for winter conditions expand its circumference, which enables it to take a harder grip on icy road and tires for rainy days, come with paddles that enables them to go through large puddles faster and create similar effect as water-wheels on old river boats.
Self-Healing Paint (Nissan):
Interior features are constantly being changed and upgraded in most models, but we still haven’t seen too many exterior updates, since the introduction of carbon fiber and aluminum panels in different muscle car models. That’s why self-healing paint is one of the most important updates when it comes to automobile’s exterior in years to come.
Self-healing paint makes scratches disappear from panel surface. Many car manufacturers are currently experimenting with self-healing paint, with Nissan engineers being the most successful in developing and applying these new technologies on their models.
Communication Between Vehicles:
Although most drivers would think that this technology will enable them to call the driver in front and tell him to speed up, communication between vehicles in traffic is more like a binary-language machine-talk that will alert one car computer that the other car is approaching and therefore decrease the number of car accidents and make traffic smoother and less congested.
Drivers (or self driven cars) will know how many cars are approaching to the crossroad from each side and how fast are they going. This will also decrease the need for sudden braking and boost car’s fuel efficiency.
Smaller and Thinner Car Batteries:
Since the invention of hybrid and electric cars, engineers and designers are struggling with car battery installation in an attempt to increase interior and luggage space. In most electric and hybrid cars batteries are placed under the fake trunk bottom, while in cars with rear wheel drive, they usually go under the lower part of central console.
One of the most innovating ideas concerning this issue is to make batteries an integral part of car’s construction. Since new lithium-ion batteries are becoming longer lasting and therefore smaller and more adaptable when it comes to shape, engineers will soon be able to adapt their shape in order for them to serve as interior or exterior panels. This way, new hybrid and electric cars will come with much more storage or cabin space.
Driver Override Systems:
Driver override systems are similar to the technology of self driven vehicles, but they also have a few independent features of their own. Well known examples of driver override systems are car-breathalyzers and integral interlocks. Today there are car models that come with intuitive sensors that can stop the vehicle, even when gas pedal is floored.
These sensors will become standard on more cars which will lead to much safer traffic, since car’s computers will have more control than the drivers. Most self driven concepts that already exist, act as regular vehicles, if the auto-pilot is off. Cars with driver override systems will completely ignore driver’s decision if it doesn’t abide to traffic rules and if it puts other traffic participants in danger.
Car computer’s self-destruction will become an ordinary security measure in most models. This technology is even available today for models that come with OnStar telematics. Although this remote shutdown is available on many different cars, people are mostly unaware of this feature. We should expect for the stolen car shutdown to become widely available and popular around 2020. This way car theft will become much less appealing and it will put an end to dramatic police chases.
While writing this text I saw a news article about Chinese researchers from Nankai University, who constructed a car that uses brainpower to drive and navigate. Driver can control car’s navigation, lock and unlock the door, go faster, slower or stop, all without a single movement.
This is possible due to EEG signal reading sensors attached to the driver’s head that read electroencephalogram signals from the brain and sends them to the computer that picks out relevant signals, decodes them and controls the car using signal commands. Of course brain powered car is very far from its production version, but this and many other useful inventions we mentioned in this article are changing automotive industry as we speak.