BBC Autos


The year in technology

  • The march of movement

    Even the most avid of car-tech enthusiasts would be sated with the year that just passed. This was the year, after all, that a company (namely, Nissan) promised a commercially viable autonomous vehicle by 2020. If Nissan achieves its goal – or even approaches it – it would herald a monumental shift, with ramifications that extend far beyond who (or what) is in the driver’s seat.

    But it's not just autonomous technologies that blossomed in 2013. Even seemingly mundane features such as headlights have seen huge technological gains. Auto companies branched out into wearable technology, Shell predicted the end of gasoline-powered cars and robots conducted vehicle durability tests.

    Herewith, a closer look at the technology developments that auger an even more fascinating year to come. (Photo: Audi)

  • Nissan's plan to upend the driver

    The Japanese automaker became the first to lay out a timetable for releasing a commercially viable autonomous car. Building on current technologies, the company said it would have a fully autonomous vehicle ready for the public in about six years. Dr Maarten Sierhuis, Nissan’s research director at its new tech facility in California’s Silicon Valley, told BBC Autos in September that the company was creating safety technologies that "basically can make decisions like a human in any driving situation". Aside from its 2020 goal, Nissan wants to offer autonomous options across all of its model ranges within two vehicle generations. (Photo: Nissan North America)

  • An infusion of in-car apps and infotainment

    Though mobile apps have been fixtures of new cars for a few years, 2013 was when in-car infotainment really opened up. Ford and General Motors (GM) released their own in-car platforms to allow developers to create custom apps for their vehicles. Scott Fosgard, communications director at GM, said that the company hoped developers would "create a captivating world where [they] are customising a place that used to be the radio". Aside from apps, research firm IHS Automotive suggests that a broader array of integrated software platforms would be finding their way into vehicles, with open source systems leading the way.(Photo: General Motors)

  • Shell predicts demise of petrol-powered cars

    For a multinational energy conglomerate to predict that automobiles in 2070 would run on non-petroleum-based fuels speaks to the level of innovation happening around powertrain technology. In a report released this year, Shell said that by 2070 "the passenger road market could be nearly oil-free" and that electric and hydrogen-powered cars may dominate the landscape. Though transitioning away from oil won't happen quickly, the report said that liquid fuels could reach their peak in 2035 and then taper off. (Photo: Richard Sowersby/BBC)

  • Robots run wild on Ford's obstacle courses

    At its proving grounds in Romeo, Michigan, Ford Trucks puts robots in the driver's seat. The most physically gruelling durability tests are performed remotely, sparing the tailbones of United Automobile Workers (UAW) members who had previously endured the barrage. Using radio antennae, wi-fi and GPS, Ford navigates up to eight vehicles 24 hours a day. No fatigue, no injuries. As David Payne, manager of vehicle development operations at Ford, quipped, "The robot doesn't have a bad day." (Photo: Ford Motor)

  • Wearable tech comes to the auto industry

    Mercedes-Benz announced in December that it had partnered with Pebble Technology, manufacturer of the Pebble smart watch, to develop new features that sync with the Mercedes Digital DriveStyle app. When the Pebble watch pairs with the app, it provides users with real-time driving hazards using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, as well as fuel level info and door-lock status when users are away from the vehicle. Mercedes will debut the proof of concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, in January. This comes on the heels of Nissan's Nismo smart watch, which debuted in September, and Nissan’s 3E smart glasses. (Photo: Daimler)

  • Audi sheds new light on old tech

    With the release of its Matrix LED lights for the European version of its A8 flagship sedan, Audi declared to its premium competitors that it would own lighting design for the foreseeable future. The system uses cameras and on-board navigation to change lighting intensity and direction, meaning that it can pinpoint an oncoming vehicle and either redirect, dim or turn off light aimed at the vehicle as it approaches. Because the system is paired with the navigation system, it can also direct light round a bend in the road, even before the driver arrives there. (Photo: Audi)

  • How to build a better battery? Catch a virus

    Car companies with electric-vehicle programmes are keenly attuned to breakthroughs in battery technology, and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were dancing on the static-charged edge of electric propulsion earlier this year. Working with a lithium-air battery, the researchers added a genetically modified virus to increase the surface area of the battery's "nanowires", which act as electrodes. The benign virus helps the battery to increase its charging and discharging cycles and could make future batteries more efficient. Lithium-air batteries can provide two to three times more power using the same amount of weight at heavy lithium-ion or nickel metal hydride batteries, the researchers claimed. (Photo: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)