Today's newest and coolest automotive technologies will be old hat in just a few short years. Big changes are coming to your car, the cars on the road next to you, and the automotive industry in general. The future is close, and in some cases, early versions of the technologies that will drive cars into the next decade are already here.
According to Forbes, the world's roads are currently home to 1.4 billion cars, all of which require a human operator -- all that is, except for a few automated "self-driving" novelty and experimental vehicles. By 2020, however, that number is expected to rise to 10 million driverless cars, judging by the amount of research and money currently being poured into the automated vehicle industry.
As driverless cars begin to dominate the roads, several industries that support the automobile sector are likely to vanish, according to Forbes. With experts predicting a 90 percent drop in accidents, insurance companies and body shops will dry up, as will jobs in trucking and parcel delivery services. As car ownership plummets -- thanks to the predicted arrival of driverless automated ride-sharing services -- so, too, could used car dealerships.
Digital Trends predicts that by the early 2020s, on-board Wi-Fi will be as common as AM/FM radios are today -- and your car will be part of a huge, moving network. Just as your smartphone can connect with any other mobile device, your car will be connected to the vehicles on the road alongside you. If a car several lengths ahead stops short, your car will receive a message to hit the brakes long before it's time to stop.
Head-up displays have kept drivers' eyes on the road for years, but the next generation of above-dashboard navigation and displays will likely be powered by augmented reality, which overlays your actual surroundings with digital images through your smartphone, tablet or, in this case, your head-up display.
The Atlantic recently predicted that one of the most notable changes coming to cars is the demise of the traditional layout and design. With cars automated, the familiar front seat/back seat configuration won't be needed, and "drivers" will be able to swivel to face their passengers. Other riders will swivel to indulge in on-board entertainment and media centers.
One of the first and most noticeable steps on the road to fully automated cars will be traffic jam assist technology -- and several automakers are already releasing early versions. Experts believe that in the future, self-driving cars will be able to find and maneuver the best route through traffic jams at speeds up to 35 mph, and eventually up to freeway speeds.
Of all the cars sold in 2016, just 1.1 percent were fully electric or hybrid plug-ins -- but that was a jump of nearly 60 percent over the year before. Electric cars are easier to maintain, more efficient, and far better for the environment than gas-burning cars -- but the batteries are still too expensive for the mainstream and hamper long-distance driving. All that, however, is changing. The New York Times predicts that the majority of all cars sold over the next decade will be electric cars with cheap but powerful batteries.
Hydrogen-fueled cars are nearly silent thanks to their lack of spark plugs and pistons, and their only exhaust is water vapor. So far, cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells are relegated to California, which is home to just 30 charging stations. By 2020, however, there will be 100 in the Golden State, and major automakers are already planning to expand fuel-cell vehicle sales to the East coast. The New York Times predicts the clean, efficient technology will be mainstream within the next decade.
That familiar pointy, jagged hunk of metal you use to start your car might soon be a thing of the past. Volvo already introduced a keyless car -- and the technology is expected to take off. More than just the push-button ignition that's been available for years, keyless cars will be opened, locked and operated through smartphones, apps, and Bluetooth.
In the near future, your car might have the ability to scan your face and make adjustments according to behaviors it detects in your eyes. If it senses that your pupils have shifted away from the road when you adjust the radio, for example, it could engage automatic settings. According to Men's Journal, the all-electric Porsche Mission E Concept will have these functions -- along with outrageously swift acceleration -- by 2020.
The inevitability of flying cars has been promised to generations of drivers dating back to at least "The Jetsons" -- and probably before. Don't hold your breath. History has shown that hybrids -- like boat/planes and car/boats -- don't work. Hybrids that perform well enough to be safe and reliable in both specialty functions are affordable -- but only to the military. The average consumer will never have the cash to buy a car/plane that isn't both a terrible car and a terrible plane at the same time.