Kindergarten teachers make kids draw fantastic future cars to foster their creativity. Science-fiction writers give adults some quite questionable but incredible varieties of vehicles of the future. All these transportation options like a self-driving delivery car or amphibious convertible or others might still seem unreal. However, flying taxis and underwater safari tours are not as impossible as a child’s dream.
Four years ago, Google presented a 100% automated vehicle prototype without a steering wheel and a brake pedal. Last year news clips about achievements in the sphere were popping up one after another. By now famous auto manufacturing companies such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Volvo, Nissan have entered into the race for the ultimate unmanned car market.
Modern self-driving cars generally use a mapping algorithm, which integrates data from multiple sensors and on/off-line maps. The technology produces a consistent, accurate, and useful view of the environment. It is complicated to imagine, so ‘Waymo’, which stands for a new way forward in mobility and is the Google self-driving car project, has uploaded on YouTube a video showing how the car “sees” a road.
Uber became one of the first companies to put autonomous cars into action. Yet the driverless Uber taxi accident made the crowd panic. An autonomous Uber car killed a woman in the street last March. The crash reminded the public that AI cannot predict human behavior and raised the question: “Are self-driving cars safe enough?” According to statistics, an AI-controlled vehicle is a lot more secure than a human at the wheel due to the human factor. Self-driving cars don’t get tired, angry, frustrated or drunk. However, they have their own issues: machines can’t be specifically programmed in advance to handle every imaginable set of events.
Boat Competitor? No, Submarine Follower!
We are already familiar with amphibious vehicles viable on land as well as on water. The technology for the military community has now grown into multiple commercial projects. But the “sQuba” is a unique as the world's first car that can be driven under water. Swiss company Rinspeed developed an all-electric convertible concept car with three motors, one for land travel, two for water. As a driver forwards the car into the water and the car floats until the driver lets the water in. Immediately the “sQuba” starts on its way to the underwater world. Breathing air comes from an integrated tank of compressed air just like scuba diving.
Called a Flying Cab?
“Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!”, said Doc Brown, as he was starting the flying time machine in the movie, Back to the Future. His idea of flying cars would definitely be our future. Here they are! There are not only prototypes but also real ones.
The “PAL-V Liberty”, the world’s first commercial flying car fully compliant with existing regulations, is already available to preorder. In a size of a small car, the vehicle has two separate engines, one for flight and one for the street. It is in fact far from looking like a regular car, it is a compact autogyro capable of hiding the propeller blades. And it takes between five and ten minutes to convert from flying to driving mode and vice versa.
Another promising project is “AeroMobil”. The Slovak company showed off “AeroMobil 4.0” last year. The developers constructed aircraft-type wings with a folding structure. A prototype of “AeroMobil 5.0” has an all-electric concept and it would have the advantage of taking off without any runway at all. When it’s time to take to the skies, the wings extend out from the sides of the vehicle, and two larger rotors provide upward propulsion.
Terrafugia’s current existing project, the “Transition”, is designed like a typical Light Sports Aircraft, which can also drive. However, developing the “TF-X” is going to revolutionize personal transportation for us all. The company promises to provide true door-to-door operations at high speeds and over long ranges. “TF-X” will be a four-seat, hybrid electric, semi-autonomous sedan.
Drive with Your Mind
Here is a car truly out of science fiction. But it sounds a lot more real when we recall developing programs that can read information off the human brain. Developers implement such programs into earphones, glasses or whatever. Why not try a car? Eight years ago, Mercedes presented a concept car “Merc Cyborg”, claiming that the car-driving mind-reading technology will be available in 2040. Meanwhile, Nissan chose a slightly different path. This year it introduced Brain-to-Vehicle technology that lets a car interpret signals from a driver's brain. So, the car doesn’t only drive itself as the driver thinks but also predicts a driver's actions to improve reaction times and enhance manual driving. It can also customize a vehicle's system to best match the owner's driving style.
What will a car be like in, say, 50 years? Well, some things are predictable, just like some of the predictions made 50 years ago came true. But the truth was said so accurately in one of the most futuristic movies of last century, Back to the Future; “It means your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it. So, make it a good one.”
Yan Natalya, Reporter