Cars of the Future:
61 Examples of the Latest Technology in Automobiles
Between smartphones, social media, augmented reality devices, and cloud-based storage, our lives look remarkably different than they did 10 or even 5 years ago.
This is not even a small exaggeration: Technology has completely disrupted the way we interact with each other and the world.
Now the world’s largest tech companies and personalities are setting their sights on revolutionizing auto technology—and many of them have already started. In this guide, we’ve gathered together the newest technology auto companies have to offer: from luxury items you may have already seen, to bleeding-edge technologies our vehicles may not get for another 10 years. From 1900 to 1960, we went from horse-and-buggies to mass-produced vehicles in millions of driveways nationwide.
Table of Contents
Fuel Economy Technology
- Clean Fuel
- Regenerative Braking
- 48-V Electrical Systems
- Advanced Cylinder Deactivation
- Silicon Anode Batteries
- Camshaft-Less Engines
- Turbine Plug-In Hybrids
- Electrical Superchargers
- Solid-State Batteries
- Variable Compression Ratio
- Small Turbo Engines
- Carbon Fiber Panels
- Shapeshifting for Aerodynamics
- Electronic Sun Visor
- Side Collision Prevention
- Remote Vehicle Shutdown
- Driver Health Monitoring
- Airbags That Stop Cars
- Driver Override Technology
- Lane Keep Warning & Assist
- Car Radar Sensors
- Car Sonar Sensors
- Video Mirrors
- Adaptive Headlights
- Matrix LED Headlights
- Rear End Collision Avoidance
- Active Protection
- Pink Noise
- Pedestrian Detection
- Active Head Restraints
- Fully Active Suspension
- Automated Valet
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Smartwatch Integration
- 3D Gesturing
- Built-In Vehicle Tracking
- Automatic Parallel Parking
- Active Window Displays
- Level 5 Automation
- Active Curve Tilting
- Teen Audio Control
- Family Trip Clock
- In-Car Internet Marketing
- Better Connectivity
- Software Upgrades vs. Hardware Upgrades
- Teen Driver Mode
- Efficient Supercars
- 360-Degree Interior Screens
- The Lounge on Wheels
- Science Fiction Car Technology
The next 10 years promises to be an even bigger jump. Learn where that jump will land below!
Automakers have a mandate from federal regulators: all cars must have an Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Not the best or most economical cars—all vehicles must meet a high bar of efficiency to meet regulatory standards. While the Trump Administration has floated the possibility of rolling back CAFE standards (a move lauded by American vehicle manufacturers), forward-thinking manufacturers and designers continue to work toward creating increasingly efficient engines.
Energy companies are focusing on creating sustainable fuels for the vehicles of the future. As many cars will rely less and less on gasoline (not soon, but eventually), companies are staying front-footed with developing synthetic fuels.
Some processes currently being tested include:
- Converting solid coal into liquid fuel
- Turning agricultural waste into liquid fuel
- Producing ethanol from cellulose (like straw, wood, or waste)
Ethanol from cellulose would be particularly useful, as currently it relies on corn—which cuts into the food supply. This class of fuel has been nicknamed "SunFuel."
Electric or hybrid engines use battery power to turn the axle, propelling the car forward. However, the same process can be reversed to charge the battery. Basically, when the engine is put into “generator” mode, it reverses direction. This slows the car down without wearing the brake pads. It also converts the kinetic energy into electrical energy—charging the battery while assisting the car’s stopping power. Regenerative braking is not new technology, but it is becoming widespread.
Cars that currently come with regenerative braking today include:
- 2017 Toyota Prius
- 2017 Mazda3
- Tesla Roadster
- Tesla Model S
For hybrid engines, regenerative braking could create 10 to 25 percent better fuel efficiency. Some hybrid and electric vehicles (as well as competition vehicle models) have regenerative braking systems already, but there are manufacturers working on a regenerative braking system for gas engines as well. Mazda claims that they'll be able to improve fuel efficiency for gas engines by 10 percent with regenerative braking.
Currently, most cars are equipped with 12-V batteries. The air conditioning compressor, coolant pump, alternator, and power steering rely on the engine’s power to keep them running with the drive belt. This design worked for vehicles with limited electrical needs, but cars are increasingly adding features that require battery power—many vehicles today have already reached their car’s capacity for electrical output.
Enter the 48-V battery system. With up to 10 kW output (500% the output of a 12V battery), 48-V systems would handle the AC, coolant pump, and alternator as well as a multitude of "infotainment" systems. The output capability also prepares for the rise of fully autonomous driving systems. Auto experts and futurists expect 48-V batteries to be standard in 20% of vehicles by 2025: a lofty but plausible prediction.
Manufacturers of luxury vehicles are the first adopters of much-larger power capabilities:
This is not the first time that higher-voltage systems have been introduced to the car-buying public. 42-V batteries tried (and failed) to gain public support in 2000, but both tastes and needs have changed: regulators and buyers are far more concerned about the environment, and people have far higher expectations of their car's electrical features. For these reasons, experts believe the 48-V system will become standard in only a few years.
Cylinder deactivation is a common technology today—most drivers don’t even realize when their car is optimizing fuel use by shutting down cylinders.
Cadillac first introduced the ability to deactivate cylinders in 1981, but the increased use of engine computers has made advanced cylinder deactivation even more precise. GM and Delphi are both licensing technology to create highly-efficient engines that deactivate as many as six cylinders in light-load conditions. Imagine a V8 high-performance engine operating on only two cylinders—such efficiency is possible, and would improve fuel economy by 15%.
The reason batteries haven’t replaced gasoline engines is due to energy density. Gasoline’s energy output is still far better than a battery’s, pound for pound. For example, the Chevrolet Volt has a battery weighing nearly 1,000 pounds that runs at 60 kWh (kilowatt hours). That’s roughly the same output as 1.8 gallons of gas. Thankfully, researchers have discovered a potential solution. Anodes made of silicon can collect far more electrons and increase a battery’s energy density by 10-40%. Unfortunately, pure silicon causes the electrode to swell, so researchers will have to tinker for a few more years before they can create a dependable, energy-dense battery.
For non-gearheads out there, the camshaft is what opens and closes the intake and exhaust valves for the engine’s cylinders. Basically, cams let in the air-fuel mixture that allows an internal combustion engine to combust and release the exhaust. The camshaft has to open and close the valves with precise timing to maximize fuel efficiency Researchers have already attempted to replace the camshaft system with computer-controlled actuators, which are timed according to what is most efficient for each cylinder. With independent valve timing for each cylinder, engines could optimize fuel use at unprecedented levels.
The problem? It was a.) too noisy, and b.) took way too much battery power. However, with the advent of 48-V battery systems (mentioned earlier), camshaft-less engines are a real possibility.
When people think of hybrid engines, they often think of small economy cars.
For good reason: early hybrid systems lacked the charge and efficiency needed to power large vehicles. However, Nikola Motors and Wrightspeed (owned by a former Tesla employee) have been developing a plug-in hybrid that includes a turbine generator. When fully charged, a Wrightspeed truck could get 30 miles of propulsion. Additional range would be provided by a generator powered by a turbine, which could run on natural gas or nearly any combustible fuel. The advantage is that turbines are exceptionally suited for constant high-load work. The battery would then assist with acceleration and charge through regenerative braking.
Superchargers suck higher volumes of air into the engine, increasing fuel combustion for higher power output. The problem with traditional superchargers is the lag between the driver’s activation of the system and the actual power output. Electric superchargers have a battery-powered motor that eliminates lag, creating a far more responsive machine. Combined with cylinder deactivation, electric superchargers can send larger volumes of air to a smaller cylinder volume—creating massive torque for heavy-load or high-grade situations. Alternatively, driving downhill charges the battery. This isn’t a common feature yet—the Audi SQ7 TDI is the first U.S. car to offer it. However, superchargers are going to be far more common for reasons we discuss in another feature.
Traditional car batteries use a gel to facilitate electron transfer. Solid-state batteries uses a crystalline material that doesn’t degrade, costs less, and has greater energy density. These batteries could double the range of electronic vehicles, while shortening the charging time to only a few minutes. The catch? Tech companies haven’t figured out how to mass produce them yet. It’ll be a few years before solid-state batteries are standard. Japanese newspapers report that Toyota is about 5 years away from a solid-state battery ready for mass production and widespread adoption. BMW is allegedly also working on an SSB of their own.
An engine’s compression ratio is a description of its power—the greater the ratio, the more powerful the engine. Variable compression ratios allow an engine to alter its output based on the need of the moment. Heavy load situations lead to a higher compression ratio; the opposite for light load. This allows for far greater fuel efficiency. As engines move toward using electric actuators, the compression ratio could be altered per cylinder to maximize fuel use and allow the engine to operate at optimal levels in many different situations.
For some auto manufacturers, achieving 54.5 mpg efficiency will require the use of smaller engines. However, many of them are developing ways to decrease engine size without sacrificing performance or power. Enter the small turbo engine. The small turbo engine comes with an electric supercharger to increase power without increasing fuel consumption. These engines will also be more environmentally-friendly, resulting in less emissions. Ford developed a version of this for the Fiesta and the F-150, calling the feature “EcoBoost.” High-performance vehicles such as the 2017 Porsche 911 and the 2017 718 Cayman both come equipped with a small turbo engine.
Achieving incredible fuel economy requires more than efficient engines. Auto manufacturers are looking at ways to develop lighter vehicles, which could create up to 3 times the fuel efficiency. Carbon fiber paneling is the front runner for the panel material of the future—replacing our use of aluminum or steel. For reference, carbon fiber is the material used for planes and bicycles. It’s lightweight and strong, making it ideal for a light, fast, and agile fuel-efficient car. Unfortunately, this won’t be a widespread solution until global manufacturing infrastructure chooses to shift into carbon fiber production—which will be a slow process. The other disadvantage? Currently, producing carbon fiber materials is costlier than traditional materials. Regardless, optimists hope for a future where cars are both lighter and safer, reducing their impact on the environment.
Aerodynamic cars are already proven to have far greater fuel efficiency than cars of traditional shape. The issue isn’t the science—it’s the marketability. In other words, aerodynamic design is just not sexy. Mercedes-Benz is developing a way to overcome that issue. Their concept car, the IAA (Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile), has panels that change position under certain conditions—automatically changing the aerodynamics of the vehicle. For example, at 50 mph, the car’s tail extends by 15 inches, and the bumper extends by 1 inch. This results in a drag coefficient of .19—for reference, the current industry leader has a DC of .28! When and how the car changes will be optimized by onboard software, which also provides passengers with a real-time look at how their car is shapeshifting. This technology may be far away from mainstream use, but the technology is at least proven to work. Cars like this could remain appealing to buyers while offering a physics-based source of fuel efficiency.
As vehicle accident lawyers, we’re personally invested in seeing safety technology improve in meaningful ways in the next few years. Because tech giants are pushing the industry toward autonomous driving, automakers are quickly developing new safety features to solve old problems. While we may be only a few years away from totally self-piloted vehicles, the technologies being developed in the meantime are helping drivers stay safe today.
This technology would rely on sensors in the windshield that read the angle at which sunlight is entering your vehicle. With eye-detection technology, the windshield would be able to automatically darken when the angle of sunlight meets your eyes. That means no more accidents from excessive glare or sunrise/sunset situations!
This technology would all but eliminate collisions that occur in parking lots and high-traffic parking situations. Using radar sensors installed on the side of the car, the dashboard would alert the driver when objects or pedestrians are in their path. The sensors would supplement side and rear view mirrors, allowing the driver to respond to objects they cannot see. This would help drivers avoid sideswiping people and objects, which is the most frequent type of collision according to transportation research. Sideswiping collisions also make up a large percentage of low-speed vehicle collisions.
Police officers and OnStar services already have the ability to shut down vehicles remotely in order to stop a car thief. However, in the future drivers themselves will have the ability to remotely shut down vehicles in order to prevent unauthorized use. Some auto makers are working on a remote vehicle shutdown where the vehicle takes control of itself and parks itself on the side of the road to await law enforcement. This would require much more dependable autonomous control, as many states are hesitant to equip cars with features that override the driver’s decisions—even a thief’s.
A small number of accidents occur each year because a driver suffered a heart attack, stroke, or other medical emergency at the wheel. While not common, these events are no less tragic—an accident can’t be prevented when the driver suffered an unpreventable emergency. Ford has previewed the use of sensors in the seatbelt, driver's seat, and steering wheel that allows your car to track your vitals. These sensors will integrate with automated driving systems, allowing the car to gauge your vitals, decided if intervention is necessary, and pull over automatically when the driver is unable to drive. If life-threatening, the vehicle will also contact paramedics. Ford envisions a future where your car will know your temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and other signs of health that immediately affect your ability to drive; this future aligns with a projection that one-third of Ford's customers will be 65 or older in 2050.
Mercedes-Benz is developing a braking system that uses airbags to prevent collisions. In addition to placing airbags within a car to protect passengers, airbags would also be deployed underneath a car’s front tires. The airbags would be lined with a high-friction surface, doubling your vehicle’s stopping power. The airbags would also lift the car 8 cm to improve bumper-to-bumper alignment. This prevents cars from sliding underneath the bumpers of taller vehicles. The airbags would be integrated with a vehicle’s front sensors, allowing them to automatically deploy when the car “realizes” impact is imminent at current speed and distance. These airbags would provide protection from impact by preventing collisions rather than cushioning them.
This feature is a regulator’s worst nightmare—but is perhaps key to preventing collisions on a meaningful scale. Driver override technology is exactly what it sounds like: technology that allows the car’s operating system to make decisions in place of (or in spite of) the driver.
Forecasted features include:
- Applying the brakes, even when the gas is pressed
- Disregarding the driver’s steering in high-risk situations
- Responding to information from sensors (radar, sonar, camera) without the driver’s knowledge or consent
Most car accidents are the result of user error. However, few people are trusting enough of technology to allow their cars to make decisions on their behalf—even if a machine is programmed to be safer or more responsive. While fully-autonomous cars are in our future, semi-autonomous systems that pick-and-choose when to "take the wheel" might be a hard sell. For now, drivers are more comfortable taking control from the computer—not the other way around.
Lane Keep Warnings are already becoming a common feature in cars today. A front-facing camera will use visual cues to warn the driver when they are moving out of the lane. However, some early adopters have already condemned the service as annoying, as the lane keep warning was triggered often enough to tune it out. Lane Keep Assist technology, however, might change the game and make the feature more palatable. While it would still issue a warning, cars with Lane Keep Assist would provide minor automatic steering corrections to keep the driver on track.
Automated systems help drivers stay safer without running the risk of “cry wolf”—where a warning is so often issued that drivers ignore it at their risk. In both cases, the technology can be disabled by consistent steering pressure or the use of a turn signal, both of which indicate deliberate driving.
Radar sensors are a huge part of what makes autonomous driving possible in the future, and what makes collision prevention possible today. None of the technology involved here is “new,” per se. Radar has been around for decades. However, engineers have only just begun using radar for vehicle applications. Using radar sensors allows the vehicle to be “aware” of objects in the area, as well as their trajectory compared with the vehicle’s path. This allows the car to predict when an object will collide with it and respond to it proactively. Adaptive cruise control is equipped on some vehicles, using radar to detect the speed of the car in front of the driver and adjusting speed accordingly. Radar sensors can be integrated into a car’s braking and steering systems for collision avoidance. Bosch has partnered with a navigation company called TomTom to create highly-accurate maps for autonomous driving using—you guessed it—radar sensors.
Vehicle sonar operates on the same principles as radar sensors, but is used for shorter-range object detection. Car sonar uses ultrasonics to detect the presence and position of objects on the side of the car (like a bat). Highly-calibrated sensors eliminate the “blind spot,” allowing drivers to respond to objects they cannot see but the car can “hear.” As many day-to-day collisions are the result of sideswiping and negligent lane changes, these sensors will be game-changers for collision prevention.
Rather than depend on traditional mirrors, some auto makers are employing the use of high-resolution camera feeds. This would eliminate the risk of in-cabin mirror obstructions (such as those in packing vans or tightly packed passenger vehicles), but drivers would still have the option to switch off the camera feed for a traditional mirror. Side view mirror cameras will soon be an option as well, although the technology is still being perfected. This would allow large trucks to eliminate their blind spots with cameras that provide a full, unobstructed view of the side of the rig.
Adaptive headlights are headlights that turn according to a car’s path, allowing drivers to clearly see where they will be turning. It works by having motorized bulbs integrated with a car’s steering. Where the car is turning is where the headlights turn first, allowing for safer navigation of curved roads and turns in low-light situations. This feature has already appeared in a mainstream vehicle: the 2016.5 Mazda CX-5 has an adaptive headlight option.
Matrix LEDs are headlights made of several LED bulbs. As a result, individual bulbs can turn off independently of others. Why would you need to turn off individual bulbs? Matrix LEDs are constantly in “high beam” mode in order to promote visibility. Rather than turn off when facing an oncoming driver, Matrix LEDs could turn off the bulbs that are angled toward the other car’s windshield, while keeping the bulbs that are illuminating the road. The headlights could tell when a driver would be blinded by integrating with a front-facing camera, thus preventing you from endangering other drivers while maximizing your field of view.
Multiple car manufacturers have begun including rear end collision avoidance as an option on vehicles (and used some creative marketing to advertise it). Using sensors—either radar or sonar—cars are able to detect when a fender bender is imminent. The system combines information regarding your speed and the distance from the object to apply automatic braking, keeping you from a costly accident. What is especially useful is the car calculates how much braking power needs to be applied to prevent impact. That means if you’re not braking fast enough, the car will make up for your miscalculation and add braking power.
“Active Protection” has got to be one of the best safety features to recently hit the car scene. Essentially, active protection allows your car to brace for impact when it senses that impact is unavoidable. Seconds before collision, the car will:
- Close all windows and the moonroof
- Bring backrest to an upright position
- Activate “Active Head Restraints” (more below)
- Pre-tenses seatbelts
- Retracts passengers into seats
All of these measures reduce the impact and help protect passengers from severe injuries. BMW developed a version of active protection in 2012, and Mercedes-Benz has developed and released a similar system as well. We hope features like this become the standard for vehicles for the future.
One of the often-overlooked consequences of a car crash is acoustic injury; the sound of a car crash is deafening enough to cause permanent hearing damage. “Pink noise” is a frequency that the car’s sound system plays in the seconds prior to an unavoidable crash. The frequency causes the ear to reflexively tighten, which protects the delicate bones of the inner ear from sudden hearing damage. Essentially, it causes your ear to automatically brace itself for impact. “Pink noise” is an example of a small, cutting-edge technology feature that could help improve the quality of life for thousands of car accident victims. The Mercedes-Benz E Class introduced this in 2016, but it may be available as a safety feature much more often in coming years. Mercedes-Benz calls it a "cheap and simple way to reduce...impact of road trauma."
This feature is a variation on forward collision prevention technology. Rather than detecting objects moving at vehicle-level speeds, this feature focuses on spotting pedestrians. As pedestrians are far more vulnerable to car collisions than any driver or passenger, we think this technology is the most vital form of collision prevention. When the car’s sensors spot a pedestrian in or near the car’s path, the dashboard will issue a visual and audible warning to the driver. In the future, as cars become equipped with interactive heads-up displays (more on that later), pedestrians will automatically be highlighted in a driver’s field of view, improving pedestrian visibility and safety on the road.
Globally, the most common injury following a car accident is whiplash. Whiplash can occur even when both vehicles are traveling slower than 20 miles per hour. Active Head Restraints proactively prevent whiplash and other neck injuries in rear-end collisions. The way it works is simple: when the car detects an object that’s about to collide with your car, the headrest moves up and forward to cradle your head and absorb the energy of the impact. This transition, like Active Protection, takes somewhere around 150 milliseconds to trigger and complete (according to designers and researchers). That’s just a little more time than we take to blink—and technology like this will only get faster. Nissan (one of the automakers developing the technology) claims that it will reduce the impact on the neck by 45 percent.
Car technology will not only make driving safer, but more efficient. Relying on algorithms, increased data, and constant streams of communication will make driving a far more standard experience in the future. Imagine a world where traffic is regulated by the city’s computer itself, directing cars for maximum efficiency and minimum travel time. That’s the vision many automakers are working toward.
We know this article is titled “Cars of the Future,” but technology sometimes takes a while to come of age. As an example, fully active suspension (FAS) systems have been around since the early 1980s. However, they were often limited to high-performance racing vehicles—semi-active suspension was more common for consumer vehicles. However, computer-controlled fully-active suspension systems recently made a comeback thanks to Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and other luxury auto manufacturers. These systems are capable of making 3,000 adjustments per second in response to road conditions.
FAS systems have two purposes:
- Maintain a completely level and smooth ride for the driver
- Improve the handling and agility of the car
Here’s how FAS works:
Fully active suspension automatically changes the length of each wheel’s strut in response to road conditions and forces affecting the car (pitch and roll, acceleration and deceleration, and lift). For instance, if a car is making a tight right turn, rotational force will be applied to the right side of the vehicle. FAS would lengthen the struts on the left of the vehicle to counteract this force and keep the driver level. Systems can use hydraulics or electronics to adjust strut length.
This has the added benefit of applying force to individual tires when they need it most, reducing the handling issues that result from high-speed turns. Mercedes-Benz’ “active body control” uses a spring, shock absorber, and hydraulic cylinder to adjust the strut length. A sensor in each cylinder monitors the position of the wheel, while 5 sensors measure side-to-side, front-to-rear, and vertical forces. Using this information, the car makes adjustments to each hydraulic cylinder to maintain a safe and level ride. To give you an idea of how responsive FAS systems are, each adjustment takes about 10 milliseconds to implement, or less than a tenth of an eyeblink.
Imagine that you pull up to a restaurant or party, and you leave your car at the front. Rather than handing the keys to a valet, you instruct your car to find a nearby parking structure and park itself. When you’re done, you call the car back and it drives itself back to your location. This sort of convenience is not as far-fetched as it used to be. Automated valet features are going to be possible soon with Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communication, or V2I. Essentially, parking structures, office buildings, and other permanent structures would be able to communicate and coordinate with autonomous vehicles, allowing cars to park themselves in the nearest available space. This technology promises far more possibilities than an automatic parking feature—V2I may completely change the driving habits of the future.
Audi has already begun the V2I revolution with Traffic Light Information, a feature that tells the driver information about nearby traffic lights. Using a Heads-Up Display, drivers will be able to know exactly how much time they have until the light turns green. Using 4G LTE, the car communicates directly with the traffic management system used by select cities around the U.S. It was released in December 2016 and is featured on the 2017 Audi A4, Q7, and allroad models. This article covers V2I more below in the section entitled “Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication.”
Adaptive cruise control integrates radar sensors with cruise control system. Sensor integration allows the cruise control system to adjust speed based on the distance of the car in front of it and adapt to current traffic patterns. In little or no traffic, cruise control will operate as normal. However, adaptive cruise control allows drivers to utilize the feature safely in stop-and-go traffic, braking and accelerating to maintain a consistent distance between drivers and the car in front of them. Because adaptive cruise control relies on radar rather than visual information, it also becomes a safer feature to use in fog or low-light. The hidden benefit of adaptive cruise control? The most common cause of traffic is inconsistent distance between cars, which leads to a “slinky effect” where drivers are contracting and extending. This is how braking or accelerating inefficiently can cause a traffic jam miles behind you. Adaptive cruise control, by maintaining a computer-controlled distance, could save hours’ worth of traffic congestion.
For all you drivers who have always wanted to be James Bond, we have good news. As car systems become able to connect on cellular (or other) networks, drivers will be capable of remotely controlling their car with their watches. Don’t expect remote controlled driving (yet), but soon drivers will be able to remotely lock and unlock their doors, trigger the alarm, start or stop the engine, and even find the car if they’ve lost it in a massive parking lot. It’s not quite the same as voice commanding the car to launch anti-theft weaponry, but it’s a good start. In 2016, Ford launched a wearables lab to test smartwatch integration with its fleet, and Mercedes-Benz has been advertising the feature in their cars since 2013 as a way to warn of bad traffic, check if the doors are locked, and car diagnostic information.
One of the benefits of integrating software into vehicles is that app development works on a faster life-cycle than hardware development. Thus, automakers and developers can roll out improvements to your car without you needing to buy a whole new vehicle. However, consumers may consider that as much of a curse as a blessing. Most people buy a new phone every two years due to hardware turning obsolete--if the auto industry follows suit, buying a car might become a more expensive, short-term purchase.
Eco-mode is a driving feature that is being offered by companies like Dodge, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Chevrolet. It’s a driving mode that makes the throttle less responsive, slowing down acceleration while jumping the transmission to higher gears at lower speeds. It will be a standard feature in new vehicles before long. Onboard computers will also begin providing a form of “eco-mode.” Navigation settings will allow your vehicle to find and follow the most economical and fuel efficient route, offer tips on driving “green,” and even reward eco-friendly driving behavior.
In both cases, drivers may soon have the ability to transmit data regarding their eco-use to dealerships. Why do that? Regulators are hoping to incentivize environmentally-friendly driving habits by encouraging drivers to earn “reward points” for using eco-mode. Reward points work for credit card spending—it may work for driving too.
Cars of the future may replace all touchscreens and buttons with 3D gestures. Imagine pointing at the dashboard to answer a call, or making a downward motion to roll down your windows. Interior motion sensors would allow drivers to program actions according to their hand movements. What’s most exciting about this feature is what it implies about the future of car interfaces. With 3D gesturing and automation based on software, your car’s interface could become completely customizable. Your driving experience would be completely unique to you (and perhaps limit the number of people who could operate your vehicle). More importantly, it could make operating a vehicle safer. With an interface based on gestures, drivers could devote more of their visual attention to the road. Too many accidents happen every year because a driver took a second to turn down their radio’s volume. 3D gesturing completely eliminates that issue.
We’ll admit—this one is a little more 1984 than many are comfortable with. Vehicle tracking would allow drivers and third-parties to track mileage and location with unprecedented precision. As far as implementation, the technology already exists; the only obstacle is whether drivers will want to opt-in for vehicle tracking. In fact, this is one of the few features that isn’t driven by consumer needs—insurance companies are the strongest pushers for vehicle tracking. They are asking regulators to allow insurers to charge insurance fees based on mileage rather than policy. This could be great news for some drivers…and terrible for commuters. At the very least, it might provide a more accurate and precise way to charge for car insurance. The good news is that early adopters would likely get discounts from insurers. If you don’t mind living in a slightly Orwellian future, this might be your chance to save on car insurance.
Parallel parking. It’s the bane of every inexperienced or learning driver—or at least it used to be. Cutting-edge vehicles are now becoming equipped with an automated parallel parking feature. As the earliest demonstration of automated driving, automated parallel parking allows the car to control the steering and speed of the vehicle while it parks itself. The system works this way: the driver aligns the vehicle according to car sensors. The driver then presses the parallel parking assist button to start the process. Using sensors and cameras to detect the curb (and other objects), the car takes over the steering column and backs in at precisely the correct angle. Currently, automatic parallel parking isn’t truly automated—the driver still needs to align the car and keep their foot on the brake to prevent backing in too quickly. However, the system is still a godsend for the parking-challenged. Certain Mercedes, Lexus, Toyota, and Ford models offer a version of automated parallel parking assistance.
Seeing as our greatest modern distraction is a pocket-sized screen, turning our windshields into giant screens seems like a disastrous idea. However, researchers believe it could actually turn us into safer drivers. Known as “heads-up displays,” or HUDs, active window displays would act as “augmented reality dashboards.”
These screens would:
- Provide real-time navigation information
- Highlight the presence of objects and pedestrians
- Act as the odometer, speedometer, and other vital dials
…all placed directly on top of your view of physical surroundings (for example, an upcoming turn would have a blue arrow superimposed on the road itself, with information telling you how fast you should take the turn, any objects in your path, and how soon the turn is coming up). By putting this information directly in front of the driver, it keeps them from looking at a phone or away from their windshield. Rather than adding distractions, an HUD would limit them—at least ideally.
Regardless of the safety implications, many futurists believe HUDs will be standard by 2020.
This feature right here is the dream: the completely independent, fully autonomous car. Cars with Level 5 automation would operate completely without user intervention—allowing “drivers” to read, relax, watch a movie, or otherwise pay no attention to the road. The most exciting part (or terrifying, depending on who you are) about this technology is how soon it might be upon us: Tesla has recently committed to equipping every single one of their vehicles with Level 5 automation capability. The hardware already exists—the software (and the legal regulations) required for total automation are still being developed.
Self-driving cars would be capable of:
- Sensing traffic lights before they’re within sight
- Quickly analyzing and integrating information about surroundings
- Making split-second driving decisions with precision based on data
- Analyzing traffic patterns to avoid or prevent congestion
- Preventing accidents through optimized course correction
Tesla uses a series of 8 cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors to provide all the information a self-driving car needs to make safe driving decisions. The cameras provide a complete 360-degree view of surroundings for a distance up to 820 feet, and the ultrasonic system would pick up—and distinguish between—hard/soft objects at twice the distance of current sonar sensors. Level 5 Automation has the potential to change the way we look at commutes, freeing us to devote hours of our day. Most excitingly, widespread automation may prevent thousands of injuries and fatalities nationwide. Only time will tell if the law will be able to keep up with the vast technological, behavioral, and philosophical shifts that self-driving cars will bring.
With drivers receiving greater driving assistance from their vehicles and users integrating their phones and watches into daily life, the opportunities for “infotainment” companies has never been stronger. The cars of the future will not only be safer and more autonomous—they might transform into mobile entertainment centers (that happen to travel).
Active Curve Tilting allows cars to take high-speed turns with greater safety and control. While the feature has been in development for a little while, Mercedes-Benz currently offers a version as one of their high-performance options. Here’s how it works: When a car takes a sharp turn, the ACT system will slightly angle the tire—similar to the way that a skier or motorcycle rider will angle themselves on curves or turns. This increases a car’s stability and precision while taking sharp turns. While this is partially a safety feature, Active Curve Tilting is geared toward “high-performance” drivers—people who drive for the thrill. For the purposes of this article, we'd call this an entertainment feature (no offense to all you speed demons out there).
For our readers with teenage drivers, this feature might interest you. Ford includes the MyKey feature with every model they offer. MyKey allows owners to limit the speed and speaker volume of their cars remotely. Don’t want your teen driving above 80mph? You can do that. Want to make sure their music isn’t too distracting? Keep the volume as low as you like.
This feature is a simple one that would keep parents from answering the eternal road trip question: “Are we there yet?” The family trip clock would utilize your navigation system and rear-facing screens to show your kids exactly how far you’ve driven and how much longer you have to go (usually with a friendly representation, like a caterpillar eating a vine). Whether that’s a curse or a blessing may depend on the kind of children you have.
IBM and General Motors are partnering up to deliver personalized content to drivers. The system, which will be called OnStar Go, will be available by the end of 2017. Like Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail ads, the system will allow advertisers to send you targeted marketing through your vehicle’s internet connection. Predictions regarding in-car marketing are based on projections that all cars sold by 2020 will be able to connect to the internet. Ads may even appear on dashboards or windshields. This may not seem like a feature to many, but it will allow drivers to shop and find vendors to meet their needs while on the go.
All of us have faced the inconvenience of having poor or nonexistent signal. Automakers of the future are developing ways to eliminate that problem by turning cars into roaming hotspots. The Chevrolet Camaro is already a 4G LTE hotspot, giving drivers access to cell service at all times. Futurists believe that the cars of tomorrow will even serve as portable Wifi sources, which would vastly improve the capability of employees to work on the go in their “mobile offices.”
As it currently stands, improving your car’s interface requires a hardware upgrade. New navigators, better music streaming, better video controls—these all require new parts. However, cars on the horizon will have customizable platforms (in same vein as your phones). That means future upgrades will be OS-based, improving your software rather than your hardware. This will have some limits, of course—we still have to replace our phones every few years. Ideally, car companies would include highly-capable platforms that will remain relevant and fast for years, with easy replacement when the time comes. The MyFord Touch platform is the most recent example of application-based vehicle interfaces, and is a sign of what’s to come.
Cars are heading toward customizable driving experiences, where the car’s interface and controls will be adapted to the driver. Imagine a different “driver profile” for each member of your family—each with its own settings and preferences. Chevy has adapted that idea to parents with teen drivers. The new Chevy Malibu has a “teen driver mode” geared toward keeping teen drivers accountable to their parents for their driving habits—even when driving alone. Teen driver mode sets a limit on the radio’s volume, disables the audio system unless seatbelts are engaged, and sends a “report card” directly to the car’s owner.
The driver’s report card includes information such as:
- Max speed reached
- Distance traveled
- How often collision alerts were triggered
- How often stability control had to engage
We classify this as an “entertainment” feature because it allows teens the freedom to drive and enjoy their independence with a healthy dose of accountability. Parents may be more willing to let their teen borrow the car with the report card feature, and teens will have a concrete reward for good driving habits. In the end, this technology may create a new generation of safer drivers. At least, it will before Level 5 automation becomes standard and no one is driving anymore.
Supercars are normally vehicles with massive engines, with 12 to 16 cylinders for incredible power and speed. However, such a high cylinder account and engine volume is not suited to efficient fuel consumption. Enter the efficient supercar. These high-performance vehicles utilize only 4 to 6 cylinders, but supplement their power with an electric supercharger. This creates a vehicle with the same power and speed as a much larger engine, but with far more effective use of fuel. As a result, it is far more economical than a car relying purely on engine power—perhaps making the supercar more feasible for daily drivers. While purists and traditionalists may scoff at the idea of a “supercar” with only 4 cylinders, the hardware exists and performance doesn’t lie. The supercar of the future will rely on electrical power and forced air intake to make 6-cylinder engines as powerful as the excessive 16-cylinder engines of yesteryear.
This is not so much on the horizon as it is an eventual possibility (assuming self-driving cars become reality). With self-driving cars, there’s no longer a need for windows or windshields. Initial generations of the self-driving car might include them for safety or comfort reasons, but passive passengers would eventually want to use all that window space for entertainment or work. The next natural step would be to turn them into screens. Cars that are lined with screens on the interior expand their usefulness. Passengers could treat them as mobile offices, handling virtually any task from within a moving cubicle. Others could use them as fully-immersive private theaters. Without the need to observe the outside of the vehicle, interior screens are virtually inevitable—and can revolutionize the way we entertain ourselves while commuting.
Mercedes-Benz has recently revealed a concept car called the F015. The premise of the concept car is based on fully-automated self-driving vehicles—without the concentration and focus on the road, how will passengers interact with each other? What will driving become when there is no “task” at hand to keep drivers occupied? How will vehicle design adapt? Mercedes-Benz’ answer is turning the car into a social space—a “lounge on wheels.” Their concept car has a long wheelbase with a low overhang, maximizing the number of passengers. The chairs would swivel, allowing passengers to face each other. Within this shared space, they could collaborate on projects, enjoy entertainment together, or simply connect.
Even the seating reflects a shift, replacing pilot chairs and benches with lounge chairs. The result is a social space that also functions as a transporter—which may be the direction all self-driving cars will be headed before long.
Not all car technologies are ready for market—many of them are only drawings and concepts right now. All the same, every technology began as “just an idea.” In fact, many of the technologies on this list were considered science fiction just a short while ago. These are the crazy ideas that might shape our driving experience for the next few decades.
Earlier in this article, we mentioned the possibilities of Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communication—allowing cars to drop you off and park themselves in the nearest available structure. Automakers are looking to develop a related feature called Vehicle-to-Vehicle technology, or V2V communication. V2V would allow cars to send each other information about the road, including weather conditions, traffic stops, roadblocks, accidents, and even DUI checkpoints. MIT researchers are currently working on algorithms that would allow vehicles to respond to each other’s “tips” automatically, creating more efficient traffic patterns. Automated communication means passengers get a fully optimized driving experience on every trip, regardless of what they know about road conditions. The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the first car in the U.S. to have a V2V feature—however, it currently only communicates with other E-Class vehicles with the same feature. As a first step, it’s not bad, but ideally all cars in the future would be in a constant state of communication with cars, commercial trucks, emergency services, and infrastructure, allowing each car to make smart and effective driving decisions automatically.
Cars of the future will likely have sophisticated ways of identifying authorized drivers. Rather than keys—which are a centuries-old technology—future cars could use eye-scanning or fingerprinting to open or start vehicles. Fingerprint scanners are already a common feature for smartphones, so it would simply be a matter of adapting existing technology in a practical way. Designers are already looking for a way to integrate a TouchID-type of feature into the door handle. As windows become more like transparent computer screens, designers also believe it would be possible to integrate a retina scanner into the driver’s side window. Combined with push-start buttons (or biometric engine start), the car key could quickly become a thing of the past.
One of the common themes of the 21st century is the “customizable experience.” Consumers are used to their tools being multi-purpose, phones being the easiest examples. Our phones are our navigators, calculators, Internet devices, and primary communicators all in one. People budget and plan their entire lives in their phone. That same experience could potentially be applied to cars soon. Specifically, designers are playing with the idea of an SUV that could turn into a work truck, an adventure vehicle, or a daily driver. Using lightweight body panels that retract or change position, car owners could retract their roof and windows into the body panels, remove rear seats, and turn their family vehicle into a pickup. Toyota is currently at work on a reconfigurable car concept, so the idea of a multi-purpose, modular vehicle may soon be on every major auto maker’s radar.
The most vital development on the minds of every auto designer is power. How cars will power themselves may decide the future of the planet, much less the economy. Today, Volvo researchers in Europe are working on carbon fiber body panels that act as enormous batteries and would be charged with regenerative braking. These body panels would allow cars to improve fuel efficiency by lowering their weight, while overcoming the battery weight issues electric car makers are facing. Without lightweight battery options, fully electric vehicles continue to be a novelty and not an inevitability. Body panel batteries could bypass that need altogether.
Designers are looking toward a future where self-driving cars completely change the way we view commutes. One of their ideas is the concept of a configurable interior. Going back to the concept of customizable experience, Volvo is working on vehicle design that would allow passengers to change their car interior according to their preferences at that moment.
- Want to watch a movie? Your car’s chairs lean back and the interior darkens to become an intimate movie theater.
- Need to get some work done? A desk forms, allowing you to work comfortably wherever you are.
- Want to relax? Your chair becomes a recliner and the interior screens take on a soothing background.
This concept is exciting because of the future it represents—a future where long commutes are opportunities to recharge or catch-up, where traffic lets you work, play, or sleep. A future where everyone simply has more time to live rather than drive.
This feature doesn’t pretend to be revolutionary—but it would be fairly popular in a world where consumers enjoy customizable tools. Toyota designers are playing with a concept where the outer layer of a car is no longer paint, but a highly-durable screen. The exterior screen would display information, change color, and would be customizable by smartphone. Even the car’s color could be changed on a whim! There’s even a possibility that cars with digital screens would be usable to passerby on the street (or advertisers in the area). Imagine sitting next to a parked car and playing a YouTube video from your phone onto the side panel, or seeing an ad for a burger place a block down the street. That feature might feel a little invasive to people who are used to controlling every aspect of their belongings, but consider the possibilities: we would live in a world where every surface could display news, weather, social information, or be customizable to our needs in a given moment
Ford is working with a Chinese company to create a sonar sensor that uses light rather than sound—thus, “lidar.” Using light waves would create a far more detailed picture of the surrounding environment. In addition, the sensor would be even more responsive than sonar or radar because light travels faster than sound. In situations where milliseconds could mean the difference between safety and collision, lidar could bring an even greater degree of safety to self-driving cars.
BMW is currently developing laser headlights for their newest models, with the BMW i8 Hybrid in Europe the first to offer it. Laser headlights would provide one of the most powerful beams on a consumer vehicle ever, with visibility up to 1,969 feet. For those who don’t have a calculator on hand, that’s about 6.6 football fields. If you’re wondering how that wouldn’t endanger other drivers, the headlights would respond and change shape according to information provided by the car’s sensors. When an oncoming driver is detected, the lasers pointed in that direction would turn off independently, keeping other drivers safe without sacrificing visibility. BMW’s technology would even focus the headlights on objects or pedestrians in the car’s path up to 300 feet ahead, warning the driver of their presence. This feature would be powered by infra-red sensors, which would detect objects well before they become visible. Combined with adaptive capabilities, laser headlights offer some of the most advanced lighting options on the market today—at least in Europe. The NHTSA has yet to authorize the use of LED matrix headlights in the U.S., so it may be some time before regulations catch up to laser headlights.
This feature is not even close to existing, but the idea alone is exciting enough to hope that it comes to fruition. Inductive road charging would allow cars to charge their batteries without cables or sockets. Instead, their batteries would charge by parking over an induction plate inside the road itself. The induction plate would transfer power to the car’s battery plate while it sits in the driveway or parking spot. Like with any fully-electric car, this idea would require a whole new charging infrastructure. While tough, building roadways with inductive charging plates wouldn’t be impossible. This is one corporate idea that the American people may not mind lobbying for, at least. Inductive roadways may even allow cars to employ continuous electric drive—that is, be in a constant state of charge, negating the need for refueling or long periods of charging.
This is less of a feature and more of an economic reality that would arise from self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicles create a world where everyone is a passenger—which means there may be no reason to own a car at all. Why buy a car for yourself when you only need it for a couple hours every day for your commute? Futurists look forward to world where people get around in a fleet of driverless vehicles, each one shared between several different people whenever they’re needed. Imagine something like a Airbnb, but with transport instead of shelter—one car owner rents out his vehicle to locals. Uber is already working on a fleet of cars and planes that would be able to operate autonomously. The future is on its way. This service could especially appeal to people with a need for multiple types of vehicles.
- Taking a family trip? Book a large infotainment van to seat you all comfortably.
- Taking a quick trip or commuting to work? Get in a single-seat car to zip to your destination quickly and easily.
Such an arrangement may not appeal to America’s fierce independence and obsession with car ownership, but in 30 years, who knows? Maybe owning a car will be as much an expensive, rare luxury as it is to own a boat today.
During flight, birds will adjust their feathers in order to achieve maximum lift or speed with minimum effort and drag. Aircraft engineers are looking into using piezoelectric devices and magnetorheological fluids—fluids that form solid shapes based on the surrounding magnetic field—to achieve the same thing. Current models promise 40% greater aerodynamics for small aircraft equipped with these devices. Auto engineers are looking to create the same result with road vehicles. We have already discussed vehicles that use motorized panels to create an aerodynamic profile at certain speeds. However, this idea is decades ahead of using a few panels—this feature would employ a fluid-like exterior that could intelligently respond to the flow of air around the car. How close are we to having this feature appear on the market? Not very. Put it this way: researchers haven’t even developed the material that'd make this technology possible yet. We’ll just have to wait and see if aircraft engineers pass along their findings to auto manufacturers.
There’s more technological advances on the horizon than any one person could cover (although we’ve come pretty close). Many of them will go the way of the Beta Disc or HD-DVD, but some may actually become part of our daily commutes. Here are 2 more future features that could shape the way we drive for decades to come.
Volkswagen engineers are working on a feature that would combine health sensors with autonomous control to prevent sleepy drivers from crashing. Sensors would detect the driver’s heartbeat, eye movements, and respiratory rate to determine if the driver is alert. If the internal cameras and sensors detect that the driver is asleep, electronic steering systems and acceleration controls keep the car steady until it can pull over safely. For people who do not trust systems that override the driver, Doze Control can be disabled with a turn signal or consistent steering effort. One interesting fact: all of the hardware needed for this feature already exists. All that’s needed is the software and algorithms to make the automatic controls safe and dependable.
This final feature isn’t necessarily a futuristic car feature as much as it’s a futuristic infrastructure. First, some context: traffic jams are often caused by events where a group of cars suddenly brake and accelerate at different rates. Think about it: car #1 accelerates immediately after braking, and car #2 delays by a couple seconds, car #3 delays by two more seconds, and so on. This stop-and-go pattern repeats until cars miles behind them are delayed by several minutes to an hour. Something as simple as a lane merge could delay drivers for miles. The only solution is virtually impossible to achieve—each driver would have to brake and accelerate in sync with other drivers, keeping traffic smooth and consistent. Volkswagen engineers in Germany are working on a system called ACTIV that would combine Vehicle-to-Infrastructure technology with autonomous steering and acceleration, municipal cameras and sensors, and complex algorithms to eliminate traffic jams. How? A local traffic management program would monitor traffic conditions to find issues—say, a closed lane. The local traffic program would communicate with cars merging out of the closed lane, automating their steering and braking. It would control exactly when a car would accelerate into a merging lane, and when a car would slow down to allow cars to merge. This would maintain safe distance between vehicles and eliminate unnecessary braking, thus keeping traffic going at a consistent pace. Obviously, this wouldn’t exist for a little while, but the pieces are all in place to create a traffic-free world. That alone is enough to make any car enthusiast optimistic about the future.
There you have it: 61 new auto technologies that we’ve seen, or may see in the near future. The next time you’re looking for a new car, you’ll likely see some of these cutting-edge features offered as vehicle options—some may even come standard! As technology continues to improve and refine itself for consumers, we hope road travel becomes an even safer and more enjoyable experience worldwide.