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Timeline of Car Technology

Science-fiction writers may have been promising us flying cars for decades, but we’re not quite there yet. That doesn’t mean we aren’t moving forward, though. Road technology has evolved since the first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line, and it has grown dramatically in the last 10 years. We now have rear view cameras and connected, autonomous vehicles. Watching this technology change begs the question: Where have we been, and where are we going?

The Car of 2009

In 2009, car designers focused on two things: improvement and safety.

This year saw the first introduction of the safety equipment we take for granted today. Cars started coming equipped with rear-mounted radar to prevent accidents while in reverse, and BMW rolled out the world’s first heat-sensing pedestrian detection. Some vehicles came equipped with night vision to pinpoint pedestrians on the road ahead, and automatic high beams that would sense when there was oncoming traffic and shut off.

During this year, many car manufacturers started implementing parental control options to put the minds of those with new drivers at ease. Ford’s MyKey system enabled people to limit speed and audio volume and alerted them if teens weren’t using their seatbelts. GPS tracking let parents monitor their new drivers, and informed them if they were speeding or driving somewhere they weren’t supposed to.

The federal government also passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, which allocated $2 billion for electric vehicle development. This was also the year that turbocharged engines started to become more affordable, as Ford and GM added them to their less expensive models.

2009 was the start of the connectivity movement for automotive manufacturers. While they weren’t connected to one another, cell phone technology allowed you to turn your car into a hotspot while you were driving. AT&T brought its CruiseCast satellite TV service with 22 channels into your backseat, and more than 80% of vehicles in 2009 were Bluetooth-enabled. Ford brought the first voice-activated infotainment system to its cars in 2009 as well, with sports, weather, traffic and navigation accessible through voice commands.

Many car manufacturers also started launching new cars with driver-capability technology. Hyundai released vehicles with lane-assist to warn drivers if they were drifting out of their lane, and Mercedes Attention Assist helped to determine if someone was too tired to be behind the wheel by measuring things like speed, lateral acceleration, steering wheel angle and pedal use.

The Car of 2019

Now that we’ve made it to 2019, what we want from our cars has changed. The focus has shifted from improvement and safety to connectivity and autonomy.

We don’t have fully autonomous cars yet, but there are plenty of vehicles on the market that can steer, change lanes and parallel park themselves without any input from the driver. Adaptive cruise control keeps you from hitting the brakes by matching the speed of the car in front of you, and automatic emergency braking (AEB) can engage the brakes if it detects you might hit something.

Cameras on every side of the car provide a top-down 360-degree view to improve driver safety and make autonomy easier to achieve.

Superchargers and turbochargers are becoming standard equipment on the car of 2019. Turbochargers can increase an engine’s efficiency and power by up to 40%.

In 2019, manual transmissions are fading to obscurity, being replaced by automatic alternatives. Many new vehicles come equipped with continuously variable transmissions, or CVTs, which use pulleys instead of gears to handle the engine-to-wheel speed ratios. Dual clutch transmissions can give you the versatility of a manual with the convenience of an automatic.

Diesel fuel has changed over the years, and the engines that use it are cleaner and more efficient than ever. Low-sulfur diesel fuel creates fewer greenhouse gases and is more energy efficient.

2019 is the year of connectivity, building on what started in 2009. Most car manufacturers have some sort of mobile app that allows drivers to lock and unlock their vehicles remotely, monitor fuel levels and tire pressure, and even remotely start the car. Both major smartphone operating systems — iOS and Android — have similar car interface systems.

Programs like The Enlightened Apps can help predict the frequency and duration of stop lights, drawing on local traffic center and GPS data. Some new vehicles are even Alexa-enabled, allowing the driver to make calls, get directions, write texts or play songs through voice commands.

Onboard safety equipment has changed with the times. Chevrolet’s Teen Driver feature provides parents with a driving report card that tells them if any safety systems were engaged. Technology has also increased stolen vehicle recovery, since many new models come with GPS tracking as standard equipment. Rear sensors alert drivers if there is a cyclist or pedestrian behind them, even if the car is off, to avoid hitting them with doors.

The Car of 2029

We’ve come so far in the last decade. Where will the next one take us? The focus will likely shift again, from connectivity and autonomy to customization and digitization.

By 2030, more than a quarter of all vehicles in the United States will be electric. Direct injection engines will also continue to increase, and we’ll also see more predictive technology being used. Driver data will help to personalize and automate the set-up experience in new cars, and it will also alert the owner when maintenance is necessary. This level of connectivity can also inform drivers if any recalls or safety hazards impact their vehicle.

In the next 10 years, we may also have fully self-driving cars. The technology is advancing every year, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll be able to drive to and from work without ever touching the steering wheel, or ride in cars that don’t have them at all.

Key fobs will continue to advance as well, displaying fuel or battery life information without having to even get into the vehicle. Windshields will likely become holographic heads-up displays to bring pertinent information up to eye level without obscuring the driver’s view of the road.

3D printing technology might allow drivers to design and print their own custom cars. It also won’t be possible to buy a vehicle that’s not connected to the internet. AI and machine learning will take over the automotive industry and will turn cars into functional IoT devices. 5G mobile internet will be the foundation for this — we’re already getting close to the introduction of 5G, so it may even advance further than that in the next decade. This ultra-fast connection will allow nearly instantaneous data transfer between vehicles on the road.

We’ll also see more cars-as-a-service, especially as autonomous technology continues to advance. Instead of calling a taxi or an Uber, you’ll be able to hail a driverless car as soon as 2025 to get you where you need to go.

The car of the future is already nearly here, at least when it comes to safety. Automatic emergency braking will be standard equipment on all vehicles by 2020. Advances in camera technology will also allow for better night vision, pedestrian detection and rear cross-traffic alerts.

Where Are We Going?

We’ve come so far in the last hundred years or so since the Model T rolled off the assembly line that it’s hard to imagine automotive technology going any further, but we might be surprised. We’re a ways off from flying cars, but the vehicle of the future is nearly here, and things are looking bright.

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