Technology moves fast in the automotive space: the first smart key fob was introduced in 1998, reverse cameras have been around since Infiniti offered one in 2002 and airbags have been standard on all cars (in the United States, at least) since 1998. So what’s coming in the next 20 years?
Rear-view and side mirrors are set to be replaced by screens, fed by cameras that put exterior footage on a dashboard screen. This will reduce the drag produced by exterior mirrors, minimise blind spots and provide a clearer view in bad weather. Standard on the dinky Honda e, they’re currently a R25 000 option on Audi’s e-tron.
Intelligent tyres are next, with Continental’s ContiSense system built around the development of electrically conductive rubber compounds that enable electric signals to be sent from a sensor in the tyre to a receiver in the car. Rubber-based sensors continuously monitor tread depth and temperature. If anything penetrates the tread, a circuit in the tyre is closed, triggering an immediate warning for the driver. The tyre design also features three different tread zones for driving on wet, slippery or dry surfaces. Depending on the tyre pressure and rim width, different tread zones are activated and the tyre adopts the relevant “footprint”.
Speaking about the Deloitte 2021 Global Automotive Consumer Study findings for South Africa, Dr Martyn Davies, managing director of emerging markets and Africa at Deloitte, says that the interest in owning fossil fuel-powered cars is rising on the back of COVID-19. “The combustion engine isn’t suddenly going to go away after 2030 – certain niche models need to have combustion engines, even in the face of rising interest in electric vehicles,” he says. “Where we see a transition is from fossil to synthetic fuels, particularly in high-end performance cars where people can and will pay a premium (the fuels are more expensive to produce) to retain the feel and sound of a combustion engine.”
Car makers are attempting to integrate more entertainment tech for passengers – and drivers, with an eye on autonomous vehicles of the future. An Audi/Disney partnership demonstrated at CES 2020 saw passengers using VR headsets shooting lasers at asteroids and drones and flying through space with Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon guiding them. Iron Man popped up too, flying alongside the car. The “real world” influences the VR world: if the car turns so does the rocket ship and sudden braking impacts the game.
Futurist John Sanei believes that much of our future interaction with tech and brands will be based on the Spotify model. “Spotify curates, matches and facilitates our needs for $5 a month. I believe we’ll apply that to everything: clothing, food, cars and more. That level of intelligence, accessibility and ease will become the future,” he says.
Sanei likens modern vehicles to “cellphones with wheels”, and Davies has similar feelings, especially on the back of rumours that Apple is set to enter the automotive market with a vehicle. “Huawei is already selling cars at what used to be cellphone showrooms in Shenzen,” says Davies.
“Tech like that deployed in Apple AirTags is the future of traffic, with communication across devices helping us move into the autonomous vehicle world more easily,” says Sanei. Intercommunication between cars will see them passing information to each other, improving safety on the roads for a start. This intercommunication could also see vehicles “speaking” to traffic lights and roads, and able to make changes depending on weather, vehicle conditions, proximity to service stations and navigation deviations.