A car from a few years ago might look rather similar to one you can buy now, but things are very different under the skin. Rapid advances in technology have brought us to a point where a modern car offers a lot more convenience and safety than its predecessors. But even though constant development has been a part of the motor car since Karl Benz decided he’d had enough of riding around in horse-drawn carts, there’s been nothing like what we’re seeing now – thanks to greener methods of propulsion, and driver assist features that’ll make you think your car is a sentient creature.
The thought of a Delhi cabbie running riot in three dimensions might terrify even the most stout-hearted citizen, but that’s what the future holds (even if in a limited fashion). Flying cars are coming to a city near you (luckily, though, self-piloted vehicles seem more likely than human-operated) and there are loads of companies banking on these becoming popular. There’s Terrafugia, founded by a bunch of MIT grads, which has been acquired by Volvo’s parent company, Geely – Terrafugia hopes to start deliveries of its Transition flying car by 2019. There’s even a Kickstarter project by Alauda Racing, which hopes to launch a flying car racing championship with its in-the-works Mark 1 Airspeeder. Then there’s Toyota, which has invested in flying car startup Cartivator – they even hope to use a flying car to light the torch for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. All this hasn’t escaped the attention of the world’s aviation giants – Boeing’s investing in Aurora Flight Sciences, which develops autonomous tech for the aerospace industry, while Airbus is working on the Vahana, a self-piloted ‘aircraft’ designed to carry one person or cargo. But the most exciting news comes from Uber, which is working on autonomous taxis in partnership with a bunch of aircraft manufacturers. They’ve even tied up with NASA to come up with an air traffic control mechanism for flying cars, and hope to launch trials of their Uber Elevate project in three cities – Dubai, Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth – by 2020.
The car as a gadget
The car stereo (such a ‘90s term, isn’t it?) is dead and it’s been replaced by a newfangled ‘infotainment’ system. This transition might have started with rudimentary voice control, slow touchscreens and buggy smartphone mirroring, but we’ve now reached a point when even budget cars come with slick Android Auto and Apple CarPlay interfaces. And if you’ve got the dosh, there’s Audi’s remarkable Virtual Cockpit, Range Rover’s Touch Pro Duo, and BMW’s rear-seat touchscreens. But all this will seem outdated once driverless cars become commonplace: If your car’s going to be doing all the driving, and you’re just another passenger, why not take this ‘smartphonification’ as far as the tech allows? That’s what Panasonic believes, and at CES 2017, it gave the world a peek at its vision for the future. So what does the future hold? According to Panasonic, the car of the future could be brimming with kit like Connected Interactive Tables (so you can reply to email or watch a movie), Smart Material surfaces which resemble wood but display information and respond to touch input, headrests with built-in speakers and advanced noise cancellation, coffee makers, fridges, wireless control devices, and our favourite – Augmented Reality windows that turn every journey into a science-fiction author’s acid trip.
The Internal Combustion engine isn’t dead yet
The IC engine might have a terrible reputation – it pollutes and uses up too many fossil fuels, but it’ll be a while before it goes the way of the dinosaur. Thankfully, carmakers know this and haven’t stopped innovating, which means there’s still tech on the way that will make engines greener, keeping the planet safe while still giving aural orgasms to petrolheads. There’s Fiat-Chrysler’s range of MultiAir petrol engines, which reduce emissions, and at the same time, boost power. And there’s more exciting news from Nissan’s luxury marque Infiniti, which is putting a variable compression petrol engine in its upcoming QX50 crossover. Without getting into eyes-glazing-over detail, this new four-cylinder engine can vary the compression ratio (from 8:1 To 14:1), giving it more versatility for varying traffic conditions and is even 27 percent more economical than the V6 it’ll be replacing (yet makes comparable torque and power).
Excerpt from the February 2018 issue of Maxim India.