Cars of tomorrow

When discussing concept cars, most people are probably disappointed we still do not have flying cars like in "The Jetsons." Despite the lack of aerial mobility in current vehicles, most cars should nonetheless experience a revolutionary makeover in design and functionality during the coming years. According to a recent survey from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, most respondents expect cars produced in the coming years to lack rearview mirrors, horns, steering wheels or even gas and brake pedals.

Envisioning the cars of tomorrow
The IEEE surveyed more than 200 researchers, government agencies, academicians and more about what they expected from vehicle designs in the coming years. However, the respondents also stated that legal liability, policymakers and consumer acceptance will be the biggest hurdles to mass adoption of driverless cars, while overall costs, infrastructure and the technology itself were also listed as potentially smaller obstacles. Fundamentally life-changing technology will also be viewed with skepticism and doubt, and it will take time for the Powers That Be to implement the necessary laws and policies needed to ensure the proper use of these features to benefit everyone.

While the respondents envisioned a day when these features will be incorporated in most vehicles, it will still most likely be some time until we reach that day. The majority of respondents said vehicles will have rearview mirrors, horns and emergency brakes until 2030, with the removal of steering wheels and gas/brake pedals by 2035. By the time cars will have these features, more than 75 percent of the respondents believe all 50 U.S. states will have legislation on the books permitting driverless vehicles on the roads.

As both the technology advances and manufacturers accept the driverless trend, the consumer adoption timetable speeds up. This is making the scientific community and car manufacturers work closer together, with the intention of mass-producing driverless cars in the near future.

According to the the survey, 56 percent of respondents indicated sensor technology for identifying other vehicles and obstacles on the road as the most important feature in the advancing technology. Following that, 48 percent of respondents voted for software, while Advanced Driver Assistance Systems received 47 percent and GPS systems had 31 percent of the vote as to what aspects are most instrumental in developing driverless vehicles.

The importance of sensors
Christoph Stiller, IEEE member and professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, said that for driverless cars to make autonomous, calculated decisions, they are reliant upon a constant, real-time stream of information about the road and the surrounding conditions it's driving through.

"Sensors are one of the most important and trusted technologies for advancing perception scenarios," said Stiller. "Sensors are small, non-intrusive, and offer reliable data. Also, sensor technology is relatively cheap and will be influential in creating affordable driverless vehicles."

In addition to sensors, cars need fully fleshed and highly accurate digital maps of the road to safely reach any destinations without human interference. Seventy-four percent of respondents believe a complete digital map of the world will exist in the next 15 years, or roughly the same time that the available technology and government regulations will allow driverless cars on the roads.

Concepts becoming a reality
While these vehicles are still the twinkle in an engineer's eye, many of the features are currently being rolled out and tested in a variety of concept cars.

For instance, most states require a rearview mirror for vehicles. However, Tesla's Model X, expected to hit the market in early 2016, will not have sideview mirrors, which will be replaced by cameras, InsuranceJournal reported. Meanwhile, two of Nissan's latest concept cars - the ESFLOW and Ellure - forego rearview mirrors and instead utilize cameras in their place.

The Auto Alliance, an association comprised of 12 vehicle manufacturers, recently petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow car producers to install cameras instead of mirrors. Advocates say removing mirrors will reduce the vehicles drag, thereby improving fuel economy. In addition, the cameras should provide increased assistance for elderly motorists with limited upper-body mobility.

Several concept cars have already removed the steering wheel and pedals, including the Mercedes Benz cl600 and Toyota's PM. Car manufacturers are testing new ideas for replacing the steering wheel, including a touch screen and standard wheel controls.

Perhaps one of the most significant feature experts anticipate is the advent of vehicle-to-vehicle as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. As intersections become equipped with sensors, cameras and radars that can speak with the autonomous vehicles, it can help monitor traffic flows, significantly reduce collisions and could potentially eliminate the need for traffic lights and stop signs.

While many of these features are still a ways off into the future, the next 15 years will dramatically alter the vehicle and infrastructure landscape. In the meantime, as we wait for our flying cars, motorists need to ensure they have the proper auto insurance coverage.

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