You’re probably sick of hearing that “technology is changing the car” but is it ever going to reach a stage that means it’s more than just a USB port in the dash? Given history (let’s not forget that as recently as 1970, people thought we’d all be "driving" flying cars by now), we’d forgive you for being sceptical about just how futuristic the car might be getting anytime soon. So just what can you really expect to find in your next automobile? We scoured the Geneva auto show last week, to get a better sense of what to expect.
Your speedo will disappear
For reading at speed, the analogue speedometer dial takes some beating. But that isn’t going to stop car manufacturers doing away with it. Instead of the big round dial, expect something like a transparent-OLED display, like the one seen on Kia’s Pop or Mini’s Rocketman - it’s lighter, saves space, can be reconfigured and means you won’t have to take your eyes off the road to read how fast you’re going.
Your dashboard goes on a diet
Ever been frustrated when you get into a new car with its massive expanse of dashboard plastic, to then find it’s got the tiniest glove compartment in the world? The reason that’s the case is that the swathes of moulded material on your dash today are there only for one real purpose - to cover a multitude of sins.
The steering column, wiring looms, pyrotechnics to fire airbags, air-conditioning unit and a couple of DIN boxes to drive your in-car entertainment are all pretty ugly, so they get covered up. But companies like Seat suggest your next car won’t even come with a radio. You’ll use your phone instead, and they’ll build software to allow you to control other aspects of the car’s interior through your phone. If that’s the case, there’s less physical stuff to package behind the dash, which means less stuff to hide, less material and ultimately a thinner dashboard. The big deal for car makers is it means less weight - so the car needs less energy to push it down the road.
Your car becomes a Wi-Fi hub
This one really does what is says on the tin. Your future car will come with a built-in 3G connection and router allowing you to get the Internet on the move and in the car through the dash, your phone or a laptop. It also means that your car can be updated from the cloud as things happen, and that the manufacturer can update it remotely. Which means less visits to the dealer for system upgrades, and (hopefully) less sitting in traffic, because it’ll already know where the traffic jams are.
No traffic jams or parking hell
Thanks to this new-found connectivity, the car can receive live updates about traffic and even know which parking spaces are free in a city centre. This will be fed through to the sat nav system, which will be programmable to automatically re-route you the quickest way, or the one that will help you use the least amount of fuel.
Your car goes social
The connected car has further advantages when you’re away from it too. We mentioned in our review of the Chevrolet Volt, that the phone app that goes with the car allows you to programme when it charges up, from wherever you are. That’s a key advantage for future cars which run on batteries, but it also means today that the car can alert you if the charge of the battery’s getting critically low, you’ve left lights on, or even if it thinks it’s being stolen.
Your phone becomes your car key
BMW may disagree, but most car manufacturers are hinting that your phone may become interchangeable with - or even replace - the car key. Detractors argue that it’ll make it easier for someone to steal your car or, more to the point, easier to strand yourself if you lose your phone, but it’s definitely on the cards and haven’t we been arguing for integration and single-device operability for ages now?
Sat Nav goes AR
Audi announced this was coming at its keynote at CES, so it was unsurprising to see BMW demonstrating a similar idea with the ConnectedDrive concept and Mini Rocketman in Geneva. Effectively, an augmented reality sat nav means a heads-up display projector will beam the turns you need to make onto the windscreen, so that as you look through it, they’re overlaid on the road, therefore showing you exactly which lane you need to be in, or just which one of the three close together turns is the one on you’re after.
While all of this might not sound quite as exciting as flying cars, and the visual differences they create may be fairly small, what all these examples show, is that the overall experience of owning and being in your car is going to become much more digital. Better yet, this isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff. You can already buy cars that act as Wi-Fi hubs, and cars that will unlock and start up via your mobile phone. And the rest, is literally just around the corner.
What else would you like to see in the next car you buy? Let us know in the comments.