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There is more to the car of the future than just the journey itself:

Innovative communications and new ways of using one's time are just two examples. Find out all about the car of the future and how the vehicle itself, or even its individual parts, may have more than one use.

4 September 2019

"Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist." You may recognise this as the voice-over at the beginning of the popular 80s series, "Knight Rider".

KITT, short for "Knight Industries Two Thousand", dates back to a time when there was no internet, mobile phones or digital assistants. KITT embodied the vision of a car of the future and was way ahead of its time. This could also be said for today:

  • Hands-free phone system in vehicles? Done. 
  • Artificial intelligence, to which the driver can chat through a wristwatch? Done. 
  • Cars that drive themselves in everyday life? Not quite yet, but still…

In this article, we are daring to look into the future, throwing out ideas, and envisioning what the car of the future might look like by discussing what other services the car could provide in addition to transporting passengers.

The car of the future and what may stay the same

Although much remains to be clarified there are already some forward-looking visions for car of the future that are being sketched out by the experts. However, one thing is for sure: The car of the future will be electrically powered, fully networked and self-driving (➜ The 5 steps on the way to the self-driving car). These future trends could possibly change the familiar parts of cars that we are used to or make them completely redundant altogether.

The controls in the car of the future

In Knight Rider, the plotline demanded that the hero himself take over the vehicle, although KITT could have driven itself. Break-neck car chases lose much of their nail-biting intensity when the hero in the vehicle cockpit just sits back and devotes himself to other tasks whilst in hot pursuit. The opinions of the experts are still divided as to what the future really looks like in this regard. Some are saying that heroic steering and braking manoeuvres will no longer be necessary in the car of the future. Whereas other experts would provide people with the choice, so that they can still take over the driving controls if they choose. This is the BMW approach. 

The engine in the car of the future

Even if we cannot yet predict the precise moment, the time may well come when the pure internal combustion engine may only be wondered at as an exhibit in a museum. The growl of the present-day engine may in the future become the hum of the electric motor. It is still undecided which e-mobility variant will be the market-dominating successor of the internal combustion engine (➜ Electric cars and plug-in hybrids explained). 

The communicating elements

Despite many changes in technology, the car of the future is likely to retain some of the communicating systems that vehicles currently possess. 

Example 1: Turn signals and brake lights

  • Both light systems are used to communicate with other road users and are likely to be retained. 
  • It is to be expected that the car of the future will inhibit even more ways of communicating with lights.
  • Drivers will still be able to communicate via hand signals or eye contact with other road users. In this way, they can indicate to pedestrians that it is safe to cross the road. Self-driving vehicles would not have this possibility, which is why experts are already thinking of various new options for light signals – whether in the form of display panels integrated into the body or headlights that project clear signals onto the road.

Example 2: The horn

  • The horn will probably be heard less often than today. 
  • It will probably no longer be used as an outlet for frustration when in traffic, or to announce one's arrival and certainly not as a threat when the vehicle in front is not fast enough for the drivers liking.
  • It will be used only for its real purpose, in a fully automatic way.

The car of the future will be multi-functional

The technology of self-driving vehicles creates completely new possibilities for defining the space inside the vehicle. Ideally, the car of the future is therefore…

… an office on wheels

Even today, certain top of the range vehicles offer various features that turn them into offices on wheels. These include data and charging points for laptops or smartphones, integrated Wi-Fi hotspots for various mobile devices, and large screens for presentations and video conferencing. However, drivers currently must find a parking space in order to work in their mobile office. If the car drives itself in the future, the work can potentially be done during the journey. Many experts therefore assume that a usable work space for writing, or for laptops, could be an integral part of the car of the future. 

… a living room when travelling

The present arrangement of seats in rows is to ensure the driver always has his eyes on the road and his hands on the steering wheel. The seating in the car of the future, on the other hand, could be much more flexible. Some experts even assume that the front seats could be flexibly adjusted to different operating modes. There may also be a table in the middle of the vehicle that would be ideal for social meals or board games. In any case, the car of the future has the potential to become a place of well-being (➜ What makes a place a favourite place?) for its occupants.

… a cinema on four wheels

The car of the future is likely to develop into a cinema on wheels, especially on longer journeys. Concerns that watching films would distract the driver would become obsolete, under the plans for self-driving cars. Depending on the car manufacturer, the space-occupying parts of the car could be eliminated or folded down, leaving ample space for one or more screens. Of course, video games could also be played as an alternative during the trip. It remains unclear whether the screens of the future would still be physical screens, or whether the entertainment would be projected directly onto the windscreen as initial studies are already suggesting.

… a meeting place for urban mobility

Experts agree that city living requires new concepts of mobility (➜ The 5 Trends of Urban Mobility). Some of them are of the opinion that in the future hardly anyone will be alone in a car. Instead, fleets of self-driving taxis could be used, which would pick up more passengers on the along the way. This scenario suggests that the current trend towards car-sharing (➜ Shared mobility) would continue. But is unclear as to whether the car of the future would actually become a meeting place for urban mobility in this form. For example, people would have the temptation sit back, relax and watch the entertainment on their way home or to simply sit with their loved ones in their own car. Some may even want to drive for themselves once in a while, particularly on winding country roads.

… a comfortable hotel

As we have seen, the car will relieve the driver of more and more burdens in the future. Accordingly, it would only be logical for manufacturers to consider this new technology in the interior designs of their vehicles. Well-being would take priority over functionality; the technology would move into the background. Experts call this Shy Tech and draw a picture of the car of the future, which is often so comfortable that passengers will be able to have a restful sleep while driving.

Just sketches of the future or a reality that is coming soon?

From 2021 onwards, BMW plans to build the BMW iNext in its plant based in the Bavarian town of Dingolfing. This highly automated car is intended to be fully networked and fully electric.

However, the experts are currently divided in their opinions as to when fully automated driving will become a reality. According to a study by the research institute Prognos and produced for ADAC (German Automobile Club,) by 2030 cars that can drive themselves, both on the motorway and in the city, should be ready for the market. Others see the year 2040 as a more realistic target for Level 5. In any case, KITT will be over 100 years old before all traffic is dominated by self-driving vehicles. 

About the author

Andreas Fuhrich is an editor for Trend Report and responsible for mobility, finance and digitisation topics. Through background discussions with experts from science and industry, he gets insights into the world of tomorrow, which enables him to write about cutting edge developments.

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