The future of car technology

We look at the key trends and R&D potential in upcoming cutting edge automobile technology.

17 November 2017

Motion speed effect with City Night

By Gemma Monaghan, Innovation Funding Consultant

In 2008, the Government established the Climate Change Act (2008), a framework that set out a targeted and economically-credible plan to reduce current and future emissions, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 % of 1990 levels by 2050.

In attempts to achieve this, it has been announced that Britain is to ban the sales of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040.[1] In the interim, control initiatives are being introduced; London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan has announced a £10 T-Charge, applying to diesel and petrol vehicles registered before 2006, and affecting 34,000 motorists per month.[2] While strategies like these will help, the univocal solution is the evolution and revolution of automobile technology.  Key trends in the car industry include hybrid vehicles, autonomous driving and cars as a service.

Technological advancements are not straightforward; cars have over 150 electronic control units, hundreds of metres of cabling, thousands of mechanical parts and millions of lines of software. Further complexities come as research is conducted at the different levels of the supply chain – from Tier 1 suppliers to the OEMs themselves. Below, we look at the key trends and where some of the key pieces of research are likely being conducted.

Key trends and R&D potential

Hybrid Vehicles

A hybrid vehicle is one with more than one means of propulsion, which is typically a standard engine with an electric motor. The major advantages of these vehicles are lower fuel utilisation and lower CO2 emissions. However, major challenges continue to plague the progression of hybrid vehicles, and research is ongoing to make hybrid cars a more realistic solution:

  1. Reducing battery space and weight, for example, through integration into body panels.
  2. Developing more efficient battery solutions that can store energy and charge faster than conventional batteries.
  3. Developing mechanisms to capture, convert and store solar energy.
  4. Developing components from new materials, which may involve creation of tooling and large scale manufacturing processes.

Self driving cars

Self driving cars utilise a complex array of lasers, radars and cameras to gather information for subsequent analysis and action, which can happen in a fraction of the time taken for human processing. While these systems are evolving, as of today, no cars permitted on public roads are totally autonomous. Significant enhancements will need to occur, including:

  1. Automotive security – lives and safety are at stake, so through architectural developments and software-driven advances, systems must be robust against intervention.
  2. Connectivity – appreciable improvements are required in both speeds and reliability.
  3. Perception and localisation – enabling the car to recognise an object and know where it is, both accurately and in real time.

Augmented reality dashboards

 Augmented reality dashboards will be significantly more advanced that our current displays of GPS and speedometers, where information will be displayed real time on the identity of objects and key data, such as distance from your location. Achieving this is not straightforward, and both hardware and software development research is required to help realise AR dashboards as a reality, such as:

  1. Developing animations that remain steady when projected and do not distract the driver.
  2. Software development for the creation of high-resolution graphics at high frame rates.
  3. Development of compact projects with high-resolution displays, displaying more information than previously achievable.
  4. Creation of algorithms for improved scheduling and processing.