Begin any conversation about the future of cars and it’ll be a matter of seconds before someone brings up the possibility of driverless vehicles. The thing is that they’re not so much of a future concept anymore; they’re already here. OK, so we’re not yet at the point where we’re all sitting, glassy-eyed, in the back seat of our own personal pods as we make our commute into work every day, but Heathrow has been operating a driverless shuttle system for some time now, and driverless freight trucks took to the roads in a trial earlier this year. When it comes to going driverless, then, it’s no longer a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’.
With so many people taking a genuine pleasure in driving, however, I wouldn’t consign the self-drive vehicle to the annals of history just yet. Experts believe that there will be more changes to the motor car in the next 30 years than in the previous 100, so assuming that Elon Musk is right, and that fully driverless cars will be available to purchase by 2021, what can we expect from the vehicles of the next 30 years?
- Intelligent Windscreens. Forget the satnav; the future is all about interactive iWindscreens. It’s an idea posited by BMW, among others, with their Vision Next 100 concept; the proposition is that rather than being formed from simple glass, windscreens will have a technical element, overlaying your real-time view with all of the data from your satnav, traffic updates, hazard warnings, and anything else you might think of. With a touch-screen facility, your iWindscreen could even act as a tour guide when you’re operating in driverless mode.
- Retractable Steering Wheels. As already mentioned, the thing about going driverless is that not everyone will want to do it, all of the time, but it will be nice to have the option there. The steering wheel, however, does take up a huge amount of cockpit space, especially if you’re not using it constantly. A stream-lined retractable version, rather like you’d find as part of a games console, is the obvious answer. Mercedes have already created a prototype and others are racing to follow.
- Communicating Cars. The communication of vehicles will take three forms. Firstly, cars will silently speak to each other, transmitting data about speed and planned routes, to help increase road safety, prevent the likelihood of accidents, and reduce traffic jams. Secondly, they will allow for more advanced interaction with passengers – kind of like Kit in Knight Rider, but possibly a wee bit less dynamic! We’ll be able to summon our cars to our doors via apps, and voice-control seat, temperature, and other adjustments will be available. Thirdly, they will speak to pedestrians. While, alas, ‘hey, look where you’re going!’ will probably be outside of their programmed vocabulary, as more and more electric and hydrogen vehicles come silently onto the roads, cars will need new means to let pedestrians know that they’re there, whether by emitting a warning sound when the public come into view, or by literally speaking to them; ‘please cross the road, I will wait’.
- Fossil-Fuel-Free. Fossil fuels aren’t just massive pollutants and environmental catastrophes, but hey, guess what, we’re running out of them! Yep, we all know this from our childhood days of watching Newsround and Blue Peter twenty odd years ago, but as adults it became an ‘inconvenient truth’ that we chose to not quite ignore, but at least put to the back of our minds. Fossil-fuelled vehicles have so very many negatives, but until recently they have been outweighed by one giant positive: convenience. Now, while the technology doesn’t quite exist to create an entirely pollution-free car, we’re making giant leaps towards that goal. Diesel drivers are already being punished, petrol drivers won’t be far behind. The future will be all about electric, hydrogen, and who knows, maybe even solar-powered cars... Maybe not in the UK for the last one.
- Ultra-Control. Finally, and this is really the least likely of all scenarios, but I thought I’d throw it in as food for thought. Some experts believe that far from adopting a driverless lifestyle, the future holds more of a science fiction element, with human-car hybrids. Now, we’re not all going to get our limbs replaced with wheels, but there is a chance that immersive driving, with vehicles potentially being linked to, and controlled by, human synapses, could be emerging. Unlikely, yes. Without the realms of possibility, no.
As vehicle rental specialists, at OSV we can’t predict the future, but the one thing we can tell you with absolute certainty, is that the future of driving is going to be exciting.
Debbie Kirkley is co-founder at OSV Ltd.