It’s exciting to see how much the automotive industry has changed in even just the past 10 years. GM gave all of their cars a Wi-Fi hotspot, Toyota is focusing on hydrogen cars and everyone’s going electric. With all of this evolution comes many more issues to deal with, not to mention accept, as I wrote about in an earlier post on the evolution of electric vehicles 

Luckily, we don’t have to rely on a few big automakers as we have in years past. Many startups are thinking big to help solve the auto industry’s biggest problems.  

They’re making autonomous vehicles safer. 

I read in Crain’s Detroit about TowerSec, a startup who is leading in the new field of vehicle onboard cyber security technology. They’re goal is to protect vehicles from even the savviest of hackers. The risks of unsecured autonomous vehicles begins to mount when you realize they can do everything from deploy an airbag to sending the wrong instructions to the braking system. It can be scary and that’s why TowerSec is addressing this need. The team is filled with intelligent minds that include backgrounds with the Israeli military, IBM, Battelle, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, to name a few. 

You know they must be doing something right – the North American International Auto Show named Towersec as the hottest startup this year.  

They’re finding new ways to fuel a car, without fuel.  

While sitting on my couch one spring night, I watched Pat Boone and his business partner Ethan Tucker with Zero Pollution Motors [ZPM] pitch the AirPod on Shark Tank. Being a car guy, I initially wrote the car off due to its size. But, after listening further I warmed up to the idea of a car running on air. For starters, the car doesn’t need a battery. Furthermore, you can fill up the “tank” with an air compressor at a gas station – say goodbye to free air – and the car itself only costs about $10K.  

The car is designed and built by French inventor Guy Negre of MDI. It solves for the long lasting issue of pollution – something that my newly acquired 1957 Chevy Bel-Air isn’t helping – and it’s an affordable, compact choice for urban environmentalists 

Shark Robert Herjavec gave a deal to ZPM with the caveat that they can get all the rights to producing the AirPod in the US     

They’re solving for distracted drivers.  

When I was a young boy I remember my dad telling me about his innovative ideas for cars. Although he never acted upon his entrepreneurial actions, he told me about rain sensing windshield wipers before they were a thing and he also told me about a front windshield that would give you updates in things that were important to you.  

Navdy is that company. They describes themselves as “display technology so advanced it feels like magic.” The company knows that people don’t want to put their phones down, even while driving. Their new transparent Head-Up Display (HUD) projects information as if it's floating six feet in front of you. While others are trying to incorporate this into new vehicles, you can use Navdy’s HUD system with your current vehicle. Now the driver never has to take their eyes off the road to look at their phone because the system also understands hand gestures. Directions, stocks, Instragram updates, whatever you want can now be projected to keep drivers’ eyes up and on the road.  

 They’re making electric vehicles more viable.  

 Phinergy, a startup from Israel, is about to do for electric cars what Henry Ford did for the production line. They’re developing a new aluminum-air battery that will allow electric vehicle owners the potential to drive up to 1,000 miles. Here’s the differentiator their battery doesn’t charge.  

Unlike conventional batteries that carry oxygen, these batteries freely breathe oxygen from the ambient air to release the energy contained in metals. Since there’s no charging, the battery consumes the aluminum as fuel. ExtremeTech notes that it would cost $50 to refill your battery every 1,000 miles, equivalent to 90 mpg in cost.  

In testing, the company says that it successfully integrated their battery into an electric vehicle resulting in more than three times the driving range of current EVs on the market. We should see Phinergy aluminum-air batteries on the market in 2017.  

When you're aiming big, the best ideas can start small. After all, Henry Ford himself started in a small garage. As the proliferation of tech continues into every facet of our automobiles, I see large automakers acting more like Facebook and Google from the standpoint that they will acquire and/or partner with smaller firms to bring very focused products and services into production.