Henry Ford would barely recognize today’s high-tech automobiles. Even George Jetson may not have had access to some of the features we now take for granted in cars, like cruise control, crash avoidance technology, and entertainment systems with Bluetooth capabilities.
We’ll probably never see a flying vehicle that folds up into a briefcase like the one George drove to work – at least, not in our lifetimes. But in 10, 20 and 50 years from now cars will undoubtedly look a lot different than they do now, as automakers continue to develop and roll out advanced technologies at a rapid pace.
Here’s a look at the top 5 innovative technologies for cars which are either new to the market or expected to be available in the near future.
Gorilla Glass Windshields
Windshields have gotten stronger since Henry Ford’s day, but they’ve basically been constructed in the same way: an inner layer of plastic (currently, manufacturers use clear polyvinyl plastic) sandwiched between, and bonded to, two layers of laminated safety glass. This design allows the windshield to absorb energy in a collision and makes the glass much less liable to shatter. It makes the windshield relatively safe, but also very heavy.
The 2017 Ford GT will be the first vehicle to break the mold with windshields made from Gorilla Glass manufactured by Corning. Gorilla Glass has been used on nearly four billion electronic devices over the last ten years; for example, it’s what the scratch-resistant, “unbreakable” window on smartphone is made from.
The automotive version will have multiple layers like today’s windshields, but those layers will be annealed glass on the outside, thermoplastic adhesive in the middle and toughened hybrid Gorilla Glass on the inside. The windshield will be 25-50% thinner and 32% lighter than the ones on current vehicles, and will be virtually unbreakable. Developers have shown the strength of the Gorilla windshield, in a video showing one being bombarded with ice balls shot out of high-powered cannons without even cracking.
You probably won’t see this technology in your local auto showroom next year. The Gorilla Glass windshield was specifically designed for Ford’s top-of-the-line, $400,000 sports car, in order to shave weight and improve the aerodynamics of the so-called “super car.” As with most breakthroughs, though, there’s a good chance the technology will eventually trickle down to benefit the rest of us.
Talk To Your Car
When you’re in your car you can sing along with the radio, yell at another driver, speak with people on the phone – or if it’s a particularly bad day, talk to yourself. If you buy a Volvo XC90 later this year you’ll also be able to talk to your car, pretending that you’re David Hasselhoff and your Volvo is KITT. All you will need is a Microsoft Band 2 ($250) on your wrist.
The Microsoft smart band pairs with a Volvo app to let you give simple commands to the car like “lock the doors” or “start the heater.” Our favorite is “prepare my Volvo,” which will precondition the car just the way you like it and then start it up for you.
Similar features are available through some carmakers’ smartphone apps (which are often hit-or-miss in terms of their functionality), but this will be the first time you can just put on a “wearable” and command your car. The automaker plans to expand the voice-command system in the future for greater interaction; we can’t wait until a Volvo can actually respond by saying “Michael, are you sure you want to do that?”
We’re just getting used to opening and starting our cars without keys – and now Ford is tinkering with a system that would do away with the “car fobs” we now carry in our pockets or purses.
Ford has obtained a patent for a scheme which would combine modern remote keyless entry with smartphones and a biometric database. Fingerprints, voiceprints or other unique identifiers like retinal scans or facial features would be entered into the database through the phone. The device would then send a WiFi or Bluetooth signal to the vehicle, giving permission for authorized drivers to start the car and drive it.
Other possibilities envisioned by Ford include permission systems which would only allow a user to drive during specific hours (a teen with a curfew, for example), or just let a person access the vehicle to get something from inside without being able to start it. There’s no projected timetable for implementation.
This one is already available on some Mercedes, BMW, Audi and GM vehicles (as well as through some third-party apps), and it will eventually provide relief for those who have almost crashed while looking down at the GPS display on their phone.
Right now, heads-up displays (HUDs) can project images from your dashboard onto the windshield. They let you see you see your speed, mileage or temperature settings, and in some cars you can view data from your Bluetooth communication system right in front of you as you drive. But in the next few years, you’ll be able to see real-time GPS displays superimposed on your windshield, showing you the next turn you should take and pointing to the street sign you’ve been searching for.
Hyundai, Jaguar and Land Rover have all shown off their next-gen HUD systems at auto shows, and it shouldn’t be long before your windshield will start to resemble a real-life video game.
We’ve left this one for last, because everyone’s undoubtedly followed the stories about Google’s, Tesla’s and Ford’s experimentation with cars that “drive themselves”. But the latest news is that these intriguing-yet-a-little-scary autos are closer than ever to becoming available to the public.
Testing has been conducted over the last few years, but major questions have centered on the legality of a car which doesn’t require human control. Several states, including California, are considering laws which would sidetrack self-driving cars by requiring licensed drivers and steering wheels in automobiles. In February, though, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Google that under U.S. law, an artificial intelligence system controlling a car can be considered “the driver”.
That’s a huge hurdle which has now been cleared, although the NHTSA has made it clear that some federal laws would have to be rewritten and that process could take years. Even so, the Department of Transportation says it may soon ask for new legal authority to permit self-driving vehicles “in large numbers” – meaning autonomous cars are destined to be more than just test vehicles and news stories sooner rather than later.