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Car technology of 2020 – sci-fi or sci-fact?

Scarcely a week goes by without a manufacturer trumpeting the latest advance from its labs. Whatever it is, they’ll claim that it’s set to transform the whole motoring market – or revitalise sales, at least.

Many never make it off the drawing board, but some – like adaptive cruise control, navigation-led automatic gearboxes and pedestrian-detecting autonomous braking systems – have made the jump from designer’s napkin to full-on production, and many are now essential kit for the 21st-Century driver.

So what kind of tech will we see in the next five years? Teleportation? Probably not, but wireless charging and paint that’s immune to water and dirt are just two ideas that could well be in mainstream production cars by 2020.

Valet parking (without the valet)

Audi and BMW are already working on parking systems – and they aren’t alone in this respect. Parking is one of the trickiest parts of driving, so cracking this particular motoring nut could yield untold returns.

If you think we mean the park assist systems already available, think again – the next generation will be fully automatic. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you’ll press a button and leave the car to work things out for itself. It will navigate its surroundings, and using a series of cameras and lasers, find a space that fits. When it does, it’ll slot itself in and wait.

Then, when you’ve finished your business and need to head home, you press a button on a smartphone app and the car starts up, leaving the space and coming around to collect you.

Car trains

No, we’re not suggesting a road replacement service for Britain’s creaking railway system. A car train is a group of vehicles that autonomously follow each other on the motorway.

When you boil it down to the fundamentals, it’s an advanced version of adaptive cruise control, with each vehicle using GPS, video and laser scanners to follow the back of the car ahead.

With each of them knowing exactly where its neighbours are, accidents will become a thing of the past. Better yet, all the cars will be running at a steady pace, so they’ll be significantly more fuel efficient, too.

Inductive charging on the motorway

We live in exciting times. Electric cars are on the up and petrol cars are waning – but not nearly as quickly as some would like.

Why? The batteries simply drain too quickly when they’re driven too fast for too long. That puts them at an immediate disadvantage when stood beside a combustion engine, and pushes most of us back towards polluting carbon-based fuel.

That’s a shame, as the solution is simple enough. Induction charging, through a series of plates embedded within the road itself, would directly transfer power back into the cells stored in the car, curing range anxiety brought on through high-speed power consumption.

It works for trains and mobile phones, so why not electric cars?

Dirt and water-phobic paint

Imagine never having to clean your car again. Sounds good doesn’t it?

Well that dream could soon become reality as Nissan is trialling a hydro- and oleophobic coating for its paint finishes. This coating uses microstructures – similar to those found on leaves – to repel water and oils so they can’t stick to the paint. Check out the video above for a demonstration of the tech in action.

Nissan has no plans to introduce it as a production finish yet, but admits it could become available as an aftermarket option.

Individual sound zones

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? The driver wants to listen to their ‘Best of the 70s’ album, the front passenger wants Adele and the kids in the back are wrestling over Beyoncé and The Prodigy.

Well, hopefully not for too much longer, as sonic experts at Harman have developed a way to create local ‘sound zones’ around each passenger’s head.

They can’t cut every interruption, as legally you need to be able to hear sirens and horns outside the car. What they can do, though, is keep most of your music to yourself and cut out a lot of annoying road noise, frustrating passengers and as much Taylor Swift as possible.

Impromptu AdBlue generator

AdBlue is a urea-based chemical injected into the exhaust of modern diesel engines, where it reacts with the nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide in the exhaust – both of which are pollutants – and turns them into harmless water and nitrogen.

Manufacturers claim that a full tank of AdBlue should last between services, but if you run out before then your engine will refuse to start. Our concept for an AdBlue generator takes naturally occurring urea – of which there should be plenty, if you’ve been on a long journey – and mixes it with purified water to create AdBlue on the fly.

It’s probably best you refill it outside the car, though, to avoid splashes.

The future’s bright

We’re pretty confident that at least some of these ideas will be on the roads by 2020. Let us know in the comments section below if you agree – and add your own suggestion if you think there’s something we’ve missed.

Also, take a look at our technology guide to the new Ford Mondeo then head over to our car configurator to spec up a car for yourself.

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