Technology promises to make our lives easier, yet with every new software update, we know it brings a host of new concerns, challenges, and frustrations. It’s no different in the automotive industry, where carmakers try to leap-frog one another in the race to make vehicles smarter and more sophisticated.
Here’s a rundown of future technology – some of it already in production – that will likely enter the mass market within the next decade. Next
This feature is set to debut in the 2014 Mercedes S-Class. Sensors will be able to scan the road surface ahead of the vehicle – looking out for any uncomfortable bumps, dips, or ruts – and then ready the adaptive dampers to soak up the damage. Current cars with adaptive dampers can only react after a motion or vibration has transferred to the vehicle, but there’s a lot to be gained from a little preemptive strike. Next
More and more luxury cars are offering this critical technology. A combination of laser, radar, and visual cameras scan the road hundreds of feet ahead, looking out for slowing vehicles, fences, walls, people, and soon, animals. If the system detects the driver isn’t stopping in time, it will jam on the brakes with full force, either reducing the collision speed or eliminating a crash altogether. In Europe, economy cars like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen up! offer this feature as a low-cost option, but automakers have yet to introduce it on cars costing less than $40,000 in the U.S.
Pictured: Inside a Volkswagen up! Next
Audi, BMW, Toyota, and Nissan are just a few of the automakers offering this expensive, super-bright headlamps on a handful of models. LEDs promise fuel savings since they draw a small fraction of electricity than traditional halogen or xenon bulbs, they give off little heat, produce a desirable color temperature, and supposedly can last for 10 or more years. They also offer car designers more freedom to design expressive headlamp shapes, curves, and other designs never before possible. Next
Current tires have an air tube sandwiched between the wheel rim and the outside radial belt. Pressurized air is the one thing that keeps our cars afloat and in control, yet even after a century of air-filled tires, we still get flats and blowouts. Plus, we have to constantly check the tire pressure to ensure vehicle safety and optimum fuel economy. However, several tire companies, including Goodyear, have experimented with tubeless tires, which have no air at all. Super-stiff, honeycomb-like structures keep the tire in proper shape, but can flex enough to handle extra weight and cornering loads. If anything, they look wild and promise easier maintenance, but they’re not even close to production. Next
Advertising beamed to your car dashboard
Modern cars built since the mid-1990s all have on-board diagnostic modules (OBDs) that record and analyze a car’s vital systems. Should a taillamp go out or the oil level drop, the OBD, if programmed, can alert the driver through various displays, warnings, and other telltale signs on the dashboard. But with such diagnostics recording every aspect of our car’s performance (including embedded satellite tracking, as with OnStar), what’s to stop advertisers from recommending a fill-up of Shell gasoline when we’re near a rest stop? Or Mobil 1 oil when we’re down a quart? Perhaps a cup of Starbucks coffee might be the perfect suggestion when the vehicle detects you’re tired. Scary? The Mad Men of the 21st century know it’s coming. Next
Traffic sign recognition
Several automakers already offer this feature, paired with a car’s navigation system, in Europe. The idea is to make the driver more aware of speed limits, one-ways, road construction, and other major signs by presenting this information on the car’s dashboard or heads-up display. Of course, you could always pay attention to the signs yourself, but consider this a virtual helping hand from getting a real ticket. Next
This is truly the definition of “hands-free.” General Motors, BMW, Google, and a host of other automakers and technology suppliers are racing to get this technology in production within the next decade (Cadillac says it will be ready by 2015). But while a stress-free commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic may seem like a dream, it’s a nightmare for lawyers and insurance companies. The technology is far from perfect, and there’s no telling whose fault it might be should everything go wrong. Next
In order to gain efficiency, carmakers can’t just make smaller engines in smaller cars. They have to cut weight across the lineup. That’s especially true when hundreds of pounds of batteries are added to electric cars. Aside from aluminum and other lightweight metals and alloys, carbon fiber is king. It’s the single best composite by density alone – nothing else is as stiff, strong, and light as carbon fiber. Trouble is, it’s so expensive that only supercars in excess of $1 million can use entire bodies and structures made of carbon fiber. That will change, as Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, MIT, and other engineering groups research lower-cost production methods for this super material. Back to the beginning
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