Imagine, if you will, that you are visited by a tall man wearing a white lab coat with wild hair, even wilder eyes, and a DeLorean. He insists that it is absolutely imperative that you accompany him in the DeLorean and time travel to the year 2020. Once you arrive, what would transportation in the future look like?
In case you missed it, October 21, 2015 is a notorious date in cinema history. It marks the date when in “Back to the Future Part II,” Doc Brown and Marty McFly famously transport from 1985 to October 21, 2015 in a time-traveling DeLorean. Released in 1989, the film provides insights into how the world viewed what the future would look like 20 years later.
The film was visionary in some of its prognostications on the future. The New York Daily News outlined the predictions that succeeded and failed in coming to fruition. The film predicted that citizens of the future would watch moving images on flat screen TVs and experience 3D images. The film also forecast holographic displays and video-conferencing technology. Unfortunately, some of the cool technology the movie portrayed has yet to come to pass: Americans are not yet commuting to work in flying cars and are still left to their own devices when it comes to tying their shoes.
As Doc Brown was unavailable, Forbes contributor Karl Brauer identified the top 10 car technologies he believes will be available in showrooms by the year 2020. Brauer, however, acknowledges how difficult it is to gaze into the automotive crystal ball by saying, “The rate at which technology is changing personal transportation accelerates every year, which can make predicting the arrival of future car tech a dicey proposition.” Nonetheless, the list includes autonomous vehicles, driver override systems, a four-cylinder super car, and reconfigurable body panels.
The very idea of driverless cars has sparked the media’s imagination and has been at the center of many conversations regarding the future of transportation. The reality, however, is murkier than the speculation. There are many questions regarding the viability of autonomous vehicles.
A study conducted by the University of California Berkeley identifies several logistical issues regarding autonomous driving. This study found that one of the top hesitations regarding autonomous vehicles included the surrender of control. In addition, several questions arise, such as will self-driving cars be allowed in the same lanes as normal car traffic or will there be a self-driving specific lane? Also, will older vehicles have the capability to be retrofitted with autonomous driving technology, or will it only be an option available on new vehicles?
Additionally, a recent AAA survey found that only 1 in 4 Americans feel comfortable with letting their vehicle parallel park itself. If a relatively small minority is comfortable with an infrequent aspect of the driving experience, it is difficult to imagine that in a mere five years Americans will be willing to let the car take over all aspects of driving.
Brauer’s article also identifies driver override systems and remote vehicle shutdown as potential top automotive features in 2020. While remote vehicle shutdown is already used by some (think OnStar), it remains unknown if the American consumer will welcome these features with open arms.
An interesting feature that the article foresees being available in the future is a four-cylinder “super car,” defined as a vehicle that is capable of achieving speeds in excess of 200 MPH with a 4-cylinder engine. With the perpetual evolution of efficiency and power found in the development of engines, it seems conceivable that a 4-cylinder engine will be capable of such explosive power.
Finally, the article identifies a possible advanced technology that furthers the movie motif: reconfigurable body panels that are reminiscent of the film “Transformers.” Essentially, this concept involves retracting lightweight body panels with stow-and-go seating. This Frankenstein monster would appear to be a pickup truck and an SUV rolled into one.
Outside of transformative developments on the time traveling front, it is impossible to tell with 100% certainty what the future will hold in regards to transportation. What is clear is that vehicle technology is evolving at an exciting rate. Just like those predictions from “Back to the Future Part II,” the consumer will determine the interest and application for new transportation technologies, and the automotive industry will follow.