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It is said that cutting edge technology from the likes of space exploration and Formula One racing ends up improving our daily lives,

so perhaps it is fitting that in the month that a probe landed on a comet 300 million miles away, an insurer is using tracking technology to offer discounted pet premiums for dogs!  A GPS unit is fitted on the dog’s collar and then monitored to ensure the dog does enough exercise to qualify for the ‘healthy lifestyle’ discount.

I suppose it is an extension of the technology already in use for car insurance, but you wonder what’s next and on the subject of the motor industry we seem to set for some dramatic changes in technology over the next decade or so.

In recent months we have had reports of how autonomous (driverless) cars and buses may become common place as technology for vehicles to monitor their surroundings is perfected and the Government has recently announced a £10m competition for 3 UK cities to host driverless car trials.

With fuel, the increase in electric and hybrid vehicles is going hand in hand with the expansion of the network of charging stations throughout the UK and is a trend likely to gather pace as the technology evolves (BMW are developing car charging street lights and are launching a pilot project in Munich next year). There is also solar and hydrogen on the horizon, so we could finally see our dependence on petrol decline, although I doubt if the oil companies will give in that easily and my dear old dad used to say that a car that ran on water was invented in the 1940s only to be bought by the oil companies and promptly mothballed. It’s a fair bet they will be heavily involved in whatever comes next.

At the same time, 3D Printing is set to revolutionise manufacturing and the first 3D printed car was recently displayed at a show in Las Vegas. At this stage it was only the chassis that was printed and took 44 hours, but give it a few years and it could be the whole car. I long ago thought that we would eventually buy everything at supermarkets and 3D printing possibly brings this a step closer. You would do the ‘test drive’ in something akin to a flight simulator, decide which car you want and they can print it out while you wait.

New technology should provide advantages on environmental, safety and efficiency fronts and hopefully also help with every day frustrations such as traffic jams and finding parking spaces, although whether it will all come at the cost of certain freedoms remains to be seen.

The flipside is that with new technology comes new risk, albeit at this stage with many unanswered questions, so they could be greater or lesser. Will driverless vehicles have separate lanes, will speed limits apply, how old will you need to be to operate them? The risk of out of control driverless vehicles is obvious and dealing with a 50/50 accident between two driverless vehicles will be interesting, but the combination of driver and driverless vehicles in close proximity maybe the biggest concern.

There will be other risks to consider including remote carjacking and particularly those that are cyber related, as we have already seen examples of hackers overriding vehicle systems with the latest being in the US where the Zubie, a diagnostic fitment to monitor performance, inadvertently provides an opportunity to hack into the vehicle because it was linked to the cloud.

Logic suggests that it may take a while longer than some experts predict for these new technologies to be fully introduced (particularly completely driverless vehicles) other than in very controlled environments such as city centres. Perhaps an area to concentrate on would be to develop technology to make kids (and adults who should know better) cycling no handed on pavements whilst texting (and generally no helmet) a safe form of transport. Who knows, but one thing is for sure; the insurance industry will have to continue to adapt to the risks involved and offer suitable protection whatever the technology of the future.

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