It was little more than a decade ago when the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle — the Toyota Prius — hit U.S. streets. Before then, all most Americans knew were gasoline-powered vehicles — at least when it came to cars you could buy in a dealer showroom. It took a little while, but with the rollout of new generation hybrid/electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, the auto industry is off and running in an alternative fueled direction.
I bring this up because with the auto industry, the focus is always on the future; what will be the newest model, or what technology will be present in the future? Automotive enthusiasts are always wondering what travel will consist of in say 20 years. For those wondering what the future of travel may realistically involve, the folks at Kiplinger have come out with a list of the fives ways technology will change the way you travel.
1) Flying Cars. If you ever watched a show like the “Jetsons,” we’re guessing you probably dreamed at some point of rolling around the skies in a car that could fly. While a “Jetsons”-style fantasyland is decades away if that from becoming a reality, there are actual “flying cars” in development. The Terrafugia Transition, a small propeller-driven plane, has the ability to upon landing fold the wings, allowing this small plane to be driven on the street. It conveniently runs on automotive fuel, allowing it to reach a top speed of 65 mph. According to Massachusetts-based Terrafugia vice president Richard Gersh, the company hopes to have the “planes” for sale within a year, barring government approval, at an estimated cost of $200,000 to $250,000 a copy. Be sure to wave hi to George, Astro and the gang on the way by.
2) Autonomous Cars. The world is full of people who think of driving as work, and hate the thought of getting behind the wheel. What would they think of a car that can drive itself? I’d say it would be a dream come true to them. According to Kiplinger, we are only a decade or so away from that reality, and you know how fast time flies. The federal government, carmakers, and now Google are working to develop artificial intelligence software that can mimic the decision-making of a safe driver. The question is would consumers really trust a car to have complete control? Several high end cars already offer technology that keeps an appropriate distance in cruise control mode, and several, including even budget cars like the Ford Focus, can parallel-park your vehicle for you. A car that completely drives on its own, however, would need technology to go to a whole different level.
3) Car as Computer Hub. Ever wish that while sitting in traffic you could whip out your laptop and surf the Web? Elements of this type of technology are already a reality. Microsoft and Toyota are partnering in efforts to better integrate the web and onboard car computers. The system will be built on Microsoft’s Azure platform, providing access to cloud computing. GM is rolling out a $500 option that involves the installation of a Wi-Fi router into your vehicle, providing the ability to surf the Web while in your car. Other automakers like Chrysler, through its UConnect system, already have Wi-Fi technology available. There are some real downsides to adding more and more computer functionality to vehicles — namely distracted driving — something the NHTSA is keenly aware of as Web connectivity proliferates in cars.
4) Fuel Saving Technologies. Federal fuel mileage regulations are set to increase dramatically in the next five years. Carmakers must reach a 35.5 mpg average by 2016, and anywhere from 47-62 mpg by 2017. By not making every car electric, how do automakers plan on meeting these lofty requirements? It’s no secret technology is going to play an intricate role. Already, automakers are downsizing engines, and adding turbocharging and direct fuel injection in an effort to boost MPGs. The use of diesel engines will also probably have to increase in the short term; BMW, Volkswagen, and Mercedes have already announced they will offer more models with diesel engines, and other automakers may follow suit. While this may help, hybrid and fully electric vehicles will also need to be more prevalent in the future.
5) Weight Saving Technologies. The weight of a vehicle plays an intricate role in fuel economy – the lighter the car, the less weight the engine has to pull around. In order to meet ever higher mileage standards, carmakers are looking to reduce the weight of the vehicle of the future. Look for more cars to be made with carbon fiber rather than high-strength steel and aluminum. Due to its high price, most mainstream automakers have stayed away from carbon fiber; except those sports cars offered in the six figures. But as the technology evolves and prices come down, everyday vehicles may see more carbon fiber construction fairly soon. BMW and German specialty firm SGL Group believe they can cut costs with the use of an assembly line for turning out carbon fiber sheets, woven like textiles and then covered in plastic resin. Expect BMW’s new generation of electric cars, the i3 and i8, to feature carbon fiber construction when they debut in 2013. The use of carbon fiber could result in as much as a seven percent improvement in fuel economy.
Technology should have a very positive impact on travel in the future. While technology-driven travel such as flying cars and cars that drive themselves may seem like a long way away, you never know, they may be just around the corner.