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The Long Journey of Automotive Innovation

How embracing disruption has kept the motor vehicle industry on the road

Comparing Cars

If you were to compare children’s drawing of cars over the past century, you might think that nothing ever changed – four wheels, a passenger compartment, a steering wheel, maybe an exhaust pipe – and yet our vehicles have been radically transformed since the first “motorwagen” sputtered down the roads of Heidelberg in 1888.

Indeed, very few forms of technology have accompanied us for so long, changing so much, and yet remaining nearly unaltered in terms of basic design. Over the decades, the automotive industry has embraced innovation at 360 degrees, radically improving the technology in our vehicles and greatly enhancing comfort, safety and security features, whilst also reducing noxious emissions.

Road Safety First

The first compulsory car insurance scheme was introduced by Denmark, one hundred years ago, and by the United States in 1925, while various other European countries did not mandate car insurance until as late as 1959! While, by the 1930s, road safety concerns had led many automotive manufacturers to equip their vehicles with features that have since become standard, including hydraulic brakes, the adoption of safety glass for windshields and windows, and seat belts.

Other innovations were less fortunate, perhaps too ahead of their time, and were introduced and quickly forgotten. The first electric cars, for example, were introduced by the Baker Motor Vehicle Company in 1899! The 1950s witnessed the first car body parts manufactured entirely out of plastic, including the revolutionary Allard Clipper which was advertised as being made of “indestructible all-plastic.”

And while during the revolutionary 1960s, automotive designers were playing with aesthetics and the futuristic designs inspired by space fantasies and science fiction, the petrol crisis of seventies pushed car designers to develop more “curvy” aerodynamic cars that promised to consume less fuel.

The Digital Revolution

However, the greatest disruption, to date, to affect the automotive industry came at the turn of the last century. By the beginning of the new millennium, the digital revolution was ready to deeply transform our vehicles. The first in-car satellite GPS navigation system was presented in 1995. In 2002, Octo Telematics pioneered Insurance telematics, which has driven the adoption and integration of cutting-edge digital technology and tools, vastly improving our security and safety, reducing petrol consumption and providing us with precious alerts on maintenance needs and emergencies, as well as, of course, revolutionising our insurance options.

Ten years later, as automation continued to expand, the industry presented the first self-parking car. And on April 2, 2015, a completely autonomous, self-driving car successfully terminated a pilot journey, crossing the United States, autonomously driving from San Francisco to New York in nine days.

Today, as drivers enjoy a wide range of services made possible by telematics, digital tools and ICT, we are rapidly approaching the age of self-driving vehicles. The precious information provided by on-board sensors, the Internet of Things and big data, such as the 146 billion miles of driving data and 379,000 crashes monitored by Octo Telematics, are relentlessly fuelling the telematics services and systems on our vehicles. This dwarfs the very technology that was used to land mankind on the moon nearly half a century ago. And what not too long ago may have been considered science fiction has become a solid reality, even if our children continue to draw cars just as we used to, so long ago.

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