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Automobiles: Driving ahead

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Where can the car take us this century? It revolutionized transportation in the twentieth century, but not without consequences.

Grid-locked towns and cities, emissions contributing to global warming - the once great symbol of personal freedom is ready for another great turn of the wheel of invention.

Car manufacturers are keeping their eyes ahead for a transition to cleaner and smarter vehicles and all the signs point to a driving experience enhanced by automation and robotics.

"I really think the days of people driving their own cars are numbered," says CNN Future Summit Nominating Committee member Ian Pearson.

In thirty years, Pearson says, computers will be doing most of the driving. On crowded roads, saftey for the driver, passengers and other road-users is paramount.

Better in-car protection, from crumple-zones to stronger composite materials will progress, but the next generation of safety devices will be automated, with vehicle to vehicle communication providing the possibility for a crash-free future.

Already GPS and on board computers can track a vehicle's location and record information on speed and direction. Transmitting that information between vehicles is the next step and one car manufactures are already developing.

Linked to an automation of roadways, Pearson says the benefits will be enormous.

"We can eliminate most traffic jams, which are mostly caused by bad driving, so we can increase the capacity of the roads."

Another member of the CNN Nominating Committee, Sebastian Thrun, is pioneering the development of robotic cars. Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Thrun lead the development of Stanley, a robotic car that won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005 and was named the No1 Robot of All Time by Wired Magazine in January, 2006.

Thrun's is currently working on a robotic car that could drive you safely from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Whether or not Thurn's next robotic car will be compatible with California's stringent environmental laws is another issue to face the next gerneration of vehicle, and the raceis on to replace the internal combustion engine and develop alternative fuel supplies.

Dr. Hermann Scheer, a member of the German Parliament, and of the CNN Future Summit Nominating Committee, is one of the world's leading authorities on the development and implementation of alternative, renewable sources of power. He envisions that the car you drive in the future may well be powered by bio-fuels, or electricity generated by solar or wind power.

In thirty years "we'll be using a combination of electricity, maybe from power stations, nuclear, fusion, whatever," says Pearson.

"We'll also be starting to see an awful lot of hydrogen based cars."

One man working toward developing hydrogen powered cars is Lino Guzzella. Imagine driving from Paris to Moscow, and back again all on one liter of fuel. While that won't happen with any petroleum based fuel, it could be done with the PAC-Car II designed by a team lead by Guzzella, a member of the CNN Future Summit Nominating Committee and a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Powered by a fuel cell, it won the Energy Globe Award in November 2005, driving 5,384 kilometers on 0.27 kg of hydrogen, which is equivalent in its energy content to 1 liter of gasoline..

Looking further down the road, rather than reinventing the wheel, getting rid of the wheel altogether may not be such as fantasy with ongoing developments in engines that create energy from electromagnetic radiation. If we can develop cars that drive themselves, hover cars may not be such a leap of the imagination.

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The PAC-Car II developed by Lino Guzzella, powered by hydrogen - the fuel source of the future?

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