2016 was a strange year, in many respects. The auto industry saw some of the most interesting tech inventions and ideas to date. As a standalone achievement, SEMA 2016 was chock full of product unveilings, which only figures to increase next year. As we look forward to 2017, we’re taking a look at five fresh products and ideas you might have missed.
- Ford finds its groove with record number of patents
Long-considered one of the lesser companies for innovation, surprise and registered patents, Ford has spent the last few years reinventing itself, and in 2016 the company showed off its impressive tech contributions yet. According to mlive, “The Ford Motor Co. led all automakers in granted U.S. patents for the first time in the company’s history in 2016.” Considering how long Ford has been around, that’s a pretty major accomplishment. There are some things in their wheelhouse that it’s safe to say no one else is thinking about. Their eChair is a self-loading wheelchair that makes driving easier and more comfortable for disabled persons and wheelchair users. Ford engineers are even refining a water purifier that recycles and purifies condensation from the car, funneling drinkable water through a faucet in the cabin. We can only imagine the implications for developing countries and travelers in need of a clean water supply. Not sure what vehicular condensation water will taste like, but if it’s potable, that’s impressive.
- Goodyear’s spherical concept tires
The Eagle-360 concept tire by Goodyear looks like the bottom part of the BB-8 droid from J.J. Abram’s Star Wars reboot. The physics behind spherical wheels make them tough to master. In a way, it’s kind of embarrassing to call this one of the best ideas of 2016 because there are so, so many flaws in both Goodyear’s pitch and concept (i.e., floating wheels powered by magnets), but whatever—it’s still cool. Lots of question here. How will the “magnetic levitation” concept work? How is water repelled off the tire through “centrifugal forces” when any physics tells us centrifugal forces don’t actually exist? Alright, it’s a ridiculous concept as of this moment, but Goodyear claims to be working on it, and companies don’t like to waste money on cool ideas that don’t stand a chance of coming to light. So, maybe there’s hope?
- Ford Mustang 2.3L Ecoboost Turbocharger by Turbonetics
Taken out of the shop, the 2017 4-cylinder Mustang is capable of 310 HP. Mustang fans have been turbocharging their rides for decades, but Turbonetics has made the process simpler and more streamlined than ever. The real advantage to this turbocharger, and the reason it makes this list, is because their direct drop-in installation does away with the need for adapters or installation modifications. With a full suite of mods and custom tuning, your 2.3L Mustang will be capable of 520 HP. That’s pretty great in a drop-in device, wouldn’t you say?
- The Chevrolet Bolt EV
Welcome the most affordable and drivable electric vehicle to hit the mass market. Unlike Tesla vehicles, a Chevy won’t cost you an arm and a leg for basic parts and repairs. A lot has been said about the Tesla III coming out for about $35,000, but Tesla repair locations are far less common, and parts are far more expensive, meaning Tesla remains an expensive investment. Meanwhile, the Chevy Bolt is about $30,000 after federal tax rebates and boasts a driving range of 128/110 MPGe. Obviously, this isn’t a turbocharged dream machine, but it gets the job done, saves money, helps the environment and has all the techy frills of a modern road warrior, including 10.2” touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 4G LTE Wi-Fi. We have a feeling this is going to be a top seller for 2017, especially if the mileage turns out to be as strong as they claim in variable driving conditions.
- Hundai Sonata augmented reality app
Hundai is giving us a glimpse of the future of auto care. Their augmented reality app, if you haven’t seen it, is just a tiny step into the next wave of auto tech that will soon become standard. Users simply download the app and point their phones at different parts of the car. The app can tell you simple things like what the radio tuner is used for (tuning the radio, as it turns out), and more useful applications, such as engine oil and wiper fluid levels. The device is a maintenance helper and user manual all-in-one. We imagine that as more companies put resources into expanding the tech in their car, apps like these will follow and become more useful and sophisticated. Imagine and entire engine diagnostic with visual aids.