Back to the Future II
got it right, by 2015 flying cars will be whizzing across the
skyways of America -- in towns even as sleepy as Hill Valley. In
reality, the marketplace won't have a Hovercraft in two years.
Though plucky startups like
are hard at work trying to realize Robert Zemeckis' vision, the
near (alternate) future will have the average automobile buyer
settling for something a tad less lofty. We're in store for some
nifty standard features for sure, they'll just have be enjoyed on
all four wheels.
The airbag of tomorrow is just about here. No longer reserved for
luxury brands or in pricey options packages, safety systems that
use radar and camera sensors to keep cars at a safe distance from
those ahead, alert drivers of an impending crash, and automatically
apply the brakes in an emergency are destined to become as
ubiquitous as tensioned seatbelts.
Until recently, only the wealthy could afford to suffer from lead
foot or road-induced narcolepsy. But veer over Mercedes-Benz,
), and Audi. Consumers with more modest budgets (
between $30,000 and $40,000
) can currently shop for vehicles with collision-warning technology
in mainstream models like the
) Malibu, Subaru Legacy,
) Edge, Volvo S60, Toyota Prius, and
) Crosstour -- to name a half-dozen -- with many, many more to
Blind spots behind our cars reportedly take the lives of 228 people
on average every year in back-over accidents, and injure another
17,000. Well, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
intends to kick this problem to the curb. Beginning in January 2015
-- a date that was
from its original deadline of next year -- automakers will be
required to make rearview cameras standard equipment in all new
But eyes in the back of our cars are just the beginning. Get ready
for side cameras that activate automatically with a flip of the
turn signal, such as the
from Honda. And feast your eyes on
Around View Monitor
, offering a virtual, 360-degree scene above the car. Currently
ranging in sticker price from about $1,000 to $2500, with time and
higher demand these systems will fast become cheaper and more
Threatening to negate every well-intentioned safety feature in the
roadsters of the future is the fact that
) and Twitter are about to be sitting on the center console. And
with a real-time text-to-speech interface, our friends will get to
hear via our status updates about the telephone pole ahead, just as
we're barreling into it.
The 2.0 version of in-car connectivity came from the glitchy,
hardware-based, MyFord Touch platform, but General Motors is
leading the charge to bring 4G connectivity to the mass market. The
automaker's 2014 fleet of Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Opel,
and Vauxhall brands will come hardwired with Wi-Fi and Internet
capability, accessed via a subscription data plan with
Terrestrial and even satellite radio will eventually be pushed off
the dash in favor of systems that connect automatically to sites
(P) or the driver's
(AAPL) library. In April, a partnership between Ford and Spotify
gave drivers with a Spotify premium account the ability to plug
into their streaming music account via the Ford SYNC AppLink, which
Alternative energy options
375% jump in sales
of Ford's hybrid fleet between this year and last is any
indication, auto companies will increasingly be rolling greener
vehicles off their assembly lines. But the offspring of the first
generation of battery-run hybrids may face a rocky road if they
don't figure out how to gain power while dropping weight and shed
their eco-aloof lead innards.
These issues have ushered in an era of research into a variety of
alternative alternatives -- some of which are ready for prime time.
Smarter batteries comprised of both nickel metal hydride and
lithium-ion are being developed as well as body panels designed to
store energy and charge faster than conventional car batteries.
When Volvo launches its 2014 V60 plug-in hybrid in September,
consumers will be treated to the one of the most sci-fi car
accessories ever. The technological spectacle that is the
is a giant, fabric solar panel that will charge the V60 and then
conveniently fold up into its trunk. Just don't expect it to make
the dealer options list quite yet.
Most major car companies have been racing around the hydrogen track
for years, but the one that actually crossed the finish line is
probably the biggest long shot of the lot. This year
(OTCMKTS:HYMLF) produced the
first mass-produced fuel cell crossover
, currently available to city fleets in Europe with plans for a
consumer rollout by 2015. Toyota and Honda will likely share second
place -- also in 2015. Nissan is a not-too-distant third in 2017.
Sadly, the cars won't come anywhere near our shores without
stations to fill them up.
Now that we've settled comfortably into the Space Age -- the
Soviets having gotten the ball rolling with Sputnik some 56 years
ago -- our cars finally seem ready to venture into truly high-tech
territory. The heads-up display, or HUD, is as close, at least
visually, as we've come so far.
Projected on the windshield is a virtual dashboard displaying the
speed and engine RPM -- and even turn-by-turn navigation directions
and the speed limit -- directly in the driver's line of sight, and
thus keeping eyes peeled to the road.
HUD runs at a retail cost of about
and is, again, an option currently available only on the Cadillacs
of cars -- literally on the brand's 2013 models -- and other
high-end manufacturers like
(ETR:BMW). Over 800,000 cars with HUD units were sold worldwide in
2012, and that number is expected to increase tenfold over the next
But, right now, thanks to the GPS maker
(GRMN), even drivers behind the wheel of a Pinto can experience HUD
in a portable display unit, for only
Augmented reality dashboards
We're not there yet, but this little sister of HUD is hot on the
trail. Augmented reality, or AR, will project contextual
information -- from traffic data to objects on the road -- and
overlay it on top of what the driver is actually seeing through the
windshield. Think of it as
(GOOG) for your car.
So, when you're driving in Portland and you're not sure who that
bearded concrete giant is looming over the road ahead, AR will let
you know it's Paul Bunyan, pinpoint its precise distance from the
car, and offer to add it to your favorite places.
One of the first glimpses of AR was caught in prototype form at
last year's CES from
(OTCMKTS:DDAIF) and its
Dynamic and Intuitive Control Experience (DICE)
If you can hold out another 10 years for your next car purchase,
you could have access to the next best thing to a flying car.
Google hasn't spent the last several years tooling around Nevada,
California, and Florida in cars sporting cameras, radar, and laser
range finders (LIDAR) for the heck of it. The tech giant has been
rigorously testing and tweaking the self-driving car to meet safety
standards in preparation for its eventual debut.
Ford, one of the top contenders to deliver the product, thinks a
driverless utopia -- where cars communicate with one another,
rush-hour gridlock and traffic accidents are but a memory, and we
literally get to fall asleep at the wheel -- is
about a decade away
Until then, we'll have to settle for cars
that park themselves
, which is pretty cool too.
BMW's i3 Won't Outperform Tesla's Model S, but It
Still Offers Luxury-Brand Service
Living in a Post-Google Glass World: What the
'Explorer' Reviews Have Taught Us So Far
Google Shakes It Up With Chromecast