WhoCanFixMyCar explores the evolution of cars and discusses whether today's technology can be more of a hindrance than a help.
When we start our cars, most of us hardly give a thought to the work that goes on underneath the bonnet just to get us moving forward. Yet, from the invention of the internal combustion engine to the development of self-driving technology, the evolution of automotive vehicles has always been linked with scientific and technological advances.
Since it’s National Science Week, we’re going to celebrate all of these amazing advances by delving into the evolution of cars through the ages, and also ask whether some more recent technologies are a help or hindrance.
For any automotive history buffs out there, it will come as no surprise that, despite popular opinion, the evolution of the car began much earlier than the usually cited year of 1886. In fact, it began in 1769 with the creation of the first steam-powered automobile that was capable of transporting people. For this, we have Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot to thank.
The “steam car” was a pretty large contraption - a far cry from the modern day Hyundai i10, which is known for its compact design - and contained a huge metal steam chamber at the front. It had to stop every ten to fifteen minutes to build up steam.
A monumental year in the history of automobile evolution, 1885 saw the invention of the first car (excluding Cugnot's contraption). This was all thanks to the creation of the internal combustion engine, a mechanism of transforming fuel into energy that the majority of cars still use today...for now.
The first liquid-fuelled internal combustion engine was invented by George Brayton in 1872, and in 1876, Nikolaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach patented the compressed charge, four-stroke cycle engine.
The First Car
Karl Benz created the first car in 1885 and received the patent for it in 1886. It was called the Benz Patent Motor Car. It had three wheels and the design was based on a horse carriage, which just shows how far we’ve come since then!
In 1908, something epic happened. Ford started manufacturing the Model T - known affectionately as “tin Lizzie” - which is regarded as the first affordable car. In fact, it became so popular that at one point the majority of Americans owned one.
Between 1913 and 1927, Ford produced more than 15 million Model T's.
On June 15th 1911, the electric starting motor was patented by Charles Kettering. Although he didn’t technically invent the motor, his great achievement was making it work in automobiles.
The first stereo was invented in 1930 in monophonic AM frequency, but it would be another 22 years before the first radio capable of receiving an FM frequency was added to a car in 1952.
This is another one that might surprise you; cruise control came about in the 1950s. The system made it easy to drive at a steady speed without using the accelerator. It was first used on a Chrysler Imperial.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that parking sensors were a recent invention, but they actually first came around in the 70s as guiding devices for the blind! They gained popularity in the 2000s, though many budget cars still don’t have them.
The 70s were a bit of a golden age for new advances in car technology, with cassette stereos, ABS systems, catalytic converters and digital dashboard displays also all being introduced.
The 80s saw the introduction of CD players and airbags to most cars.
Though anti-lock braking systems (ABS) first came about in 1971, they didn’t gain popularity in cars until the 90s. Originally they were used on trains and Concorde (for those of you who can remember that!).
On-board diagnostics systems also became popular in the 90s, and Europe made them a legal requirement in 2001.
Many advancements came about in the noughties, including Bluetooth, GPS Sat-Navs, automatic parking and hybrid cars.
The first hands-free Bluetooth kit entered the market in 2001. Nowadays, most in-car infotainment systems have Bluetooth integrated as standard.
Unsurprisingly, it was Toyota that first successfully introduced a hybrid motor to a petrol engine at the turn of the century. As a result, the Prius came into existence and took the world by storm!
Automotive technology is evolving at a rapid - and for some, alarming - rate. Stuff that only a few years ago would have seemed like something straight out of a sci-fi movie has become part of our reality, such as self-driving cars and autopilot (or should we say autodriver) features.
The Waymo - Google’s self-driving car - completed its first driverless ride on public roads in 2015. And, in April 2021, it was announced that self-driving cars would be allowed on UK roads by the end of the year.
Many car manufacturers are now working on the possibility of biometric access, meaning you’d be able to unlock your car using your fingerprint in the same way you might unlock your iPhone.
We could also see the introduction of virtual wing mirrors and rear view mirrors in the near future. These innovations already exist, but only on a very small number of cars. Over the next few years, however, it’s likely they’ll become much more prevalent.
One technology that already landed is Ford's 'Roadsafe' which helps drivers steer clear of hidden hazards using connected car technology.
Technology - help or hindrance?
Like us, you might have noticed that technology started getting a little outlandish somewhere around the late 2010s. Self driving cars? Autonomous vehicles? What could possibly go wrong?
As early as 2015, a Google Lexus SUV was involved in the first self-driving car crash to injure a person, and since then there have been numerous accidents involving this futuristic technology.
But what about those technologies we use on a daily basis, the ones we hardly think about because we take them so much for granted? The maps we have stored in our phones, for example. We've all heard stories about people driving around for hours on end following dead-end instructions from a Sat-Nav. And while digital maps are constantly improving, is it really good being so reliant on a device that could run out of power or stop working at any time?
In a recent WhoCanFixMyCar poll, almost 70 per cent of respondents agreed that Brits are over-reliant on our Sat-Navs. So is it time to go back to good old paper maps? Are our phones too distracting to use for navigation?