Technology continues to advance – but unlike some fields, most car manufacturers know exactly how they want to advance their vehicles in the coming years. Let’s take a look at some of the technologies these companies are already working on and how they’ll change the way we get around.

Tech #1: Widespread Deployment of Electric Vehicles

Thanks to manufacturers like Tesla, Nissan, and Ford, electric vehicles are already out on the markets – but the technology isn’t stopping with a handful of expensive luxury vehicles. In fact, many companies are intending to switch their entire product lineup to either hybrid or all-electric vehicles in the coming years, and the best hybrid cars are going to be the top sellers.

Several factors are playing into this. First, self-driving vehicles (more on that below) work much better as electric vehicles, and companies don’t want to be left behind on that front. Second, going hybrid is a great way to reduce a vehicle’s emissions and help it meet national efficiency goals. Finally, electric vehicles have more options for adding luxuries at affordable rates, which is critical to persuading consumers to buy in to future cars.

It’s worth noting that electric concept cars are limited by the availability of charging stations and the speed at which they can be charged. There are some promising developments in this area, but until chargers are fully deployed across the nation, electric cars can only claim so much of the market.

Tech #2: Hands-Free Technology

Voice recognition has already made its way into cars thanks to a variety of virtual assistants. In many cases, buyers can respond to text messages, change the vehicle’s temperature, or alter their destination without taking their eyes off the road.

This isn’t the end of hands-free technology. The ultimate goal is to be able to control almost everything (including the future car itself) without having to touch things.

If this seems strange, remember that self-driving tech is one of the current goals. When the vehicle drives itself, the user doesn’t really need to touch anything.

Tech #3: Self-Driving

This is the single biggest game-changer. Self-driving vehicles take most of the guesswork out of driving – and if most vehicles are self-driving, they can start communicating with each other and intelligently making decisions. This can do everything from shortening commute times (by eliminating traffic jams) to drastically reducing the number of collisions.

With enough adoption of technology, we may even see things like being able to reserve parking spots, call cars for pickups from central lots, or get a complete redesign of the vehicle’s interior.

Instead of everyone facing forward, we may see seats in a ring that allows everyone to see each other. People may even stop owning cars entirely, preferring instead to electronically hire cars and treat them like a taxi instead of paying to own one.

Self-driving technology is not something that could be implemented in the distant future. Companies like Tesla, Google, and Apple have already spent time working on it, and it could reach the point of widespread deployment in the next few years.

Of course, it’s not like the nation’s entire fleet of vehicles is going to be replaced overnight. Even running at maximum capacity, it takes time to make these new vehicles. More likely, they’re going to start in major cities (Seattle, etc.), spread to the suburbs of those cities, and then slowly penetrate the rest of the market.

Tech #4: Smart Cities

Part of the future of cars is making the cities around them more intelligent. Different companies have different ideas about the form this should take, but the big idea is that cars should be better connected to the world around them.

For example, self-driving cars can drop people off in front of a store, then go find the nearest parking space to wait. However, what if someone loses their phone and has no idea where their car decided to park? They’re stranded… unless there’s some other way to summon their vehicle.

These are the kinds of problems that companies are working to resolve. Here’s one proposed solution:

Instead of just having remote keyless entry system, drivers could be provided with a key system that includes an RFID transmitter. By placing the transmitter by a scanning panel and typing in a password – which would help deter key theft – the system could tell the associated vehicle to ‘wake up’ and drive to a specific point. Once people are inside, the vehicle could automatically move to somewhere off the main road, allowing a destination to be entered without bothering traffic on the rest of the road.

Is this the solution companies will actually implement? We don’t know. Future cars are packed with possibilities, but if the development of smartphones has taught us anything, it’s that we care about convenience. Whatever is most convenient for the greatest number of people is likely to happen.

Tech #5: Consistent Wireless Internet

When cars are connected to each other, having consistent wireless internet is the natural next step. This allows for streaming videos, playing games, and otherwise remaining connected even when traveling at high speeds.

Today, nobody would believe that you could buy a laptop that doesn’t have built-in wireless. Cars are almost certainly going to be the same in that regard. Once the genie’s out of the bottle, as it were, it’s not going back in.

Tech #6: Improved Security

There is, of course, one major flaw with the widespread deployment of networks: Hacking. Depending on the flaws in the network, hackers could do everything from remotely controlling vehicles to instigating mass collisions. This is, to put it mildly, the single biggest threat that the future of cars faces.

In fact, depending on how technology advances, this factor could delay the widespread launch and acceptance of technology in vehicles. Here are some of the proposed solutions:

  • Isolated Tech: Wireless network connections would be limited to certain parts of the vehicle and have little or no ability to interact with the rest of it. Thus, while you could access a cloud-based music folder through the internet, you couldn’t actually control your vehicle.
  • Cryptography: If car manufacturers can get quantum cryptography technology, they’ll definitely start using it to protect their networks. If you’re not familiar with it, quantum encryption is considered to be essentially un-hackable. This is something that companies like Microsoft, Google, and Intel are working hard to develop through quantum computing, and if successful, they’ll almost certainly let vehicle manufacturers access it (at a price, of course).
  • User Authentication: Nobody wants to see a situation in which someone can remotely take over and crash a vehicle. To stop this, passengers in the vehicle may be asked to authenticate decisions. Different people could be allowed different levels of control – for example, the ‘owner’ could have complete control, while a teenager might not be allowed to change destinations that the owner sets.

Tech #7: Driver Awareness

Many of the technologies needed for self-driving vehicles are already be installed under the guise of “driver awareness” tech. This includes things like intelligent braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assistance, and blind spot monitoring.

The ultimate goal is for cars to be better at detecting – and reacting to – their surroundings than humans are. With vehicle-to-vehicle sharing, this means cars can react to things that neither of you can see, such as a vehicle several cars ahead of you suddenly slowing down or stopping.

Aside from that, there’s a good possibility that cars will start to display the surrounding area and communicate what they’re paying attention to. Color-coded displays may highlight which parking space it’s going to go to after people are dropped off, what the cars around it are doing, and what turns it plans on taking.

Tech #8: ICE Attachments

There’s one final piece of technology that doesn’t get as much attention as it should – Internal Combustion Engine attachments. These aren’t devices that actually connect to engines. Instead, they represent self-contained units that can be installed to communicate with electric vehicles and provide them with information like location and speed.

ICE attachments don’t offer immediate benefits to their users, but they will tell smarter, self-driving vehicles that a given car isn’t on the network and won’t necessarily react to things they do. In practice, smart cars will know to be more careful around those vehicles, perhaps going as far as giving them the right of way in questionable situations.

These probably won’t be necessary until a significant number of vehicles on the road are self-driving. Once they are, however, there’s a good chance manufacturers will recall pretty much every older vehicle to install these new gadgets. Legislation on the matter – such as a law saying every vehicle must either be self-driving or have an ICE attachment – will rapidly accelerate their distribution.

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