Innovate or die is a famous catch phrase and nowhere is it more true than in the car industry. Not only do engineers work on developing cars that are faster, stronger and more economical than those currently on sale. They’re also intent on making them more user friendly. All the buzz might be about self-driving cars but there are a host of other car industry innovations coming to a model near you in the not-so distant future.
We’ve had unique access to a company that specialises in inventing equipment for the car industry. German giant Continental might be best known for making tyres but it’s also an automotive technology business. Every year its boffins spend countless hours and millions of pounds working to shape the future of motoring. Here are five of our favourite innovations.
The self-parking car
Cars can already park themselves with the driver inside. Soon they’ll be able to put themselves to bed, rather as an obedient pet might, without the driver inside. Using the camera and radar that work with adaptive cruise control (above), boffins have worked out a way to enable a car to learn a journey that’s up to 80m long. It can then repeat this without any human assistance. As a result, you’ll be able to get home, get out of the car and with a quick swipe of the smart phone, send it off to park itself.
The wheel reinvented
Car wheels and the brake discs and callipers accompanying them are chunky and heavy. But by literally reinventing the wheel, Continental has managed to address this. Its new take on the wheel comes in two halves (above). The outer part has the tyre mounted on it; the inner section carries the brake disc. The result is a much larger diameter brake disc. This makes braking more efficient and harvests more energy for recharging batteries on electric vehicles. Not only is this lighter than the traditional wheel/brake combo, it also means there’s no wear to the brake discs so only the pads will need replacing, thereby saving drivers money.
The speakerless sound system
Rather than building bigger, better speakers car engineers have improved the in-car audio experience by doing away with them altogether. That’s because they worked out that if they put exciters (things that cause vibrations) in various parts of the car, they can recreate music. These exciters vibrate the doors, dashboard, roof and even the seat backs to redefine the term ‘surround sound’. It’s nearly ready for production and according to Continental’s engineers, this cuts sound system weight by 90 per cent, freeing up space and reducing fuel consumption.
Charging without cables
One of the drawbacks of the electric car is that when you charge it, you need to plug a cable in. And that means if it’s wet you get wet; if it’s dirty, you get dirty; and if you’re in a hurry, you may forget. With induction charging, none of those things apply. You simply park over a charging plate mounted in the road and that’s it. As the car sits there, current flows invisibly into it, charging the battery. Reassuringly, it only works when it detects a compatible car above so there’s no chance of pedestrians getting a shock. At the moment such a system would cost around £2600 but Continental believes that price will come down quickly.
The clever car seat
If you thought there wasn’t much to the humble car seat, think again. The new smart seat can measure the body’s temperature. If core temperature rises, the driver is likely to be stressed and the seat can tell the car to take measures. It might turn down the air-con, start playing calming music, or instruct the driver to take a coffee break. The result? Improved road safety as there’s a proven link between stressed drivers and crashes.