Someone asked, "What is the future of the auto industry?" referring to the makeup of the product content, not necessarily the future of individual carmakers.
For those of us who still marvel at the perfection of cruise control, we haven't seen anything yet. New automobile technological breakthroughs will continue to dazzle some of us, but will be welcomed by the baby-boomer generation, which has been weaned on the computer and Internet.
Each new development will receive grateful praise and acceptance. Some of us will be bewildered by such technology, some of which will take decisionmaking away from the driver and give it to a computer chip.
Case in point: Devices are being perfected right now to sense road hazards before the human mind can react. Question: Do we drivers wish to surrender decisionmaking about safety to a computer?
Other technologies almost ready for introduction will keep us safely in marked lanes. Others will position our vehicle at a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. This could pose a problem: How do you contain aggressive drivers who cut in on that safe distance?
An Automotive News article startled us with yet another revolutionary auto design development. Mike Gauthier, Siemens VDO director of corporate technology, said in an interview, "On the safety side, optical camouflage being developed by the University of Tokyo will allow drivers to virtually see through the pillar of a car and eliminate blind spots. They use mirrors and special material to create the see-through effect."
Gauthier mentioned another concept in the making. "Steering wheels are going from where we are today to a yoke grip like pilots use to fly airplanes. Ultimately, we will be driving using joysticks similar to what young people use to play video games. Joystick steering is already in wide use with most large industrial machines, remote controlled ro-bots and electric wheelchairs. Joysticks fit perfectly in the most precise instrument humans have to use: the hand."
What trends are influencing tomorrow's technology? His response:
People are living longer and moving closer to their jobs to cut down commute time. (New bridges help.) Cars are lasting longer, and there are fewer accidents (on a percentage basis). Consequently, the number of cars on American roads has increased 40 percent in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the number of lane miles added to U.S. roads has been around 4 percent.
"If we don't add roads and we keep adding cars to existing roads, we will have major issues with congestion and increased accidents. And although we will be driving fewer miles, we will be spending a lot more time in the car."
And burning more fuel, I might add.
George Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business and Economics at the College of Charleston.