Vehicles of the future

What drivers can look forward to as vehicle technology continues to evolve
by Rich Ellis

In the early 1970’s, many vehicle owners viewed an odometer hitting 100,000 miles as a major milestone, and an indicator that the vehicle’s expected lifespan was just about over. Back then, no one could have imagined that vehicle lifespans would more than double, that on-board GPS systems would replace paper maps, or that there would be alternatives to vehicle power being generated solely by an eight-cylinder, internal-combustion engine. 
Similarly, today’s drivers can’t know exactly what vehicle technology and features drivers will take for granted 50 years from now, but there are some tantalizing clues as to what we can look forward to when it comes to our vehicles. 

Monitoring drivers’ physical data

Vehicles of the future may monitor and collect data about your physical condition to improve safety. Gearshift monitors will detect alcohol that may be present in your perspiration and take steps to prevent drunk driving. Software will continuously monitor your heart rate to detect a heart attack or other medical emergency, while scanning tools will evaluate where your eyes are looking and in which direction your head is turned in order to prevent collisions through early detection of driver fatigue or inattentiveness. 

Learning driver habits and acting on them

Tomorrow’s vehicles will remember that you leave the house at the same time every day, take the same route to drop the kids off at school by 8:05, and then stop at the coffee shop before heading to the office parking garage. Armed with that knowledge, vehicle technology will start the engine for you and have the interior at the desired temperature, position the mirrors, seat and radio to your preference, and monitor traffic and road conditions on your regular route in order to suggest alternatives to avoid delays – all while you’re  you’re still inside the house.

External airbags and laser headlights

Airbags inside the car that inflate in milliseconds and protect occupants during a crash are standard safety features. But what about airbags outside the vehicle? They’re in development and can help improve passenger safety by reducing the amount of force transferred to the vehicle in crash. They also can help reduce injuries to pedestrians struck by a vehicle. In the area of visibility, laser headlights could have twice the illumination power of today’s LED bulbs and light up the road ahead for nearly a third of a mile.

Autonomous vehicles that communicate with one another

Cars can already parallel park and reduce their speed automatically, and autonomous cars are being road tested today, so it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to envision cars in the near future that are truly driverless, requiring no input from their passengers. Technology will also enable these “hands-free" vehicles to communicate with one another and reduce collisions by broadcasting their intentions – such as braking for stopped traffic or changing lanes – to vehicles around them while monitoring other vehicles’ behavior and intentions.
As drivers’ roles and responsibilities lessen with improvements in vehicle technology and that technology assuming more control, entertainment and information systems will also evolve to provide drivers with new options for filling travel time previously spent driving. That day isn’t here yet, so until it is, keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. 


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