Road Trip Anyone? You Won’t Need to Drive with These Car Innovations

Since its start in the 1880s, the automotive industry has been a hotbed of innovation. Many of the most significant advancements in car technology have been, not surprisingly, related to speed — but also safety and fuel-efficiency.

Today’s consumers already have a wide range of cars with high-tech features to choose from, but soon, they will have even more technology to consider when deciding which car to buy. Here are just a few emerging car innovations poised to go mainstream in the near future:

-- Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. Cars equipped for V2V communications will use Direct Short Range Communication (DSRC) wireless signals to share information with each other about location, speed and direction — and hopefully, avoid accidents. Elements of this technology, including forward collision warning, autobrake, lane departure warning, and blind spot detection are already available in many makes and models today. V2V communications takes things even further, enabling cars to receive safety information from road signs, traffic signals and other forms of highway infrastructure (including the road itself). Carmakers and the U.S. government are currently laying the groundwork for the so-called “Internet of Asphalt,” which will support the conversation between connected cars and intelligent highways — although there is much debate about who should foot the bill.

-- Augmented Reality Windshields. Research is well under way on developing windshield and dashboard technology that can project information and images for the driver of what is out of view in front of the vehicle and how far away it is. This technology could be invaluable, especially in hazardous driving conditions caused by snow, rain and fog. (If you are a Trekkie, you already have a good idea of what this technology will be like.)

-- Body Panel Batteries. Hybrid automotive technology (the use of two or more power sources to propel a vehicle) has been one of the biggest innovations for the car industry in the last 100 years. The challenge now for auto manufacturers is to build smaller, lighter batteries so that drivers can charge their vehicles less frequently, and help their cars run more efficiently. (The 24 kWh lithium ion battery system used by the Nissan Leaf, a fully electric production car, weighs a whopping 648 pounds.) Auto manufacturers, such as Volvo, are researching ways to store battery power throughout the vehicle, especially in lightweight body panels. By changing the composition of these panels, cars with electric batteries could be as much as 15 percent lighter. The next step? Developing photovoltaic panels for cars that can create and store enough energy to power the vehicle, liberating drivers from the charging station as well as the pump. We’re not there yet, but we aren’t far away.

Make way for ‘platoons’ of autonomous vehicles

Other car innovations coming soon to a highway near you (or your very own garage, perhaps): robot cars. Thanks to technological innovators like Google and Tesla, the idea of being driven to work in our car, by our car, is no longer so far-fetched. In fact, driverless trucks are already hard at work in some industries. And “platooning,” where autonomous vehicles would link up on the intelligent road to create a “train” with other vehicles in order to move more efficiently and safely along the freeway, is already being tested in Europe. Without question, autonomous cars have the potential to help driving commuters greatly increase their productivity — and decrease their stress — by eliminating the need to grip the steering wheel and ride the brake while inching through yet another painful commute. Maybe then, we all can discover the true joy of driving (as this video nicely encapsulates), because when we do drive ourselves, it will be because we want to — and because we will still have a soft spot for our “dumb” old cars.