Smart and Sustainable Cars: Racing into the Future

Cars are getting smarter, is an understatement. Cars are getting über-smart, is the truth. All aspects of the modern car, from the powertrain to infotainment, are wedded to electronics, communications technology and a good deal of IT too, in the journey towards making driving—even on Indian roads—a really safe, pleasurable and sustainable experience. Here, in this article, we look at some of the multi-faceted roles a modern car plays -- Janani Gopalakrishnan Vikram

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  • Ford and Georgia Tech have together developed the Ford C-MAX Energi Solar, a hybrid vehicle that can charge its battery using a solar panel fitted on its roof. The car includes autonomous features (such as that used for parking) to follow the sun’s movements and adjust the panel direction throughout the day. Ford claimed at the demo that a day’s worth of sunlight will provide the same amount of power and performance as the plug-in variant of C-MAX Energi, able to return a fuel efficiency of 2.4 litres per 100km and a range of almost 1000km.
  • Honda, the first to put a fuel cell vehicle (FCX Clarity) in the hands of consumers, recently unveiled its new Honda FCEV Concept sketch, a futuristic and aerodynamic design of its next-generation fuel-cell EV launching in 2015. This will be a step towards a zero-emission future. Honda’s alternate energy range includes Accord Hybrid, Accord Plug-In Sedan, Honda Fit EV and the Civic Natural Gas.
  • Another rather off-beat step towards environment-friendly technology is Honda Motor’s agreement with TDK Corporation and Japan Metals & Chemicals to work towards the reuse of a rare earth metal extracted from nickel-metal hydride batteries in hybrid vehicles for magnets of new hybrid vehicle motors. This will reduce the environmental footprint of mobility.

My car, my future
Technologies abound, for easier, safer and more sustainable mobility. However, everything is not good. As scientists always believe, a technology is to be evaluated more by its impact on society than the technological merits. Cars are easier to drive, good news! But, I live next door to a school and am startled by the increase in the number of moms dropping individual kids in cars, because they are easier to drive and park than two-wheelers! Where are the days when most kids used to travel by bus or cycle to school? How are we going to manage fuel availability and pollution in the near future? By the time hybrid and electric cars hit a mass-market pricing and are widely adopted, will not greater harm be done than good?

Hands-free messaging, complete integration of wearable tech and smartphone apps with car dashboards and in-car media centres are all very snazzy, but a recent Scientific American article shows that hands-free texting is still not safe as it distracts the driver. Will driver assistance features be powerful enough to avoid accidents caused due to distraction?

Tech is a good thing, but for it to be sustainable, users need to exercise their prudence too, than being carried away by all that seems good!

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The author is a technically-qualified freelance writer, editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai

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