Get Moving

Cars That Fly, Hover, Fold, & 
Get Powered by Compressed Air

You’ve heard that one before. By now, we were supposed to be living in smart cities, with cars flying overhead, and androids doing menial work, so we’d be zipping around, 90 minutes from New York to Paris, or ‘the chance to start anew in one of the colonies of Jupiter.’
Well, enough of that for now. While we’ve wasted our youth complaining about lower-expectations, and the ennui of our times, inventors got busy, and came up with exciting ways to get us in gear. You’d be surprised how close we’re from a new age of cars. And it yes, they all come in black.
A few months ago, we told you about the Terrafugia, a foldable-wing car-slash-small plane, that became the first private aircraft to be licensed by the FAA. Something about its design, though, which resembles a German jeep from the 1940s, low speed, crammed cabin space, and stiff price, didn’t drive anyone to take their shirts off.
But alas, it somehow opened the floodgates, and now pretty much every month there’s a new design being tested in some secluded desert, that promises to take the world by storm. And they’re no longer being developed by the crafty weekend-hobbyist; many heavy weights in the industry are getting in the game early, and often.
It may not happen tomorrow, though, so you too can keep your clothes on for a while. But chances are these things will be coming to mass production even before the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam four-seater, the world’s oldest still running car, grinds to halt.
If you think that there isn’t enough demand for such a radical change, one that has the potential to literally leave the present in the dust, you may be underestimating the unpredictable factor at the root of most modern inventions. As Henry Ford once said, about his invention: “If I had asked people what they want, they would have said a faster horse.”
Finally, for those who feel that we ought to move faster, and catch up with the sci-fi world already, a word of caution. Despite all laws and heavy penalties, people who should never get behind the wheel, still do, and still cause unspeakable lifetime heartbreak to loved ones and complete strangers. So we’re kind of lucky there’s no flying cars hovering above us just yet.

By far, the most spectacular of the new ideas for the car of the future came out of a Volkswagen project, open to the public: the emissions-free Hover Car, a two-seater that one day could run a few inches over magnetic strips laid on roads. There’s not yet a prototype of this car, but the video simulation is truly impressive.
It’s also a radical departure from the four-wheel models we’re so used to, for over a century. We bet that, if given a chance, most people would vote for a something like that running in their cities: light, environmentally-friendly, and already supported by a big carmaker, whose first People’s Car, the Beetle, launched in the 1930s, transcended everything that had come before.

The AirPod doesn’t even have a driving wheel. Its technology is not new, but it has never commercially adopted by any of the 20th century car manufacturers. It’s not too hard to know why, given the global political power that oil companies have come to possess, on their way to total domination of the energy markets.
Its time may have come, since city dwellers are much hungrier for cheap and pollution-free ways of transportation. Ir also helps that, being powered by compressed air, it won’t need the build up of a network of charging stations, required by electric cars. Its biggest challenge, besides beating a stiff competition, may be its compact size.

By now, you may realize that the technology that powers electric cars is not even the best as a radical alternative to carbon-based fuels. That is because they still may represent an extra drain out of the powergrid of the cities. Still, it beats petroleum any day of the week.
The biggest weapon of the MIT-designed Hiriko Fold is its ability to be stored way better than any other model currently or possibly expected to be on the road soon. Parking is a big empty, destructive business, so any ideas on how to optimize the huge extensions of pavement we dedicate to park our cars today is more than welcome.

The solitary weekender we mentioned earlier is indirectly represented here by this unnamed hover vehicle, made by California-based aviation firm Aeroflex. That’s because it’s an informal successor to a hoverbike developed last year by Australian inventor Chris Malloy. Think a number of comics and movies set in the future, because it’s right up that alley.
After solving stability problems presented by earlier, 1960s attempts, the company’s successfully tested a prototype that has all the high-tech advantages of a low-flying vehicle, along with the odd feeling that it has already been invented. Not on land, it has not. Now, who’s watched too many sci-fi flicks?

Now, there’s an often overlooked detail about projections of the future that may derail all our collective dreams of seeing many of these things hovering and zipping around, from New York to Paris, etc: it can always take another turn, and track an alternate route towards what’s coming.
Thus, we may expect that the invention of new technologies, materials, and propulsion-engines may be just around the corner, and will be at the ready for everything that’s supposed to improve our lives. However, until then, we may actually see a lot of cars made out of scrap metal, or of a combination of soy-based ‘green’ plastic and mushroom roots instead.
A Brazilian homeless man, for instance, Orismar de Souza, built his car out of junk collected from the streets, with an 125cc motorcycle engine. It runs, which makes him the pride of the neighborhood. What a difference a brain makes; just four years ago, no one would give him the time of the day, when he mentioned his plans. That’s life, one would say.
And then there’s Deborah Mielewski, a plastic research scientist at Ford, who’s working on soy-based compounds, to someday replace all petroleum-based elements that go into the production of a modern car. A model such as the Fiestas, far from being a designer’s dream, nevertheless has already 10 percent of its plastics made of the compound.
The research is taking her and her collegues very far. They’re now experimenting with a mix of mushroom roots and wheat straw, that once placed inside a mold, can grow into the shape of a car part. Then, it’s just a matter of drying it up, covering it up with a layer of that bioplastic and, voilá, your in-laws will never believe that it’s not butter, er, plastic.

Read Also
* The Drone, The Car & the Beat
* Blue Skies

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