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Building the (Fictional) Car of the Future

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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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Take a Look Inside the 1987 Consumer Electronics Show
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Since June 1967, the Consumer Electronics Show has provided a venue for tech companies to show off their hottest products for the upcoming year. It’s also become a way to measure the progression of technology over recent decades, as the video below shows.

According to Sploid, the footage was filmed by Art Vuolo at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Chicago in the summer of 1987. The 30-year-old tape chronicles a time when camcorders, VCRs, and “portable” TVs were considered cutting-edge gadgetry. As we know, it would only be a few decades until those items served more of a purpose as kitschy craft supplies than actual hardware.

After watching part one of Vuolo’s series, check out the other three videos from the event which include a Casio synth guitar and an early video phone.

[h/t Sploid]

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Wisconsin Software Company Will Microchip Its Employees
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Typically, pets—not people—are microchipped. But as NBC News reports, one Wisconsin-based company plans to become the first business in the country to offer the tiny implants to its employees.

Three Square Market (32M), a software design firm in River Falls, Wisconsin, will begin providing the chips starting August 1. The rice-sized implants—which cost around $300 each—will be implanted in the hands of staffers between the thumb and the forefinger, and will allow them to purchase vending-machine snacks, open secured doors, or log into their computers with the wave of a hand. The company says the chips are optional.

32M is partnering with Swedish-based BioHax International to install the chips, which were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004. The chips utilize electromagnetic fields to identify electronically stored data, and near-field communications, a technology that's used in contactless credit cards.

Fifty company members—including CEO Todd Westby—are expected to volunteer to receive the implants, according to a company statement. The company will foot the bill for the implants.

32M's microchipping program may sound unconventional, but the company—which owns machines that can use microchips—says it's simply riding the wave of the future.

"We see chip technology as the next evolution in payment systems, much like micro markets have steadily replaced vending machines," 32M's Westby said in the statement. "As a leader in micro market technology, it is important that 32M continues leading the way with advancements such as chip implants."

As microchipping becomes more common, Westby added, people will use the technology to shop, travel, and ride public transit.

The company says the chips are easily removable and can't be hacked or used to track recipients. However, some experts have argued the technology is an invasion of privacy, and that it could lead to heightened employee scrutiny.

"If most employees agree, it may become a workplace expectation," Vincent Conitzer, a computer science professor at Duke University, told NBC News. "Then, the next iteration of the technology allows some additional tracking functionality. And so it goes until employees are expected to implant something that allows them to be constantly monitored, even outside of work."

[h/t NBC News]

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