Futuristic Car Features We Could See in the Next Decades (And One We Won't)

Cruise Chevrolet Bolt Self-Driving Car

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Cruise Chevrolet Bolt Self-Driving Car
Smith Collection/Gado/Contributor/Getty

The Road to the Future is Paved

We’ve come a long way from the first autos with vehicles that are now far, far safer and smarter than their predecessors. Innovations such as automatic emergency braking, land-departure, and blind-spot warnings, rear-view-assist cameras, and adaptive headlights are now standard equipment on many models, along with ever-evolving improvements in airbag technologies. What’s likely to be in your next car? Here are a few ideas for what might be waiting in your future ride.

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IAA 2021 Munich Auto Show
Jan Hetfleisch/Stringer/Getty

More Giant Screens

When: Your ride is here

Big touchscreens are becoming more common in new vehicles, but several automakers are already working on replacing whole dashboards with interactive screens that can deliver loads of data, virtually eliminating knobs and buttons. The stunning 56-inch Hyperscreen — combining an instrument cluster for the driver, a center touchscreen, and a passenger display — is available on the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS luxury electric sedan. 

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Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 display at a dealership. Chevy offers the Silverado in street, commercial and off-road models.

Teen Driver Technology

When: Your ride is here

General Motors has offered this interesting bit of tech since 2015, according to J.D. Power, in an effort to coach young drivers. The in-car program helps combat “unwise driving decisions such as not fastening seat belts, speeding, and playing loud music, resulting in distracted driving.” It generates a report card for parents after every encounter. Will it catch on with other automakers? Stay tuned.

Related: Teen Survives Tornado in Chevy Silverado

Ford Mustang Mach-E
Ford Media Center

Phone as a Key

When: Your ride is here

Lots of today’s vehicles allow you to do remote start or lock the doors remotely via an app, but some automakers — including Ford and Lincoln — now have models that let you use your phone as an electronic key fob. It may not be a big advancement, but this “PaaK” technology would mean one less thing to carry around.

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Parallel Parking Will Become a Lost Art

Parallel Parking

When: Your ride is here

As early as 2013, the Hartford Courant was lamenting the death of what had been the bane of new drivers for generations: parallel parking. Thanks to the arrival of computerized parking assist aides, the writing was already on the wall that parallel parking was going the way of cursive handwriting. Self-parking cars are a reality, and by the end of this decade you'll be hard-pressed to find a nervous driver realigning to attack a tight parking spot from a better angle as a line of frustrated drivers watches from behind.

Your Car Will Study Your Face ... And Act Accordingly
SDI Productions/istockphoto

Cars That Respond to Your Face

When: Your ride is here

Many Americans already use their faces to unlock their phones and gain entry to their computers, and facial recognition software is widely in use by everyone from airport officials to law enforcement agencies. In 2018, Hyundai's luxury Genesis brand used biometrics and facial recognition in a new kind of car. The result gave a glimpse into a future where a driver enters a vehicle, is scanned and recognized as the owner. The car turns on, personalizes the authorized driver's settings, and sets the radio, climate control, and seats to his or her liking.

Increased Cybersecurity Will Be Required to Prevent Vehicle Hacking

More Cybersecurity Against Car Hacking

When: Your ride is here

In 2015, a Jeep Cherokee was doing 70 mph when the driver lost all control over the air-conditioner, which started blowing cold air full force. The stereo began blasting hip-hop full volume, and the driver couldn't turn it down or off. Nor could he control the wipers and wiper fluid when they uncontrollably sprung to life. The driver, luckily, was part of an experiment to see if hackers could take control of a car via laptop.

As it turns out, they can — including brakes, steering, and transmission systems. That was 2015. Today's new cars are already far more connected, far more automated, and far more vulnerable to hacks normally associated with computers. Attacks such as the one on the Jeep are extreme-case scenarios, but today's automakers already employ a vast and expensive array of cybersecurity measures because car hacking is real and will only get worse.

Automated Emergency Braking Will Become Standard

Automated Emergency Braking

When: Your ride is here

Automated Emergency Braking arrived in the mid-2000s but was available only in limited or higher-end models. That, however, is changing. In 2016, 20 major automakers reached an agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make AEB standard  by Sept. 1 on nearly all new passenger cars sold.

Michelin at IAA 2021
Michelin at IAA 2021 by Alexander Migl (CC BY-SA)

Airless Tires

When: Around the corner

Michelin has been working on an advancement that takes advantage of 3D printing to produce an airless tire. Its Uptis (Unique Puncture-proof Tire System) tire is slated to be offered as early as 2024, allowing drivers to “adapt the tires according to their driving, seasonal weather conditions, and to self-maintain the general health of the tire,” according to the 3D Printing Industry website.

Close up of driver hands holding steering wheel driving car with blurred city street lights on background at night

Driver Sensors

When: Around the corner

With all of the cameras on the outside of cars now, how about more on the inside — ones that can detect when you’re “angry, sad, happy, hot, or tired to adjust the temperature in the car or suggest taking a driving break,” car-sharing company Avail says. 

Airbags Will Stop Cars, Not Bodies
MAT Foundry Group

Airbags That Stop Cars

When: Around the corner

Ford and General Motors adopted airbags in the 1970s, and in the decades since, the exploding pillows have saved countless lives and evolved into standard safety features. They're evolving further: Mercedes-Benz has developed working airbags that deploy not in the car, but under the car. Instead of stopping bodies from smashing into windows and dashboards, they blast out from the front axle when the car senses an imminent crash, lifting the front of the car and stopping the vehicle as a sort of super-emergency brake.

heads up display of vehicle. touch screen of car front glass. automotive technology.

Augmented Reality

When: Around the corner

Unlike virtual reality, which is totally immersive, augmented reality overlays visual data on top of the reality you actually see taking place in front of your eyes. In the case of cars, that happens through your windshield. AR hit the big time with the arrival of Pokemon Go, but it's coming to cars — and not in mobile video-game form. The 2020 GMC Sierra already offers an AR rear camera display; BMW iX models are getting a more full-fledged version, it was announced in February; and it's all but certain that in the coming decade, windshield-based AR displays will overlay GPS mapping over the actual road and scenery in front of you.

Traffic Jam Assist Will Go Mainstream

Traffic Jam Assist

When: Around the corner

Audi's traffic-jam assist feature is part of a suite of sensor-assisted technologies that gather information about surrounding traffic conditions and react to it automatically. A sophisticated laser scans the landscape and reports its findings back to the vehicle, which provides steering, braking, and throttle adjustments to get drivers safely through traffic jams. The bane of the American commuter, traffic jams are likely to become less stressful as this now-elite technology enters the mainstream in the coming decade.

Bosch development center at the airfield Renningen-Malmsheim
Bosch development center at the airfield Renningen-Malmsheim by Hobby-Fotograf2013 (CC BY-SA)

Smart Sun Visors

When: Down the road

Bosch has been working on a transparent LCD visor that uses facial recognition technology to darken areas selectively to shade your eyes, allowing you to see more of the road ahead. The idea was recognized at the Consumer Electronics Association Innovation Awards in 2020. No word when — or if — this bright idea will go into production.

Your Car Will Monitor Your Health

Cars That Monitor Health

When: Down the road

Ford and a German company have collaborated on developing what the automaker is calling Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. The technology embeds sophisticated sensors in a very special kind of driver's seat: When the driver sits down, the car instantly begins monitoring the driver's health. An electrocardiography reader measures heart health, a glucose reader monitors blood sugar, and the results are displayed instantly on the dashboard. In the coming decade, cars could become rolling home health aides.

Volvo Penta Vara
Volvo Penta Vara by Mangan2002 (CC BY-SA)

Energy-Storing Body Panels

When: Down the road

Better battery storage means better range for electric vehicles and hybrids. The option of using body panels to collect and store energy is gaining traction, providing an alternative to larger primary batteries. HotCars.com says the idea would replace a car’s roof, doors, and hood with panels that could store energy generated by the car. The carbon fiber panels also would mean a lighter vehicle, increasing efficiency.

Cruise Chevrolet Bolt Self-Driving Car
Smith Collection/Gado/Contributor/Getty

Autonomous Driving

When: Down the road

This might be the Holy Grail of future vehicles. Drivers have long looked toward the day the car would do the driving for them — a day getting closer all the time, eventually making everyone in the vehicle a passenger. It could lead to the end of the steering wheel, which is going to be tough for many to wrap their heads around. “In states such as California and Florida, companies such as Google and Uber have begun testing prototypes and have seen significant success,” HotCars.com says.

Your Car Will Respond to Your Brainwaves

Car That Respond to Brainwaves

When: Down the road

There's been a lot of talk about the role of artificial intelligence and the future of automobiles, but Nissan has taken things a step further with attempts to connect the human brain to the cars those humans drive. The automaker's brain-to-vehicle technology uses physical sensors — currently worn on the head — that let the car know what the driver is about to do when driving in manual mode. When the car switches to autonomous mode, the vehicle detects when the driver is anxious or nervous about the way the car is being piloted. Although it sounds like something from a science-fiction movie, it's actually in the works as a practical application right now.

Headrest DVDs in Cadillac Escalade
Headrest DVDs in Cadillac Escalade by Michael Sheehan (CC BY)

More Entertainment Options

When: Down the road

There have long been entertainment options in cars, right back to record players tested in cars starting in the 1950s. DVD players more or less became standard in high-end minivans as a way to amuse kids, and Tesla had to be forced to disable video games on its center console while cars were in motion. This goes further: At the point everyone becomes a passenger, riders will have a lot more time on their hands. That means wanting something to keep them occupied, and a trip to grandma’s house could turn into a family movie opportunity via streaming, hi-def video, or a chance for more gaming time.

Dep't Of Transportation Discusses Vehicle-To-Vehicle Communication Technology
Mark Wilson/Staff/Getty

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications

When: Down the road

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been working on this ”V2V” wireless communications system for some time to create a network that exchanges information about the speed and position of surrounding vehicles. NHTSA says it could “avoid crashes, ease traffic congestion, and improve the environment.” It’s also going to take a lot of cooperation between manufacturers and a massive network, making this a long-term program — but one that would be especially beneficial to driverless vehicles.

Flying Cars — You Still Won't Have One

Flying Cars

When: Up in the air

Flying cars have been promised to drivers dating back to at least "The Jetsons" in 1962 — and probably before. Don't hold your breath. History has shown that hybrids — such as boat/planes and car/boats — don't work. Hybrids that perform well enough to be safe and reliable in both specialty functions are affordable only to the military, and the average consumer will never have the cash to buy a car/plane that isn't a terrible car and a terrible plane at the same time.

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