From the Model T to the modern Tesla, automobiles have always been near the forefront of technology. So, what can you expect from your car by the time 2040 rolls around? While the fabled flying car isn't on the horizon, here are some of the most likely possibilities.
Your car will be more connected than you are
If you think today's smartphones keep us connected, wait until you get into your new car in twenty years. Not only will it be able to talk to your network at home to grab your latest playlist, it will be able to interact with other vehicles on the road to prevent accidents, and also interact with traffic lights to improve traffic flow. If someone hits your tail light while it's parked, it will let you know and show you the video of who did it. When it's time to gas up or power up, you can expect your car to locate the station with the best price and to pay for the purchase automatically.
Your steering wheel will be optional
Children born this year may never need to get a driver's license. While navigation systems still have a way to go before cars can go completely autonomous, auto companies (and suppliers to those companies) are working hard on it. In fact, they are envisioning cars in the next two decades without a steering wheel, or brake and gas pedals.
For those who do prefer to drive themselves occasionally, the control panel may be entirely on the windshield, using augmented reality. Mirrors are already supplemented by high-definition cameras, reducing the need to turn your head or move your focus from the road in front of you; in twenty years the rearview mirror - as we know it - is probably gone.
Driving will be more comfortable
You should expect the interior to be more comfortable, with soft, lightweight materials that are soothing to the touch and reduce vehicle weight, offering more color options than what is available today. BMW is already experimenting with different seating modes to be used while the car is piloting itself, so you have the option to face the person beside you.
Other companies are looking into bright LED headlights positioned under the bumper that light up the road without blinding oncoming drivers. Mitsubishi Motors is experimenting with rubber coated undercarriage and bumpers to reduce damage to the vehicle and injuries to others. They - along with those concepts produced by other carmakers - have also removed the pillars between the front and rear doors.
Car parts will change too
When you need a new part for your car, rather than shipping it from the manufacturer, you may be able to make it yourself. As 3D printing continues to evolve, you should be able create anything you need, one layer at a time, from many different materials, including rubber and titanium.
Bacteria-made tires are already possible, thanks to companies like Goodyear and Genencor. They have engineered E. coli bacteria that can create massive amounts of isoprene by digesting sugar. A main ingredient in rubber, isoprene is today normally extracted from oil, but may soon be coming from bio-isoprene breweries.