We’ve blogged before about the future of the car, in terms of propulsion. However, now it is time to look ahead. Way ahead. Ignore the engine and think about the driving itself. Or not, as the case may be.
We visited the giant Automechanika show at the Birmingham NEC this week to check out all that is new in the automotive and aftermarket industry. It turns out, there is plenty of exciting things to see, as the whole marketplace is set for a seismic shift.
Two themes run rich throughout, automation and connectivity. Be it a fully automated, driverless, vehicle, or just elements of increased connectivity being applied to existing car models. Either way, this is happening and coming to a dealership near you someday.
Let’s start with the connected car. Our first seminar of the day is by Peter Coombes, who wonderfully explains that since the introduction of the car radio back in 1950, satnav has been the only real change in car technology since. Most car technology in terms of connectivity never got past the radio, until the last year or two, and now we are in hyper-drive.
The first thing to change in the car for most people will be the humble radio. It looks increasingly likely that FM and AM signals will be switched off. Many new cars come with DAB radio as standard, but as Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of SMMT, points out, many older cars do not. The aftermarket is positively rubbing its hands together with excitement of an FM switch-off in the UK. For now, there is no set date, but countries like Norway are aiming for as early as 2017.
But more than just your cars being connected to DAB Radio or to the internet, both of which are available now, we learnt from Peter Coombes again that cars will communicate a lot more with their surroundings. There are two methods, V2V and V2I. Vehicle 2 Vehicle will be when cars communicate to other cars on the road, for example, the car in front tells the car behind that it will slow down or speed up before it actually does. V2I is Vehicle to Infrastructure, cars talking to roadworks and traffic lights, before acting upon the changing conditions.
These local networks are needed to be in place before we see our autonomous car revolution. Most articles and predictions about autonomous vehicles are focused on the cars themselves, but the investment in the road infrastructure will also have to be immense. A tremendous opportunity for the motoring industry and exciting times, but also a voyage into the unknown.
Despite the perceived large leap that is needed, one company at Automechanika has already produced an Autonomous vehicle concept. RD Autonomous are offering their Pod Zero to be an automated vehicle that could be used at large exhibitions, or outside big venues, to transport people from connecting transport services. A small step, but a significant one nonetheless.
Will they succeed and will automation be the future? Our prediction is maybe not in our lifetime. But companies such as Google will at least create and licence out elements of automation to be added to our existing cars as a stepping stone within the next 10 years. Whatever happens, to quote FIAT Chrysler Automobiles head, Sergio Marchionne, “This industry is at a crossroads, I don’t think any of us has an idea as to what the right answer is”. All you need to do is sit back, relax and watch the cars you know and love change into something very different indeed. Oh, and Marchionne, he’s given Google a bucket load of free Chrysler’s to test with…
Browse our extended photo album from the day, by clicking here.
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