Today’s cars come loaded with technology to keep us connected, safe and heading in the right direction. What are the hottest tech trends in the automotive world right now, and where will they go next?


EVs and AFVs

Electric vehicles (EVs) and alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) are the big news of the moment. Ever-stricter climate and pollution targets mean the automotive industry is endeavouring to further reduce overall tailpipe emissions, while motorists constantly strive for lower running costs.

With sales of fully electric vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids rising annually – and the decline of that previous go-to economy fuel, diesel – the popularity of cars that use battery power is growing. Other forms of alternative propulsion are also being extensively developed, including the use of hydrogen/fuel-cell power.

Alongside the research into and development of the vehicles themselves comes an increasingly established infrastructure.

Compatible hydrogen refuelling and mains charging points are appearing on highway and street networks.

Meanwhile, the distance an EV will travel on a single charge is rising with each new model, making the transition from traditional to new tech much more viable for the average motorist.

Find out more about driving electric here (https://www.drivingelectric.com/).


Car sharing

In this app-driven world, it’s no surprise that hiring a car at the touch of a screen has never been easier or more appealing.

These financially aware times mean the argument against going to the trouble and expense of private vehicle ownership is growing.

Ride-sharing smartphone apps such as Lyft (https://www.lyft.com/) and Uber (https://www.uber.com/gb/en/ride/) make the process simple. Smaller, individual car clubs have their own apps, too.


In-car interfaces

More than 20% of new cars are expected to be web-enabled by 2020. Among other things, this technology allows the use of artificial intelligence (AI) interfaces. These connected vehicles boast integrated tech that can act as a virtual personal assistant, offering downloadable apps and diary management.

AI enhances touchscreen infotainment and offers gesture and voice controls are all widely available across the automotive industry right now.


Smart vehicle technology

Easing congestion, reducing traffic accidents and potentially lowering insurance premiums are ongoing aims of the auto industry and infrastructure providers.

The proliferation of ‘smart’ cars will go a long way towards achieving these goals.

Enabling cars to communicate with each other independently using Wi-Fi on the highway via vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) tech enhances the driving experience. Meanwhile, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) tech uses similar communication with highway features such as roadworks, traffic lights and service stations.


Autonomous vehicles

As the automotive industry strives to make car travel safer and reduce the physical input human beings have on vehicle control, new technology means everyday self-driving machines are set to become a reality sooner rather than later. Development that started with the advent of cruise control in the 1950s has continued apace.

Even on basic models, clever driver-assist technologies such as radar, apps and cameras are now widely available. More specific systems developed by individual marques help keep a car safely in its lane and well away from other road users. Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) is also a common feature in dealer showrooms.

At present, an involved and alert driver still plays an imperative role in the use of autonomous tech, but how long will it be before we can genuinely sit back and relax as the computer brain takes the strain? That depends on a raft of technological and ethical questions being addressed, but the day is coming.


Smart motorways

In a bid to tackle the increasing levels of motorway traffic, a hi-tech smart motorway network is being installed. In simple terms, it means using the hard shoulder as a running lane for traffic, and it incorporates:

* All Lane Running: Sections where what was the hard shoulder is now a permanent lane for traffic, with variable speed limits.

* Dynamic Hard Shoulder: Converted to a running lane some of the time, with variable limits.

* Controlled Motorway: Hard shoulder remains out of commission for normal road users, and limits are variable.

Things can get complicated, but signage, overhead gantries, plus road lighting and markings help determine the regulations on any given stretch of smart motorway.

Regularly spaced Emergency Refuge Areas provide protection in the event of breakdowns.

The jury is still out whether this is a cheap but potentially unsafe way of improving traffic flow, or a practical and effective alternative to the time-consuming and costly option of widening the m-way network. But smart motorways are here to stay…