Best Future Technologies - 2011 -10Best Cars

Want your windshield to tell you when one of  your Facebook BFFs passes by on the road? It’s coming. The internet already has invaded our cars, along with seamless mobile-phone connectivity and music-file playback. More integration of our portable communication and computing devices is on its way, along with all-glass dashboards with digital instruments and “augmented reality,” in which real life, as seen through the windshield, is presented with a graphic overlay of data.

There has to be a better solution than using heavy, inefficient batteries to store energy for electrical power. That’s the goal of several flywheel energy-storage systems, including Flybrid’s (shown above). Porsche’s system, for instance, uses electric motors/generators on the front axle to transmit braking energy to an electrified flywheel, spinning it up to 40,000 rpm for potent kinetic energy  that is later returned to the motors to boost acceleration. Jaguar’s C-X75 concept from the Paris auto show offers another hybrid approach: Its twin, 80,000-rpm microturbines efficiently (if noisily) power generators that send juice to four traction motors and can run on any combustible fuel.
The incandescent light bulb is on the endangered species list. Spearheaded by Audi, cooler, less-energy-consumptive light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are getting more powerful, efficient, and reliable. They’re already being used to give cars illuminated eyebrows and other intriguing facial features that identify individual brands. Now  they’re being primed to take over all exterior and interior lighting. Audi and Cadillac offer LED headlights, and as costs drop, expect others to follow.
Preparing for the expected invasion of plug-in hybrids and pure-electric vehicles, public utilities such as Southern California Edison are overhauling with high-tech “smart” meters that can tell the difference between a running microwave oven and a charging-up Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt. These meters will also encourage owners to leverage the unused capacity during off-peak hours, thus allowing the utility to support a sizable fleet of  EVs without having to increase overall electrical-grid capacity.
Formula 1 rulemakers may have a grudge against flexible wings, but the technology is already on the street. The Ferrari 458 Italia employs simple flexible airfoils in its grille that bend with air speed to direct airflow underneath the car, reducing drag and aerodynamic lift. For those on lighter budgets, the Chevrolet Cruze Eco has motorized grille shutters that open or close depending on speed and cooling needs, bumping highway fuel economy by a claimed 1 mpg. More of these dynamic body parts are on the way.
Inflatable safety belts, available as an option on the outboard rear seats of the 2011 Ford Explorer, are one example of an industry moving past the conventional airbag. The bags spread the force of an impact across the occupant’s torso, something that is considered especially beneficial for children. Ford is also introducing shaped driver airbags, which provide better chest protection, and computer-vented bags, which vary  their size depending on the seating position of the passenger.
Burning  just one fuel—you can feed it gasoline, ethanol, or E85—the Homogenous Charge Compression Ignition engine employs direct fuel injection and variable valve-timing hardware to switch from Otto-cycle spark ignition during acceleration and high-speed running to diesel-style compression ignition during idle and light-throttle cruising. The goal: stretch fuel economy by  up to 15 percent by exploiting the more thorough burn of diesel-style ignition, but with just a few minor changes to a lighter and less costly, four-stroke gasoline engine.
With tougher fuel-economy standards coming, automakers aren’t ignoring any  possible savings from reducing parasitic and pumping losses. The short list of economy-boosting aids includes clutched alternators, electric water and oil pumps, and stop-start systems. The latter shuts down an otherwise idling engine when the car comes to a stop. Individually, their fuel savings may be small—a few tenths of a mile per gallon in some cases—but, with the industry scrambling for every increment it can eke out, no potential loss is being ignored.
Big gains in fuel efficiency won’t happen without significant cuts to curb weight via lighter materials. Steel still reigns because of  its low cost, but new alloys will allow carmakers to use less steel while still achieving strength targets. Advanced casting techniques and hypereutectic alloys are also changing the way aluminum parts are produced and used, and once-exotic composite alternatives such as carbon fiber are migrating down in price as the industry develops stronger weaves, advanced epoxies, and new  ways to cut curing times.
Besides telling  you when friends zoom by, car-to-car communication will prevent accidents by making vehicles aware of other cars around them. Did the guy  two cars ahead just slam on his brakes without you noticing? Don’t worry. Soon your car will know it before you do and activate the brakes, thanks to warning messages from surrounding vehicles. This is yet another step toward the self-driving vehicle, in which we can all go back to safely reading our e-mail.

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