What does the future of motoring really look like? Will we be flying everywhere in our aerocars, just as they did in The Jetsons? And is the idea of Marty McFly and his time-travelling DeLorean not as far-fetched as you might think?
The future is now
Already, you can buy a Lexus that will park itself, there is a Mercedes with a night vision display, and BMW has built a car that runs on hydrogen. That's not to mention the wacky concept cars manufacturers constantly wheel out at the world's motor shows; at Paris last week Chevrolet unveiled the appropriately named Volt, an electric car with a 40-mile range and a back-up petrol generator if you do run out of juice.
What's coming next?
So if cars are this clever now, what are they going to be like 10, 20 or even 30 years' time?
Let's assume a typical journey in the future. Forget flying to work for a start; the infrastructure and technology is still a long way off; where would you park for instance and would you require a pilot's licence to take to the skies? And don't even get me started on the aerial traffic wardens!
Instead, you'll walk out of your hi-tech house and into your smart garage where your car has been charging all night – if you bought an electric version that is. Alternatively, you might want to replenish your biofuel or hydrogen car from the tank you had installed to brew your own fuel at home.
Lotus already has a prototype that runs on alcohol and produces no harmful emissions – but it won't see production because there isn't enough support for this technology in the UK. And US company Tesla has an electric sports car on the market that can hit 60mph in four seconds which you plug in at home. So the future is definitely green.
No more lost car keys
In this futuristic motoring utopia, keys will not be needed. To get into your car you will pass your index finger over a scanner on the door handle (you can currently buy an aftermarket fingerprint kit for your car that allows you to power it up), the door will open and you will slide into the driver's seat which, because it's the middle of winter, has been heating up for the past 20 minutes, as set by you via the on-board computer. In summer, fans will cool the cabin down before you get in.
Before you can start the engine, you will blow into an on-board breathalyser which, if it detects you are over the drink drive limit, will shut down your car until you are capable of driving again. Volvo's new XC60, out later this year, will be the first car to get an 'Alcolock' system (a £500 optional extra) which will transmit the results of your test by radio signal and prevent the car being started if you fail. Expect this to be a common safety feature in many cars in the future.
Take it with you
The brain of your onboard computer is in your pocket. Your smartphone, which will have all your favourite settings and media on its hard drive, will automatically connect with your car when you get in. It will analyse your mood and play appropriate music; soothing classics if you're stressed, lively upbeat jazz if you're feeling down.
The clever GPS sat nav will plot the least congested route to work, and it will take pictures along the way on a built-in camera as reference points to share with your friends and family. Satellite navigation will also be more accurate and less likely to direct you into a river or the wrong way down a motorway as the number of satellites in the sky grows.
Pay as you go
Pay-as-you-drive will replace road and fuel tax. One method of charging could be through the use of black boxes, which will record every journey you make and charge you per mile, the rate will depend on the time of day and the type of road travelled on. At the end of every month you will be sent a bill.
Norwich Union has already got a trial version of this in operation, and it is believed that this will be one of the key measures to reducing road deaths among younger drivers by charging them £1 a mile to drive after 11pm.
There will be a downside to this technology, though. Satellites will be able to record how fast you have been travelling, with the potential for the government to monitor speeders and send them automatic fines as well as add virtual points to their electronic driving licences.
And the investment required to build the infrastructure and call centres will be enormous; a feasibility study carried out by the Department for Transport suggests a national scheme could cost £62 billion.
So the future of motoring isn't quite as far-fetched as we would like. We won't all be in flying cars or being chauffeur driven in automated motors. But we will see an end to the conventional combustion engine in favour of greener technologies, the road network will change to a pay-per-mile type scheme, and new safety techs will make it even harder to crash and more unlikely that you will die in a car accident.
And if you don't like the sound of this, there's always the bus.
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