On the surface, this appears to be a simple question that requires only some imagination to answer, but working out what we might be driving in 2050 challenges many assumptions we have about the role of technology in our future society.
What the future might look like
Our changing requirements will no doubt dictate what future vehicles will be like. Will we even need to drive by 2050? Could technology be so advanced that we can all work from home, by relying on superior versions of Skype to participate in virtual offices? Could this also mean we have less of a need to physically visit friends and relatives?
It seems only human nature that we all crave some form of physical contact, so one would assume that no matter how advanced technology becomes, we will still go from one place to another, even if not on a daily basis.
On the other hand, if we assume that our current consumption patterns and modes of work don’t change, then we will need many more vehicles to accommodate population growth. In fact, it has been estimated that around three billion vehicles will be needed by 2050, up from one billion today. This being the case, what are some of the things we will probably want from our future vehicles?
A safer journey
Automatic vehicles such as those being developed by Google will make our roads safer. This is because driverless vehicles will be less susceptible to human errors such as incompetent decisions and slow response times. According to a number of US studies, these types of errors contribute to over 90 per cent of car accidents currently.
The Super Cruise from General Motors is another car that requires less human intervention. The technology within the car will ensure it stays within its lane, as well as braking and speeding up when necessary.
Perhaps the Road Train from the European Sartre project will be the order of the day by 2050. Funded by the European Commission, the idea is to change personal transport usage through developing environmental roadtrains called platoons. A professional driver leads a platoon of other vehicles, allowing those following the lead vehicle to enter a semi-autonomous control mode. They can do other things like operate a phone, read a book or watch a movie instead of driving the car.
Better for our planet
The expected growth in world population will necessarily deplete the planet’s resources. As we all become more environmentally conscious, we will likely demand transport solutions that creates less smog and traffic congestion. We will also want vehicles that can be produced and run with fewer resources.
From this perspective, a better transport system will likely be the core focus. If commuters of today loathe trains and buses, could future public transport involve smaller driverless vehicles that accommodate fewer passengers? Perhaps social media can be used to hail a ride in a self-driving shared vehicle?
Perhaps cars will no longer run on petrol and diesel too, once scientists work out how we can get more hydrogen to power them.