Emerging automotive technology is geared toward meeting the evolving needs of the customer. Customers want environmentally friendly convenience, and self-driving cars and renewable fuel are the key. Both have different appeals: self-driving cars are ideal for those who cannot drive themselves. For example, someone who is blind or otherwise unable to operate a vehicle could still travel independently. Renewable fuel helps prevent damage to the environment via fossil fuels, and would likely be cheaper than traditional fossil fuels when widely adopted. The sun reaches nearly every part of the earth regularly, whereas oil fields are a coveted commodity worldwide.
Each change begins incrementally. Automobiles like the Tesla Model S do not possess actual self-driving capability, meaning that they cannot be completely unattended and safely travel from location A to Z. These vehicles have what is more accurately described as driver assist. It is covered in external cameras that help it stay within the lines on a roadway, as well as help detect other motorists. The car automatically stops and can automatically change lanes, yet the driver must keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. It is not a completely automated process and Tesla requires drivers to maintain control and ultimately act as their own failsafe.
A true self-driving car however does not require the passenger to pay attention while the vehicle operates. Legislation against distracted driving has tightened in recent years primarily due to driver cell phone usage. Self-driving cars can prevent distracted driving from cell phones and provide a safer driving experience for everyone involved. The goal is for the vehicle to be capable of seamlessly traveling to and from destinations, obeying all traffic laws, avoids accidents, and safely ferries passengers. Self-driving cars could lower car insurance and decrease the 40,000 yearly traffic fatalities in the United States. If such vehicles were ever offered at car dealerships or for private purchase, this would provide great freedom to people who otherwise cannot operate motor vehicles. Your grandmother whose eyesight has deteriorated would be able to travel to the grocery store without walking or waiting for a ride. Pregnant mothers who are in labor could simply tell their car to take them immediately to the nearest hospital, and the car might also automatically notify emergency services. The reality of living in 2017 is that there are more ways to travel now than ever before, with or without self-driving cars. It is quick and convenient to hail a ride from anywhere in your city using apps and driving services like Uber.
This sounds like science fiction, but it is within the realm of reality. 2016 alone introduced many automotive tech innovations that will continue to be expanded upon. Look at the Google self-driving car. It has been in accidents, but few of them have truly been the fault of the Google self-driving car. Most incident are the result of a human motorist colliding with it while the Google car obeyed traffic laws. A mass-produced consumer self-driving car is easily 20 or 30 years away, in large part because of the adaptive artificial intelligence, sensor and camera technology, and legislation required to create a safe and reliable vehicle.
The shift toward sustainable fuel sources will happen much sooner. There are two approaches to this: increase the efficiency of gasoline-based vehicles in order to produce less pollution and waste, or switch to an alternative and renewable fuel source with a negligible impact on the environment. A great example of the former can be seen on Ford’s F-150 with EcoBoost, which boasts a turbocharged V-6 engine to achieve comparable power to a V-8 but with greater fuel economy. This has become a common tactic with automotive design – coupling turbochargers with more economical engines.
Providing an alternative fuel source is the second approach. Companies like Tesla are pioneering the next generation of electric powered vehicles. Tesla’s recent acquisition of SolarCity indicates that they want to combine solar power with their electric vehicles – an impressive undertaking. Already Tesla has built up a network of electric charging stations called Superchargers, which provide free electricity to Tesla automobile owners. Electricity generated cleanly is a great renewable option.
Both self-driving cars and cleaner fuel sources are important automotive advancements with the potential to change the way we travel on a daily basis. What remains to be seen is how widely they’ll be adopted and whether they can overcome the obstacles in their path, namely making self-driving cars safe enough for consumers and renewable fuel accessible for the public.
(Photo Credit: Uber)