T3 Big Read: the tech that will shape your car of the future

While we all love the sounds and smells of fossil-burning engines – you can't beat a naturally aspirated V8– it's not sustainable for humans to keep using them for our everyday vehicles. So consumers are bracing themselves for a new dawn of transportation; but with global manufacturers experimenting with different solutions, no one is quitesure of what the future holds.

The smart money is on all-electric vehicles being the dominant force. When you look at what Tesla is achieving as a relatively small car maker – the Model S is phenomenally impressive – you can only imagine what will be in store when all thebig brands get on board. However, while the Model S manages up to265 miles on a single charge, someof the lower-end electric vehicles currently fall short of a hundredmiles, and that'll need to be improved before EVs truly win the public over.

Honda and Toyota are among the manufacturers that are thinking outside the box. While both brands produce EVs, both have also been working on a solution involving hydrogen power – though for the time being at least, we're nowhere near an infrastructure that could sustain that.

Hybrid tech

Whichever way it goes, it's fair tosay that we're still some way off universally replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with ones that run on sustainable energy. There's always a certain degree of apprehension when it comes to revolutionary tech, andin the case of electric vehicles, the aforementioned range limitations, coupled with the fact that charging stations are not as ubiquitous as they need to be, means that public hearts and minds still need to be won over.

As an interim compromise, the next ten years or so could see a boom in hybrid combustion-electric vehicles. Renault's EOLAB is perhaps the best example of what we might have onour driveways over the next decade. Despite it being a multi-million-pound concept testbed, Renault hasn't kept the car a closely guarded secret,but has had it out there for industry experts to test drive. And so far, opinions have been positive: whileit offers huge efficiency gains (it'lldo around 60 miles on a litre of fuel),it shows no compromise in terms of drivability, and has been compared
to a latter-day supermini.

For the EOLAB, Renault focused on the combined challenge of shedding weight, improving aerodynamic efficiency, utilising hybrid power and keeping costs down sufficiently to place the EOLAB – or, rather, production descendants of it – in the 'affordable cars' bracket. The prototype is based around the 74bhp, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine you'll currently find inside the Renault Twingo, only here it's mated to a 64bhp electric motor. The EOLAB's body is 255kg lighter and 30 per cent more slippery throughthe air than a Clio, thanks to active aerodynamics. Other features include a massive HMI display inside, and iPhone-sized screens for wing mirrors.

The word on the street is that the prototype's technology, and up to 90 per cent of its components, will appear in future Renault cars, transforming Clios, Meganes et al into entirely different beasts. So you can see what sort of tech will be considered 'normal' in years to come – exciting, isn't it?

Self-driving cars

But the holy grail among automobile manufacturers is the self-driving car.All the big boys – including Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz – are keen to show how far they've come with the tech, waving wildly while pointing at their efforts. However, the battle is being won by a much more softly spoken player. Volvo claimsthat its XC90 SUV is ready to rollright now. The Swedish manufacturer plans to put a hundred of them onthe road in 2017. A hundred. Onpublic roads. The year after next.

Bask in the glow of that for a minute…

Using 28 cameras, sensors,lasers and radar units, the XC90 will be able to do everything that youor I can do in a car, short of talking crap and drinking a Starbucks. Volvo claims that the system is reliable enough “to take over every aspectof driving in autonomous mode”, which basically means it'll be able to accelerate, brake, steer, read road signs and navigate its way through moving traffic.

Wheeling good

No matter how technologically advanced cars of the future maybe, there will always be people who require a healthier or more individual mode of transport.Cyclists are being catered for more andmore in cities around the world. In Copenhagen,the construction of an elevated roadway justfor two-wheelers – the Cykelslangen – has seen the number of commuters who pedal to work riseto more than 50 per cent. Paris is aiming to build 700km of new cycle paths by 2020, and London is hot on their heels.

If you don't fancy pedalling (and you'renot sold on electric bicycles), you might be interested in Toyota's i-Road: a one-person three-wheeler that goes around corners like a speed-skater, with the two front wheels moving up and down independently. To further develop the concept, Toyota recently launched the Open Road Project in Tokyo. Ten i-Roads have been made available to a group of100 participants – from everyday members ofthe public to expertsand 'trendsetters' –who will then be askedfor their feedback on usability and styling. They will even be given the chance to personalise different aspects of the vehicle via 3D printing – which, of course, opens up a world of possibilities in terms of bespoke styling.

Another concept showcased by Toyota recently was the space-age FV2. Billed as a “personal transportation pod”, it sees the driver shifting around the cabin to control the car, and important information being projected onto the windscreen using facial- recognition commands.A frown caused by awful radio broadcasts might induce you to brake suddenly, so be careful what you listen to… Stylistically, the FV2 is quite reminiscent of the Sinclair C5. So Sir Clive was obviously ahead of the curve with his battery- powered fascination…

Smart mobility

Mobility of the future is going tobe less about owning your own carand more about how you can getto where you want to go in smart ways. At CES this year, Ford's CEO Mark Fields announced that the marque was kicking off 25 global experiments to look specifically into smart mobility, and what our needs and trends will be in the years to come.

In London, for example, Ford is looking at introducing minute-by-minute car hire, where you'll booka hybrid or electric vehicle, pick it upat a collection spot and then drive itto your destination across town. Allof this will be conducted via an appon your phone, and you'll only get charged for the time you're in the car.

Another experiment is taking place at a golf course near Ford's HQ in Dearborn, Michigan. Golf carts are being collected from out on the course and remotely driven back to their base by an operator located in a bunker, using screens and controls – a bit likea drone pilot, only less threatening.
If a company like Ford is lockedinto finding smart transport solutions, you can rest assured that big moneyis being pumped into implementing such initiatives on a grand scale. Allof which makes the future of mobility rather mouthwatering – and if we can save money, and the environment,
in the process, even better.

If you think all of that's amazing, just think what could be in storefor the automobile industry a further eight years down the line. Maybe the Doc had it spot on when he said, at the end of Back To The Future, “Where we're going, we don't need roads.”