Science

3 Existing Technologies That Will Revolutionize Cars of the Future

It's hard to believe how far transportation technology has come in just a few years. At the beginning of the 21st century, cities around the world were choking due to extremely polluted air, and efficient public transit only existed in the most densely populated cities.

Today, concern for the environment has driven development of cleaner and greener transportation systems, and public as well as private groups are working hard to connect cities like never before — for example, Elon Musk is hard at work on a hyperloop that would make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles just 30 quick minutes.

However, perhaps the most notable innovations are seen in our personal vehicles. In the year 2000, the most fuel-efficient car on the road boasted only about 30 miles per gallon of gas — and that was on highways under ideal conditions.

Today, some hybrid-electric cars can travel upwards of 130 miles on a single gallon of fuel, all while running fantastic entertainment systems. Still, even greater car innovations are on the horizon — any many have their roots in tech that already exists in cars on the road right now. Here's a glimpse of the car of the future.

Hydrogen Fuel

Today, the majority of automobiles run on petroleum gasoline, which — aside from being increasingly expensive and hazardous to acquire — is death to global environments. Traditional car exhausts spew all sorts of toxic pollutants into the air, including greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and more. Thankfully, a cleaner solution exists: Hydrogen.

Hydrogen is the simplest element, and it is full of energy. In fact, NASA has used liquid hydrogen fuel to power space shuttles since the 1970s. Currently, land-based fuel cell vehicles can travel more than 300 miles without refilling, which is much farther than electric vehicles and only a smidge less than the most advanced hybrid engines.

Regardless of the distance traveled, the most plentiful emission produced by hydrogen engines is regular, clean water. Plus, hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe, existing naturally in nearly every compound on earth, from water to natural gas to all living things. Thus, there is no shortage of hydrogen for humans to cultivate for fuel.

Electric car–proponent Elon Musk calls the idea of hydrogen-powered vehicles "incredibly dumb," but nearly every other car expert is ecstatic over the development of hydrogen fuel cells. Already, Honda, Toyota, and other car brands have plans to release hydrogen cars during the coming year — but only in select regions where hydrogen pumps are available.

Shared Vehicles

Perhaps not a technology but rather a technique, car sharing is swiftly revolutionizing how people buy and use cars. To participate, members of car sharing communities pay small monthly fees to gain access to personal vehicles when they need them — and when they don't, they can use public transit or other green transportation options. Ultimately, the service reduces the number of cars on the road at any time, reduces the need for parking lots, and reduces emissions and other harmful environmental effects of automobiles.

In dozens of ways, car sharing is revolutionizing the automobile industry. The growing popularity of car sharing programs throughout the world's cities is helping car manufacturers rethink their models for producing and selling vehicles. Today, most major manufacturers have partnered with ride- and car-share providers in anticipation of a public shift away from personal vehicle ownership and toward the sharing economy. Plus, car sharing fleets are easier to adapt to changing environmental regulations and green technologies — like hydrogen fuel cells — so drivers and manufacturers alike can become more eco-friendly, as soon as possible.

Hands-Free Driving

Most everyone these days is aware of the imminent release of driverless vehicles. In cities around the globe, robot cars are already zipping around streets, conveying eager test passengers from point A to point B. Experiments with autonomous vehicles date back in earnest to the 1920s, beginning with radio-controlled cars and rocketing ahead in the '90s with fully independent flying drones. By the 2010s, most cars had some feature that would contribute to autonomy, such as hands-free parallel parking or blind-spot sensors.

Some car manufacturers, a bit overeager in their estimations, believed to have driverless cars available to the public by 2018 — meaning the end of this year. However, most conservative estimates suggest we won't see any non-test robot cars on the road until 2020. Still, the hands-free revolution is already in full-swing, and the car of the future is almost here.

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