The basic elements of cars have not changed since the early vehicles produced at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The “motor car” (as it was commonly called back then) and modern day vehicles all rely on the internal combustion engine.
Although engine design has been refined over the last 100 or so years – making them faster, more efficient and more reliable – the underlying equipment is the same. The only exceptions to this are the recent development of electric cars by companies like Tesla and Toyota, along with an attempt in the 1950s by Chrysler to make a “turbine car”, which used the same type of jet engine as you’d find it a passenger jet.
However, this does not mean that technology is not important in vehicle design. Whilst the power unit has remained relatively the same, modern cars are packed with a lot of technology. In addition, the technology used to build these modern vehicles has advanced significantly over the years. Here is a look at some of the technology used today.
Virtual Reality (VR) technology has been one of the most talked about developments in the last five years, with some of the biggest names in technology getting involved, including Facebook, Microsoft and Google. Virtual reality has been used in many different industries such as:
- Healthcare – where it is used to help surgeons practice on virtual patients
- Education – enabling students to go on virtual field trips
- iGaming – in the likes of PokerStars VR, which provides a more immersive gaming experience.
As far as the automotive industry goes, VR is being incorporated into the vehicle design process. As human understanding of aerodynamics has evolved, vehicle shapes have adapted to ensure that our cars can slice through the air in the most efficient way possible, making them faster, quieter and more fuel efficient. Balancing aerodynamics with safety and style is a difficult task, making designing a brand new vehicle very time consuming work.
However, Microsoft and Ford have been working together to allow car designers to collaboratively change a car’s appearance in virtual reality, speeding up review times. Virtual reality allows them to see how the changes appear in real time, on a full sized car. Ford is planning to extend its use of VR technology further, with plans to use it in the engineering development process as well.
Batteries that can be recharged have been in use as far back as 1859; in fact they have almost always been a part of vehicles. A battery is used to provide power to the starter motor and to provide electrical energy to peripherals, like the radio and the lights whilst the engine is switched off. However, the last decade has seen a big push for hybrid and full electric powered vehicles thanks to developments in battery technology.
The drawbacks to owning some of the earliest electrically powered cars was that they could not be driven very far before needing to be plugged back in. However, thanks to major investment from companies such as Tesla, improvements made to lithium-ion batteries have extended the range of electric cars, making them practical for more than just short city journeys. In April 2019, a startup company in Switzerland claimed to have developed a battery that could run a car for 600 miles, putting it on par with the capabilities of a traditional combustion engine car.
It seems everything is beginning to connect to the internet in what we call the “Internet of Things” and cars are not exempt from this. Referred to as “connected cars”, these cars have been around since 1996, but have taken off recently thanks to the development of 4G technology. These connected cars can use the internet for entertainment, such as music streaming, providing a distribution channel for software updates like in Tesla cars, and for safety systems.
Internet powered safety systems can alert the emergency services if a car has been involved in an accident, even if the driver is incapacitated. They can also help to diagnose problems with the car which could cause safety or reliability issues.
Ever since the birth of the first motor powered vehicles, they have been at the cutting edge of technology. From the first production lines pioneered by Henry Ford, to the battery technology used in new electric vehicles, technology is at the heart of the automotive industry.