Modern automobiles have come a long way in recent years when it comes to autonomous safety features and adaptive driving capabilities. Whereas power door locks and windows were a pretty big deal just 20 years ago, automotive technology continues to outpace itself. Compared to the following five innovations, however, even the back-up cameras and anti-collision braking systems of today can be considered to be rather low-tech.
In literal answer to this article’s leading question, there actually may be no one driving your car within the next couple decades. You’ll still have to keep your eyes on the road, but your role will be more of an assist to the vehicle’s fully adaptive onboard technology. At this year’s Consumer Technology Association convention, better known as CES 2017, automakers such as Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen exhibited their own futuristic conceptions of driverless cars to great acclaim. Meanwhile, cities like Sacramento, California and Portland, Oregon are already trying to get some self-driving cars on the road ASAP to ease traffic congestion and improve overall safety.
This idea goes hand-in-hand with self-driving tech. As its own driver, your car will need to know more than just which roads will get you to your destination fastest, but also what condition those roads are in, including how many potholes or stopped vehicles are along the way. However, the potential for 3-D positioning goes beyond enabling autonomy—for instance, you could use a 3-D map generated at the time of a traffic incident to prove with a high degree of accuracy that the road was too slick for you to stop safely when the light changed from yellow to red.
Imagine a future where not only are you not your car’s driver, but you’re instead referred to as its ‘user.’ Currently, most of us think of our vehicles as more machine than computer, so phrases like ‘user interface’ don’t tend to make too much sense in the context of driving.
Well, what if your windshield doubled as a transparent computer screen so that you’d never have to look away from the road? And what if your car could talk and get to know you personally? Toyota has already begun to imagine this future with its Concept-i, and the artificial intelligence (AI) envisioned for it called Yui, which the automaker has showcased at CES 2017 and auto shows across the country this year.
As more and more ride-sharing companies and apps keep popping up these days, there have been complaints from both customers and drivers, usually conflicting, about pricing. One way that this issue might go away in the future involves the ability for vehicle owners to contract out their driverless cars when not in use. That’s right—while you’re at a party or working at your day job, your car could be bringing home the bacon, too. Plus, you’ll save on parking.
Nissan’s concept car this year features what the carmaker calls ‘Intelligent Mobility,’ which would enable the future automobile to communicate on its own with its driver as well as potential ride-share clients. That means that you won’t even have to be a ‘people person’ to participate in the future ride-share market.
Zero Emissions and Beyond
A number of all-electric cars have made it to the market in recent years, including the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt EV. While these battery-powered automobiles go a long way in reducing the environmental footprint of driving, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. As long as the car needs to be plugged in, then it’ll still impact the environment—unless you’re also generating your own electricity off the grid.
New technology seeks to make the zero-emissions vehicles, or ZEVs, of the future completely independent of external energy sources. While the possibility of a car that can self-charge throughout its lifecycle remains controversial, those doubts haven’t stopped big names like Volkswagen from attempting it. VW’s I.D. Crozz concept car, achieving a whopping 311 miles per charge, moved the milestone ever closer to that goal this year.
Even if you’ve got plenty of friends and don’t need that kind of relationship with your car, the future of the automotive industry looks bright. And we haven’t even touched on what’s been happening in tire technology. In fact, tire manufacturers are supporting these futuristic visions by adapting their tech to autonomous cars and developing environmentally friendly additives, among other improvements.