It is an exciting time for the automotive industry. Great leaps in technology have allowed what was once science fiction to become reality, from electric, autonomous vehicles to artificial intelligence-driven digital services and platforms.

And while automobiles and vehicles have always been at the forefront of innovation, the potential for revolutionary developments in the industry has never been higher. Below, we take a look at the most promising trends and developments in the industry.

The electric-powered future

Switching to more sustainable sources of energy is among the world’s top priorities, as exhaust from automotives being one of the leading sources of the carbon emissions that are causing climate change.

Forbes, in an article describing the electric car rush in countries like China, wrote, “All across the global economy, titans of the fossil-fuel era are scrambling to adapt to an existential shift: the soaring economic viability of clean alternatives to dirty energy. Electricity and oil producers are struggling to ride — rather than be crushed by — a renewable energy wave.”

“Automakers, though, are at a particularly scary fork in the road. The rise of electric vehicles — machines with multiple small motors instead of one big engine; with batteries instead of a fuel tank; with unprecedentedly extensive software systems instead of a transmission — is poised to redefine car making.”

According to energy data firm Wood Mackenzie, combined sales of passenger EVs — including full-electric vehicles, which have no combustion engine, and “plug-in hybrid-electric” vehicles, which augment their battery system with a combustion engine — are on the rise, jumping 47% from the first half of 2018 to the first half of 2019, to 1.1 million. A combination of factors like declining cost and improving technology, notably for batteries; increasingly convenient electric-charging infrastructure, particularly in large cities; and hefty government support are driving that surge.

In places like India, ambitious government plans like the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan seek to put six to seven million electric vehicles on roads by 2020, in pursuit of an e-mobility target of 30% in the country by 2030.

The self-driving revolution

Some of the world’s biggest companies are leading the charge towards autonomous vehicles. Google, Uber, and Tesla are making headlines with self-driving vehicles outfitted with A.I.-enabled devices that allow them to safely navigate the roads without human intervention.

Technologies such as machine learning, cloud-based computing, and smart technologies show limitless capacities in improving vehicles into mobile platforms of the future. Such tech-enabled vehicles are equipped with sensors and cameras for recording vast amounts of data before, during, and after each trip, while radar systems use radio waves to detect the presence, speed, and distance of surrounding vehicles and objects.

Advanced local data processors can then perform calculations based on the collected data in real time, enabling precise, safe, and real-time on-the-road decisions. Afterwards, the onboard artificial intelligence can enact those decisions and ensure regular software and algorithm updates for continuously improved vehicle performance. In certain cases, some self-driving vehicles are even outfitted with smart technologies that interface with traffic lights, signs, and lane markers.

According to data from KPMG International, the Netherlands is leading the way as the country that is most ready to support driverless cars, followed by Singapore and the United States. China ranks 16th.

A connected, smarter journey

With so many cars coming equipped with revolutionary technologies, manufacturers are finding new ways to connect people and their devices while on the road. The Internet of Things (IoT), one of the most promising fields in emerging technologies today, can create smarter transportation fleets that use GPS tracking to monitor road conditions, vehicle information, and driving habits in real-time. This works by allowing cars and smart-enabled devices to work in tandem with one another, keeping track of sensors connected to the road and traffic conditions, and even drivers’ health.

An estimate by the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, the number of IoT devices will exceed 40 billion, fueled by continued technological advances and the plummeting costs of computing, storage and connectivity.

The rise of 5G networks, which will allow faster transmission of larger amounts of data, can only further drive the development of more accurate and helpful devices.

Even for conventional cars without autonomous capabilities, 5G networks can improve route navigation, safety protocols, and can keep track of vehicle status. Vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication will lead to fewer accidents on the road, as cars will now be able to share information about pedestrian crossings, infrastructure, and roadblocks to avoid. Sensor technology will do more than sensing what’s in its line of sight, as a fully-capable V2V network can allow a car to get a sense of not just its distance from other vehicles, but also what’s even further down the road, allowing for a safer, more informed journey. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran