Exxon Mobil predicts that by 2040, half of all new cars coming off the production line will be hybrids [source: Kahn]. That's great news for the environment, but one of the problems with hybrids is that the batteries take up a lot of space and are very heavy. Even with advances in lithium-ion batteries, hybrids have a significant amount of weight from their batteries. That's where energy-storing body panels come in.
In Europe, a group of nine auto manufacturers are currently researching and testing body panels that can store energy and charge faster than conventional batteries of today. The body panels being tested are made of polymer fiber and carbon resin that are strong enough to be used in vehicles and pliable enough to be molded into panels. These panels could reduce a car's weight by up to 15 percent [source: Volvo].
The panels would capture energy produced by technologies like regenerative braking or when the car is plugged in overnight and then feed that energy back to the car when it's needed [source: Volvo]. Not only would this help reduce the size of hybrid batteries, but the extra savings in weight would eliminate wasted energy used to move the weight from the batteries.
Toyota is also looking into lightweight energy storing panels, but they're taking it one step further and researching body panels that would actually capture solar energy and store it in a lightweight panel [source: Bey].
Whether future body panels collect energy or just store it, automotive companies are looking into new ways to make our cars more energy efficient and lightweight.
For more information about future car technologies and other related topics, follow the links below.
- Bey, Thomas. "Top 10 Future Vehicle Technologies." Ask Men. (Dec. 15, 2011) http://www.askmen.com/top_10/cars/top-10-future-vehicle-technology_4.html
- Birch, Stuart. "External airbag slows car in a crash." Telegraph. June 11, 2009. (Dec. 15, 2011) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/road-safety/5495705/External-airbag-slows-car-in-a-crash.html
- BMW. "BMW Augmented Reality." (Dec. 15, 2011) http://www.bmw.com/com/en/owners/service/augmented_reality_introduction_1.html
- Cowen, Tyler. "Can I See Your License, Registration and C.P.U.?" The New York Times. May 28, 2011. (Dec. 14, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/business/economy/29view.html
- Green Car Congress. "Ford showcasing vehicle-to-vehicle communication for crash avoidance; potential for leveraging WiFi and smartphones to extend quickly the number of participating vehicles." July 19, 2011. (Dec. 14, 2011) http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/07/fordv2v-20110719.html
- Guizzo, Erico. "How Google's Self-Driving Car Works." Discovery News. Oct. 18, 2011. (Dec. 13, 2011) http://news.discovery.com/autos/how-google-self-driving-car-works-111018.html
- Kahn, Chris. "Exxon Mobil Predicts Surge in Hybrid Vehicles." MSNBC. Dec. 8, 2011. (Dec. 16, 2011) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45596879/ns/business-autos/t/exxon-mobil-predicts-surge-hybrid-vehicles/#.TuuWvyNWpGg
- Motoring File. "BMW Group Developing Augmented Reality Window Displays." Oct. 12, 2011. (Dec. 14, 2011) http://www.motoringfile.com/2011/10/12/bmw-group-developing-augmented-reality-windshield-displays/
- Ramsey, Jonathan. "VIDEO: Mercedes-Benz ESF S400 Concept's "Braking Bag" in action." Autoblog. June 14, 2009. (Dec. 15, 2011)http://www.autoblog.com/2009/06/14/video-mercedes-benz-esf-s400-concepts-braking-bag-in-action/
- Thrun, Sebastian. "Leave the Driving to the Car, and Reap Benefits in Safety and Mobility." Dec. 5, 2011. (Dec. 12, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/science/sebastian-thrun-self-driving-cars-can-save-lives-and-parking-spaces.html
- Truong, Alice. "Do Driverless Cars Offer Safer and More Efficient Transportation?" Discovery.com. Oct. 11, 2011. (Dec. 13, 2011) http://dsc.discovery.com/cars-bikes/do-driverless-cars-offer-safer-and-more-efficient-transportation.html
- Volvo. "Tomorrow's Volvo Car: Body Panels Serve as the Car's Battery." Sept. 24, 2010. (Dec. 15, 2011) http://www.volvocars.com/intl/top/about/news-events/pages/default.aspx?itemid=209
- Yvkoff, Liane. "Toyota Demos Augmented-Reality-Enhanced Car Windows." CNET. July 21, 2011. (Dec. 15, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-20081402-48/toyota-demos-augmented-reality-enhanced-car-windows/
HowStuffWorks looks at how scientists are using new technology, along with GPS and LIDAR, to map country roads so self-driving cars can use them too.