The future is electric. The future is autonomous. The future is thrilling, daunting, awe-inspiring and deeply disconcerting.
The future is also already here.
While other auto shows have dabbled in theorizing on what tomorrow might bring, the Paris Motor Show had the air of the exciting, dazzling, futurist wonder festivals of the past.
And while those visions for the future were often wrong – there there are no rocket-powered cars or fins these days – some of the tropes remain.
Glass-domed cockpits have given way to glass-walled passenger cabins, complete with electrically charged panels that can switch from clear to opaque, and even project a nicer, more palatable image of the exterior into the car. Don’t like the concrete barriers and wasteland scenery alongside your local highway? Press a button and BOOM, now it’s a beautiful forest.
The future of electric vehicles opens up a raft of packaging possibilities too. Volkswagen Auto Group demonstrated their visions for the future and pointed out that a lack of an internal combustion engine or mechanical steering column means you can fit the children up front, should you so desire. This means no more shoulder strains, because you won’t have to twist around and reach back to confiscate whatever toy they’re bitterly fighting over anymore.
Without a big lump of iron and combustible fluids to drill into the cabin, better crash structures allow the kids to get the good view.
And while we’re at it, the conventional seating arrangements can all be thrown out too. Why not have a wrap-around seat, allowing everyone to face each other and interact, once the car has taken over driving duties. Or face each other and poke away at theirsmart phones, as the case is more likely to be.
Speaking of phones, not too far from now you’ll plug your smartphone or your tablet into the dash and watch the car come alive. Phones are wallets, cameras, passports and everything else these days, why not car keys too?
In the future, steering wheels will be transformers. The Volkswagen I.D. steering wheel sinks back seamlessly into the dashboard while the Renault Trezor concept featured a wheel that splits in two and moves to the side, like cinema curtains, when the car is in autonomous mode. This gives a better view of the instrument cluster and dashboard – which will probably be playing a nostalgic movie about when people used to use steering wheels to actually steer the car.
Augmented reality was said so much in Paris it was almost a drinking game. And marques like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volvo are already offering enhanced night vision that highlights and draws attention to animals, pedestrians and cyclists that might otherwise be hidden in the dark. You can expect head-up displays and information overlays to be enhanced even further in the future. Street signs and traffic signals will all be able to broadcast directly into your augmented windscreen display.
Some of these visions for the future are exciting. The idea that side mirrors will be replaced by cameras and little video screens in the door panels is a neat one, for example. But some of them are less so. When the autonomous cars take over, you might not ever drive a car again. Driving will be relegated to quaint Virtual Reality displays in some pristine museum somewhere.
Let’s hope not.
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