Building the (Fictional) Car of the Future

Reading today about the Audi A2 concept car unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show provoked an invitingly distracting mid-day thought experiment about cars of the future. (At left, the Audio A2 Concept via Autoviva.com's Flickr)

The car comes equipped with a new feature called "Semi-Autonomous Drive," which assumes driving responsibilities when motorists find themselves caught in traffic. No doubt a practical solution designed to tackle an annoyingly commonplace problem—and, in places as calamitously congested as Los Angeles and New York City, a veritable Godsend.

Automotive design has been headed in this direction for some time. Google recently toyed with a driverless vehicle, to questionable critical success, and the Lexus LX 360 L boasts a strikingly efficient self-parking system that uses sonar sensors to squeeze itself into desired locations.

It appears that automotive engineers are programming the people right out of the cars—or, more accurately, attempting to program the potential for human error out of the car.

Driverless cars, of course, are nothing new in pop culture. KITT from Knight Rider possessed very impressive self-navigating abilities, not to mention the ability to talk, print money, engage various cruise modes (including, curiously, "pursuit" and "super pursuit"), and operate a state-of-the-art medical scanner. Why all GPS devices are not programmed with William Daniels' voice, by the way, is beyond me.
(Photo of KITT's instrumentation, at left, by WikiMedia uploader Amux)

So, here's the experiment: Help us design the perfect car of the future using creative features from pop culture. Do what Homer Simpson did for Powell Motors when he designed "The Homer" (at left). If you like the idea of your car having three horns because you can never find one when you're mad, like his did, go for it. If you like that the horns play "La Cucaracha," also like his did, even better.

Throw in some of the better fictional features—like the safety foam feature the police cars from Demolition Man offered—and toss out some of the less functional ones, like George Jetson's single joystick steering mechanism. How did he alter his altitude, anyway? Think KITT's turbo boost option was highly impractical? We're fine with that—on the cutting room floor it goes... You see where I'm going with this.

What automotive design innovations from movies, cartoons, and television would you select to build your perfect car?

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Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL
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MIT’s New AI Can Sense Your Movements Through Walls Using Radio Signals
Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL
Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

New artificial intelligence technology developed at MIT can see through walls, and it knows what you’re doing.

RF-Pose, created by researchers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), uses wireless signals to estimate a person’s pose through a wall. It can only come up with a 2D stick figure of your movements, but it can nonetheless see your actions.

The system, described in a new paper [PDF], uses a neural network to piece together radio signals bouncing off the human body. It takes advantage of the fact that the body reflects radio frequency signals in the Wi-Fi range. These Wi-Fi signals can move through walls, but not through people.

Using data from low-power radio signals—1000 times lower than the power your home Wi-Fi router puts out—this algorithm can generate a relatively accurate picture of what the person behind the wall is doing by piecing together the signals reflected by the moving body.

The system can recognize movement in poor lighting and identify multiple different individuals in a scene. Though the technology is still in development, it’s not hard to imagine that the military might use it in surveillance, but the researchers also suggest that it may be useful for video game design and search-and-rescue missions. It might also help doctors monitor and analyze the movements of patients with disorders like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

This is just the latest in a series of projects using radio signals to mimic X-ray vision. CSAIL has been working on similar technology using Wi-Fi signals for several years, creating algorithms to recognize human forms and see motion through obstructions. In the future, they hope to expand the system to be able to recognize movement with 3D images rather than the current 2D stick figures.

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This $40 Wireless Keyboard is Solar-Powered and Might Just Revolutionize Your Workspace
Logitech
Logitech

Meet the $40 solar-powered keyboard that's about to make your life a whole lot easier.

The Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard can be charged by sunlight as well as artificial lights, like your desk lamp, and stays juiced up for at least three months in total darkness. With this innovative gadget, Logitech is eliminating the annoyances that come with other wireless keyboards, like constantly having to change the batteries or plug it in to recharge. Best of all, the Windows-compatible model is on sale at Amazon for $39.99, down from $59.99. Never fear, Mac users—there's a model for you, too (although it's slightly pricier at $54.88).

(Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy.)

Having a reliable wireless keyboard can save you time and undue stress, whether you work in a cubicle or a home office. Plus, at one third of an inch thick, the keyboard is so sleek that Logitech compares it to typing on a laptop (and Amazon reviewers agree). You can monitor the gadget's power level by downloading the Logitech Solar App for your computer. Setting it up is easy: Just plug the receiver into your computer and you're done. It also comes with a three-year warranty for peace of mind.

solar keyboard
Logitech

Customers rave about this gadget on Amazon: One person writes that it's "the single best keyboard I have ever owned." Another loyal customer notes, "I first encountered one at work, and I liked it so much that when I switched jobs, I had to get another!"

Take advantage of this deal on Amazon while you can. While you're at it, check out the $95 mattress that Amazon customers are losing their minds over.

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