Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Automobile of the Future

Among a great many auto manufacturers and hi-tech companies enthusiasm for the self-driving car abounds. According to many this exciting new development is "just around the corner," once certain tricky but supposedly manageable issues are resolved. Meanwhile, some very intriguing and in some cases really beautiful designs have emerged.

One of my favorites is the brand new Sedric, from Volkswagen:

As can be seen from this view,

the large windshields are non-functional, as there is no steering wheel, accelerator or brake controls. According to the article, "Two wide doors on each side slide open to reveal an airy interior with sofa-style seats facing towards the center." No need to watch where you're going, as the vehicle is designed to be fully autonomous.

Here's another beauty, from Mercedes Benz:

Here too, the seats are facing inward. But the front seats can also swivel into a more traditional position, facing the windshield:

What strikes one immediately is how exciting these designs look. And when we add the truly amazing feature of full autonomy, the prospects seem boundless. Only, as should be clear from my second post, full autonomy is a goal that can never be attained. These vehicles can be manufactured, of course -- they already have been, apparently -- but their utility is strictly limited. On clearly marked highways, on sunny days with no rain, snow or fog, they may well be perfectly safe, as claimed. On busy city streets, filled with pedestrians, including unpredictable children and animals, heavy traffic, with cars continually changing lanes, surrounded by tall buildings that can easily block GPS signals, ambiguous lane markers, potholes, detours due to road construction, traffic signals that can malfunction from time to time -- no, they are not ready and imo never will be ready.

However, as I explained in my previous post, all is not lost, because these wonderful machines can be retrofitted in such a way as to take advantage of their wonderful artificial intelligence capabilities while at the same time remaining under the control of our unparalleled human intelligence.

Reviewing the images presented above, the first thing that bothers me is all that potentially dangerous glass. I'd place metal plates behind each glass panel, including the windshield, to shield passengers against flying glass. And I'd line all the surfaces with thick padding. No need for dangerous air bags. Of course, a fully autonomous vehicle has no need for a windshield, but a human driver does need to see the road ahead. No problem, as video cameras mounted fore, aft and sideways would provide a complete view of the environment, via a fixed computer display, or even a laptop, through the magic of WiFi. No need for natural sunlight, as the interior could be lighted artificially, as brightly or dimly as desired.

The next thing to do would be design a controller, roughly along the lines of a video game controller, to enable a driver to take full control of the vehicle when necessary or when desired. All that would be needed would be a Wi-Fi type signal from the controller to the vehicle's computer and vice-versa, when feedback is necessary. The most elegant design I can think of would be two controllers, one for each hand, monitored by motion sensors. Turning of the wheels could be controlled by one hand -- clockwise to the right, counterclockwise to the left. Braking and acceleration could be controlled by the other hand -- pull back to brake, move forward to accelerate. In effect, you'd be driving by remote control -- from within the car.

In order for the vehicle to function, both hands would need to be on the controllers at all times. If either controller is dropped, an alarm would sound and if there were no immediate response from the driver, the autonomous features would kick in to guide everyone off the road and into a safe parking place, from which the system would call for help.

On a clearly marked highway, under clear weather conditions, the car could be safely driven in fully autonomous mode -- the driver could relax, but would always need to keep his hands on both controllers, in case something goes wrong. That way, even if he's watching a movie, he'd be ready to respond at a moment's notice. When entering an urban area, control would be relinquished to the driver, though certain automatic features would remain activated: collision avoidance and self-parking, for example.

Is this the automobile of the future? I do think so, yes, as it would offer an unprecedented combination of safety, comfort and convenience, while at the same time enabling us to enjoy the wonders and beauty of the marvelous autonomous machines now being designed and manufactured, for which there would never be a viable market otherwise.


  1. I love the Sedric. A few years ago I was looking for a non-traditional kind of RV or camper that you did not have to tow behind your car or truck, that you could park in a park and still have a vehicle you could get around town (or go to work) in without bringing your "house" with you. Since I cannot find at this time my saved emails, I am not for sure but believe what I happened on has not been made yet - either from New Zealand, Finland, Germany or Sweden. However it could be what is called the "imgur concept RV." It's perfect. I could email the picture but this site does not allow for that. It looks like one large van. However there is a little "smart car" that detaches from the unit so that you can park and leave your home behind, while you zoom around in your electric car and take care of business. There is no need to take your house with you, and you do not need a truck or SUV and a tow bar to tow it. It's an all-in-one unit but the car detaches.

    I emailed the team to be put on a waiting list for production but never heard back. I don't believe it has been built. The windows in the RV the are wide like on the Sedric. Of course window shades could be added for privacy when you are camping. Inside the van everything folds out or down and is tucked away allowing for maximum space. Kitchen, bathroom, shower, lounge area - it is not your traditional camper. If you get a chance, check out what I think they are calling the imgur concept RV.

    1. Is this what you mean?

      I love it. What a great idea!

    2. Hello - I forgot to check back on this blog! Yes, that is a picture of the imgur. Isn't it beautiful? Futuristic, and economical.