The future of motoring

Google recently introduced a driverless car, possibly giving a glimpse into what our automotive future will look like.

The future of motoring
The future of automobile technology
Land Rover's transparent engine cover
Wayne Gerdes in the VW Passat used to become world record holder for best average fuel mileage

Read a book, watch a newly-released movie, browse the internet, enjoy a refreshing nap – all enjoyable ways to stay entertained during a long journey. But these down time activities may no longer be confined to in-car passengers; soon, certainly sooner than one may realise, drivers will also be able to chill out behind the wheel while on the road.

A publicity stunt or the way of the future?

Driverless cars are coming, and the revelation isn’t even particularly new – not since Google revealed its rather odd-looking driverless car prototype in May. It’s difficult not to think of the car as anything but a motoring gimmick. It looks something like a cartoon car, which is probably the look Google is deliberately going for because the front of the vehicle – which will be made of a foam-like material - is designed as a smiley face. It has no steering wheel, no brake pedal, and no throttle; instead just a stop and a start button and, on the 100 vehicles being initially produced, a top speed of 25 miles an hour.

A screen displays the route, and an array of sensors allow the car’s built-in computer to establish its location and surroundings; it’s able to identify hazards and obstacles several hundred metres ahead, and therefore negotiate any potential difficulties. The latest models have completely removed the basic controls as it was deemed safer, rather than allowing the option of a human driver to take over suddenly, or in an emergency situation. Google is conducting pilot tests in California before moving on to the next phase of development.

The 'Blueprint for Mobility'

Automated vehicles escorting passengers smoothly and seamlessly to their destination, with zero possibility of an accident, and a perfect safety record, has to be the ultimate dream. That vision won’t become a reality overnight, but between the traditional model we’ve all become accustomed to and Google’s self-driving bubble car, there are several examples of technological advancements being incorporated into modern vehicle design.

We believe the next 25 years will be the most exciting and dynamic the automotive industry has ever experienced

Dr Wolfgang Epple (Director of Research and Technology at Jaguar Land Rover)

This article, by the Guardian, shows some of the ‘first generation’ of self-driving cars, including a Range Rover Evoque with Valeo self-parking technology - the vehicle is equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors – and Ford’s ‘Blueprint for Mobility’, which is the manufacturer’s interpretation on what it believes transportation will look like in 2025. Ford has been at the heart of the British motoring industry for the best part of a century, as this infographic shows; clearly, the manufacturer is planning for the next era of car production and development.

The Blueprint for Mobility establishes goals for the near, mid and long term. As of now, Ford’s mission is, ‘to be at the forefront of developing increasingly intuitive in-car mobile communications options and driver interfaces that proactively alert drivers to traffic jams and accidents’. Between 2017-2025, that goal is the introduction of, ‘semi-autonomous driving technology, including driver-initiated “auto pilot” capabilities and vehicle platooning in limited situations – technologies that will provide improved accident avoidance and driver assistance features, but allow the driver to take control, if needed.’

Autonomous cars by 2025?

From 2025, Ford projects, ‘the arrival of smart vehicles capable of fully autonomous navigation, with increased auto pilot operating duration, plus the arrival of autonomous valet functions, delivering effortless vehicle parking and storage.’ Lest we forget, 2025 is a little over ten years away – the children of today, our children, may be confronted with autonomous, or at least semi-autonomous, driving, as they embark upon their first lessons. Though of course, driving lessons, and the demands of the test situations, could feasibly be significantly different to now.

Within just a couple of years, market-leading innovation could be common place on UK roads. According to the BBC, road safety campaigners and some insurance companies have called for autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to become compulsory in all new cars, claiming that more than 1,200 lives could be saved over the next decade if the systems were made mandatory. AEB uses radar, camera and laser sensors fitted to the car to detect potential collisions.

Other automotive innovations

“If the driver doesn’t take avoiding action, AEB will automatically brake the car to mitigate the crash or completely avoid it altogether,” Matthew Avery, Director of Research at Thatcham Research Centre, told Newsbeat. AEB reduces the occurrence of low speed accidents by around 20% and, while most effective operating at low speeds, can also mitigate the devastating consequences of higher speed collisions.

Land Rover, meanwhile, has been developing invisible bonnet technology, which is as exciting as it sounds; its Transparent Bonnet virtual imaging concept provides drivers with a new level of awareness with a ‘see-through’ augmented reality view of the terrain ahead, making the front of the car ‘virtually’ invisible from inside the cabin. It provides drivers with ‘total clarity’ of otherwise hidden obstacles.

Cameras located in the vehicle’s grille capture data used to feed a Head-Up Display. The technology enables a driver climbing a steep incline or manoeuvring in a confined space to see the ground in front of the vehicle and also the angle and position of the front wheels. “We believe the next 25 years will be the most exciting and dynamic the automotive industry has ever experienced,” said Dr Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology for Jaguar Land Rover. “There will be huge strides in environmental innovation, in safety and capability.”

“We are developing new technologies, including the Transparent Bonnet, to give drivers an augmented view of reality to help them tackle anything from the toughest off-road route to the tight confines of an urban car park.”

Volvo's automotive enhancements

Volvo’s Concept Estate has removed buttons and knobs from its interior design – replaced instead by one large tablet-like touch screen control panel. Volvo’s latest safety innovation is Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake, which detects and automatically brakes for cyclists swerving out in front of the car. The advanced sensor system scans the area ahead, and if a cyclist heading in the same direction as the car suddenly swerves, it prompts the driver to act with a flashing warning light on the windshield as well as an audible alarm. If the driver doesn’t react to that, and there is the risk of a collision, the car immediately brakes.

In July of this year, Volvo also confirmed details of the safety and parking assist systems fitting in its new XC90 SUV, due for release in 2015. They include run off incidents, when cars are forced to leave the road due to bad weather or driver error – the front seatbelts automatically tighten and the seats are designed to minimise spinal injuries. There is also a ‘junction brake’ system that stops the car if the driver of the vehicle attempts to pull out from a junction and into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

However, parents might be most enthused by the optional feature available with the latest version of the Toyota Sienna – ‘Driver Easy Speak’ uses a microphone to amplify the driver’s voice in the rear of the vehicle; no more screaming at the kids in the back seats during long journeys!

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Series Automotive
Author Alex Jones