Reading this article on the Economist recently got me thinking on the possibilities of the future. While movies such as the Fifth Element have thrown a glimpse at the future where cars operate in air without the need for roadways, a very feasible scenario is developing on the existing roadways. The connected car as described in the article is capable of understanding the distance between itself and other vehicles on the road, does not need a driver and creates a an accident-free on-road experience as the possibility of human error while driving is removed. It is another story that the possibility of human error now resides in the hands of the Engineers who design and develop these driverless cars but let’s assume that we are able to achieve a degree of unparalleled safety via rigorous testing and years of prototyping. The scene depicted makes for compelling viewing – trucks would operate on their own criss-crossing the country as if on remote control. There would be a certain degree of predictability on delivery times as driverless trucks do not need to rest its tired human driver any more.
Car companies such as General Motors and Audi amongst many others have already demonstrated the capabilities of the car connected to a grid allowing for vital statistics to be uploaded to the central company data center for analysis and troubleshooting in the event of a breakdown. In some ways, the Formula 1 race cars are a pre-cursor to this technology – the cars continuously feed information back to the race engineers during the race allowing them to monitor various parameters ranging from fuel efficiency to heat mapping the engine. Car breakdowns in the middle of nowhere could be avoided with a judicious, non-intrusive way of predicting problems based on imperative data already collected. The ability to network the cars and provide guidance during a commute is an innovation and could well be a common feature in the cars of tomorrow.
There have been other developments happening in the connected car segment. The Acura sedan demonstrates how cars can now talk to each other and “tow” without the need for a physical connection between them. There are experiments underway to allow cars to find a parking spot in the radius of a few 100 metres by sending out signals to other cars in the parking lot. Studies report that in some urban cities in developed countries, about a third of the fuel consumption of the city is primarily spent in looking for a vacant parking spot. That is a staggering statistic. If the smart car can deliver even a small improvement such as the ability to find an empty parking spot, it would result in huge fuel and environmental savings. Any added advantage gained by self-parking is only an icing on the cake as things stand today.