How future technology will influence the car and travel industries.
By Tamsin Hollis
We’re currently in the middle of a technological revolution and it seems we’re at the precipice for some major changes in car technology.
“I believe the auto industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50.”
CEO and Chairwoman of General Motors.
Self-driving cars might have seemed like a far off and futuristic concept that belonged in science fiction movies but it would appear that the future is now.
The 2010s has seen a race to become the first company to develop a truly autonomous, road worthy vehicle, despite the concept and development of self-driving vehicles dating as far back as the 1920s (albeit primitive remote controlled versions). Now nearly every major car company has their sights set on a driverless future; Ford, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Audi and Nissan to name a few. Google and Tesla have both frequented the news with the testing of their vehicles.
Autonomous vehicles uninhibited by the mistakes of human error will no doubt reduce the number of road accidents and casualties1. In turn this should free up emergency services, leaving them more time to attend to other incidents. With a better safety record and less room for error the likelihood is that these vehicles will have higher speed limits than current laws allow, meaning that journeys should be quicker. Great news…or is it?
If human error is eradicated they should also almost completely cut traffic, meaning our journeys will be smoother and shorter. With a hands free, worry free journey there will be no end to the amount of tasks you can complete on your daily commute so productivity as a whole should go up. However, is this a good thing? If we’re hands free for our commute will this simply add to our already never-ending working days and a society that isn’t allowed to “switch off”?
Self-driving cars could also see an additional revenue stream for their owners. It has been suggested that owners could hire out their car whilst at work or on holiday for a fee – essentially sending their car to “work” when it is not being used.
Autonomous vehicles bring with them many practical and ethical considerations. How will the insurance work? Who will pay up in the event of an accident? How will a vehicle be programmed to act in the case of injuring a pedestrian or the owner of the car2?
Smarter cars naturally mean more on-board technology and more communication from “the cloud”. With these additional channels of communication open there is a risk that hacking could become a major issue and companies will have to tighten their security systems even more.
All of these questions will no doubt be answered in time but it does pose a major change in the way that we currently view the automotive and insurance industries forever.
Pollution reduced driving
Electric cars can now be seen on the streets of most major cities and hybrid cars are becoming increasingly popular for their ability to switch between petrol and electric. Ever advancing technology in the field means that the way that we collect, use and store energy will become more efficient and increasingly environmentally friendly.
The Basingstoke based firm InstaVolt3 has recently partnered with US electric charging company ChargePoint which have won the bid to provide the UK with the first 200 “rapid chargers”.
The availability and speed of these chargers could see a huge change in the way that people view electric cars. Once seen as a bit of a joke by petrol heads and only for the likes of Greenpeace voters, electric cars have now been given a new lease of life by the likes of Range Rover, Land Rover and Jaguar who have developed new hybrid cars thought to be on sale in 20184. With fears for the environment ever present electric is quickly becoming the new sexy.
Biomechanic vehicles were heavily featured at CES 2017 (the showcase home for the newest car technologies). Cars that scan the driver’s face to see who’s driving and adjust the seat, lighting, temperature of the car and other variables accordingly to suit the driver took the spotlight. Also featured were cars that measure your heart rate and could potentially identify when a driver is unwell enabling them to be guided safely off of the road and and medical assistance be alerted5.
Many of these are works in progress and simply a glimpse at what the future holds but many aspects of biotechnology are already being used and have been used for many years. Retinal scanning and fingerprint recognition for security purposes is the norm in many industries so the leap from this to unlocking your car with your fingerprint isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.
Printing vehicle parts and designing your own car
3D printers have been on the general market for a few years now and the scope to be able to create your own imaginings is nearly endless. If you can design it, you can print it. This means that the potential for customised vehicles is endless.
Before the advent of 3D printing creating bespoke vehicle parts involved heavy and expensive metal castings which were only worthwhile for car companies if there was scope for the item being rolled out to millions of vehicles. Now testing and printing parts is easier and cheaper than it’s ever been – even if it’s for a single vehicle. A tweak here and there is simply a case of updating the design on your computer.
Ford have already begun testing 3D printing for large car parts6 to cut the cost of vehicle customisation and if all goes well there seems to be no reason why this wouldn’t be the future of car manufacture. Not only are the items cheaper to produce but also much lighter, thus making driving more fuel efficient.
Does this mean in the future that car enthusiasts could be designing completely custom cars? Where would this leave safety testing and vehicle insurance?… Only time will tell.
Environmentally friendly materials
We live in a throwaway age and cheap manufacture and materials means that once we’re finished with a car we trade it in for a new one and scrap the old one if it can’t be sold on or sold for parts. Car wastage only adds to the environmental problems that we are currently facing but one team TU/Ecomotive7 have made a fully recyclable car from flax fibres and sugar beets. It weighs in at only 300kg it runs on battery packs! They’re selling the idea as a truly sustainable car for the future but it will need a lot of funding to make it to market.
With finite resources and an ever increasing population will plant power be the future of driving?
These of course are just some of the advances in car technology and it’s amazing to think what the next ten/twenty/fifty years hold for the development of vehicles – personally we’d like flying cars to avoid the traffic!