The IDTechEX conference

The Car of the Future: Electric, Connected, and Autonomous

No matter which automotive engineering development is being discussed, all are propelling the industry and our society toward greener and driver-assisting (if not driverless) vehicles.

Advances in power electronics, telecommunications, batteries, and electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly changing our society. Just think of e-mobility; our society has adopted ride-sharing! Who doesn’t know or use Uber or Lyft?

The possibilities for electric vehicles are endless, as well. Notably, a company called Next is developing autonomous modular electric vehicles that will allow users to share rides while providing services that will be delivered to them in motion. For example, say you are craving a grande cappuccino from Starbucks during a trip. You can call or use an app for service modules that will directly reach and join the module you are in, while in motion, without any stops (Fig. 1).

At last week’s IDTechEx conference in Santa Clara, Calif., such developments were covered in myriad ways: BYD expert hosted technical sessions on EV trends, the California Energy Commission discussed its EV roadmap, R&D programs from different universities were showcased, and private companies (big and small) shared groundbreaking ideas. I heard many times during the sessions about the importance of advances in batteries (battery boxes, materials, safety, cooling techniques, etc.).


1. One firm plans to enable ride sharing and delivery of services through a modular transportation system. Shown is the proprietary operating system and hardware.

Power density remains a big concern. With so many fantastic advances and options in fast charging technologies for personal vehicles, however, power density may not be as important going forward. Having the right car charging infrastructure in hand when needed just might be, enough.

Another topic that was widely discussed was the challenge of bringing renewable energy technology to the heavy-duty world of construction, agriculture, military, and mining equipment.  This is no easy task; there are several hybrid prototypes at the moment. A startup company called Terzo Power Systems is specializing in leading-edge hydraulic system design in hybrid off-road vehicles, direct fluid-control technology, and ultra-efficient electro-hydraulics. Spokespeople from the company raised interesting points regarding the challenges of migrating from diesel technology to electric vehicles.

George Bye

2. Lithium-ion batteries run this plane’s electric propulsion system, which directly drives the multi-blade composite propeller.

These new developments won’t be limited to ground vehicles, of course. I heard about air innovations ranging from flying electric vehicles to electric airplanes. In future coverage, I will talk more in depth about Terrafugia's Transition flying car, as well as George Bye and the Sun Flyer 2 and 4 electric aircraft families (Fig. 2).

The automotive innovations being developed now and in the near future will be expanded to many industries and applications. The EV market especially was spotlighted for its ongoing innovations, disruptions, achievements, and challenges. The future of the automotive industry is most certainly electric, driverless, and connected. Stay tuned for more coverage of these topics.

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