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Science Technology

The Quest for the Car of the Future 434

Lux writes "Where will the car of the future come from? It's unlikely to come from anywhere you'd expect it to. Wired's money is on the car of the future coming from NASA. 'New technology that promises to revolutionize the automobile as we know it is emerging from research institutions and startups — and these innovations won't set you back $100,000 like a Tesla will... One experiment involves small electric motors located in the wheels of the CityCar, a tiny, nimble and practically silent vehicle with wheels that turn 360 degrees, enabling it to slip neatly into tight urban parking spaces. Others are looking to revolutionize the automobile's engine, not replace it.'"
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The Quest for the Car of the Future

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  • Heh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Moby Cock ( 771358 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:13PM (#19570793) Homepage
    wheels that turn 360 degrees

    Indeed, that is a revolution.
    • Re:Heh (Score:4, Funny)

      by Citizen of Earth ( 569446 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:21PM (#19570921)

      Indeed, that is a revolution.

      However, a trip of any useful length will require your tires to rotate significantly more than 360 degrees. Perhaps someday these research cars will be able to travel more than 47 inches.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

      wheels that turn 360 degrees

      Indeed, that is a revolution.

      Nice pun.

      But yeah, if wheels don't spin a full 360 degrees on their axle, how would they roll?

      I think they meant that they could be turned to point in a direction within a 180-degree range (reverse gear gets you the other 180, unless you really do need to drive towards, say, your 8 o'clock position at 75 MPH).

      That is, unless the wheels are spherical. Then there's no need to point them: just roll them the way you want to go. (Spinning them around a

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Paperweight ( 865007 )
      Isn't 180 degrees enough?
    • I think the submitter meant "4*pi steeradians".
    • $16,000 seats (Score:3, Insightful)

      C'mon folks how are the people that put together complicated systems like the shuttle that, after 25 years, only flies once in a blue moon ever going to come out with a practical car for everyday use.

      Nor will a practical new car come out of Detroit who just use lobbying to replace innovation.

      A real car for the masses is far more likely to come out of China.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GeckoX ( 259575 )
        That wasn't a troll mods, sheesh.

        It does oversimplify things a lot though.

        NASA won't be producing a practical super efficient car for every day use. There's pretty much zero chance of that ever happening. HOWEVER, they very likely will produce technologies that will be used in said cars.

        Detroit isn't going to do it first either. Just not going to happen. Though they'll fall in line as soon as someone else does the hard bits first. Detroit has forgotten how to innovate, but not how to emulate. They'll end up
  • So are they finally going to get that car out that runs on water and produces no emissions other than water vapor? Or is that still an "urban legend"?
    • Re:water (Score:5, Insightful)

      by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:16PM (#19570855) Journal
      Yes, it's still an urban legend that you can violate the laws of thermodynamics.
    • by nbert ( 785663 )
      They are not going to get the car that runs on water. They are rather suggesting another battery powered design which will be mostly charged by coal and gas plants at a degree of efficiency so modest that it's not even worth hitting the calculator. Another design without exhaust which actually wastes way more energy that any car driving on gasoline or diesel. The other projects mentioned in TFA are quite optimistic IMO. The combustion engine we all know is quite efficient (at least compared to anything whic
      • Re:water (Score:5, Informative)

        by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @11:47PM (#19574529) Homepage
        You're missing a vital point. Regardless of overall efficiency, an electric vehicle can be powered by any form of electricity generation. Nuclear, using an Integral Fast Reactor [wikipedia.org], is 'as good as it gets' in terms of power generation. Carbon neutral, no long-term radioactive waste output, inherently safe, and very efficient in terms of uranium usage (99.5% energy recovered as compared with ~1% in a standard nuclear reactor). In terms of CO2 output, switching to electric vehicles has no immediate negative impact and long term very positive impact.

        According to this [memagazine.org], the most efficient well-to-wheels technology is a hybrid drive burning a petrol/methane mix. However, hybrids still require fossil fuels which ultimately lead to carbon emissions, and they are orders of magnitude more complex to build than battery electrics, which are currently expensive only due to companies trying to recoup R&D investment costs, rather than inherent manufacturing expense.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by bmgoau ( 801508 )
          I agree with on on every point, and hope that the future turns out to be nuclear/fusion powered, with hydrogen and battery cars on the road.

          One question i have above future power sources is how, if battery power is made the norm, we will find all the materials to make all these batterys and what will their cycle lifes be?

          BTW ethanol would never work, we did calculations in high school chemistry. Everything about ethanol is great, the only problem is that in order to produce enough to run the USA's cars alon
    • Re:water (Score:5, Funny)

      by zmollusc ( 763634 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @07:52PM (#19572745)
      Not at all. I run one myself. It has a big funnel on the roof which feeds a reservoir. A simple waterwheel and high ratio reduction gear provides forward movement. Okay, not much forward movement, but as climate change increases the average rainfall, things can only get better.
  • Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:15PM (#19570837) Homepage Journal
    Take a modern TDI engine from Europe and add it to a plug in hybrid.
    Run it on biodiesel when available and put solar cells on the roof of it.
    Ok the solar cells may just be for cute factor but my car sits in my office parking lot all day in Florida. It might give me enough power to run the AC on the trip home.

    • Biodiesel's not a viable alternative to fossil fuels. We can't grow enough to both feed and fuel or society.

      Cutting power usage, as you suggested by driving European-style cars (which, I'll add, are also way easier to drive/park than stereotypical US pickup with an automatic gearbox) and make effecient use of our remaining fossil fuel would cover our lifetimes. By then we'd have hopefully worked out how to generate solar energy effectively.
      • Re:Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Eagleartoo ( 849045 ) <allen_turner@noSPam.hotmail.com> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:37PM (#19571175) Journal
        The crops we use for Biodiesel are not viable alternatives to fossil fuels - we should begin growing hemp - it's much more suited to that kind of application seeing as how you can get 4 crop cycles to every 1 crop cycle of corn. HempCar [hempcar.org]

        Am I a looney who wants them to legalize marijuana? Sure! But there's greater uses than smoking it.
        • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:34PM (#19571937) Journal

          Am I a looney who wants them to legalize marijuana? Sure! But there's greater uses than smoking it.
          Industrial Hemp != Marijuana
          For whatever reason, the Federal Government of the USA refuses to recognize that fact.

          I bet they wouldn't even have to subsidize hemp farming like they do for [most food crops in the USA]
        • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @07:06PM (#19572301)
          I think the drug prohibition is an absolutely unjustifiable assault on civil liberties that has done nothing but promote violence both domestically and in South America. But this constant mindless promotion of hemp is just silly.

          Hemp is not a great biodiesel crop. It is better than corn, but that is just because nearly every conceivable crop is better than corn. Here is a decent approximation of vegetable oil crop yields [journeytoforever.org] for various plants.

          In reality biomass fuel from any traditional crop is not a sustainable substitute for petroleum - we use too much of it. There isn't enough arable land, and there are already concerns about top soil depletion just with food crops. That isn't to say it isn't a good supplement (especially if the oil is a byproduct that would go to waste otherwise), but we need to figure out something else, like algae or hydroponic crops with sustainable fertilizers, if were are to produce enough biomass to have a significant impact on petroleum use.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by networkBoy ( 774728 )
        Soybeans can be converted to biodiesel, and the "waste" product of protein/carb cake can be used as foodstuff for livestock. fairly win/win there.
      • Re:Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:36PM (#19571961) Homepage Journal

        Biodiesel's not a viable alternative to fossil fuels. We can't grow enough to both feed and fuel or society.

        That is a bunch of nonsense. Besides hemp (as suggested by a sibling comment) there is algae, which can be grown in salt water and which requires nothing more than agitation of the pond it grows in. You don't even have to stock it; research done at Sandia by the USDOE suggests that using carefully cultured algae is actually counterproductive because it will not do as well in your environment as the local, naturally selected algae that will colonize your ponds for you automatically, by virtue of being carried in by the wind.

        That same report said that biodiesel from algae should be profitable by the time diesel fuel hits $3/gallon. Guess where it is now! And that was using the techniques of over a decade ago.

        Topsoil-based fuels are incredibly fucking stupid and, mark my words, Brazil will be suffering horribly from it within our lifetimes. But that's not the only way to produce biofuels.

    • by nbert ( 785663 )
      Because of Europe's hunger for diesel fuel, refineries are already doing everything they can to raise the percentage of diesel which leaves their facilities. There is a limit on diesel produced per unit of oil and we are already extremely close to it. Biodiesel might compensate high demand for a while, but keep in mind that higher demand for products able to form biodiesel might have severe consequences on prices in the supermarket.

      Coming from Germany I like TDI engines, but IMO they won't solve any enviro
    • by shmlco ( 594907 )
      I will buy that car from the first manufacturer to make one. Toyota? Volkswagen?

      BTW, you may find this interesting:

      http://www.solarelectricalvehicles.com/ [solarelect...hicles.com]

      • If they could add something like that to the Tesla roadster I think you would have a winner. A plug in vehicle than can go 250 miles on a single charge. It takes 3 hours to charge but if its a sunny day the sun will charge the as you're out and about thus eliminating the 3 hours. You could then probably got cross country with the car if you wanted not depending on solar power because you have 250 miles of battery power available. It would at least be easy out here in the south west.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by spood ( 256582 )
          There is not enough available surface on the Roadster to gain even a nominal addition to the range by adding solar panels. Even the car referenced by the parent gains only an additional 20 miles per day with full sun exposure. Current (no pun intended) electric technologies simply do not support an electric car with a 300+ mile daily range. However, that is not to say that an electric car does not make sense for a daily commute. Your solar dollars are better invested in solar plants and static rooftop colle
    • Re:Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:42PM (#19571251) Homepage Journal

      Ok the solar cells may just be for cute factor but my car sits in my office parking lot all day in Florida. It might give me enough power to run the AC on the trip home.

      The AC on an average passenger car can consume as much as 5HP and is horribly unlikely to consume less than 3. that's 2.2 to 3.7 kilowatts.

      You're going to need at least a couple kWh for one hour of using the A/C, and almost certainly more...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by donglekey ( 124433 )
      Imagine everyone fighting for the roof spots in a parking garage.
  • Google? (Score:5, Informative)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:17PM (#19570857) Homepage Journal
    A clean energy update [blogspot.com]
    Google pushes 100-mpg car [cnn.com]
    Google plugs in and goes green [ft.com]

    Frankly, I'm surprised this hasn't made it to a /. article yet.

    • The founders of Google also have money invested in Tesla.
    • Re:Google? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AGC(AW) ( 791814 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:35PM (#19571143)
      I clicked on the link in the google 100 mpg car for the 13 most fuel effecient vehicles. I had to laugh. I bought a chevy 3 cylinder metro 10 years ago. It got me about 44 hiway/38 city new. Has about 100,000 miles on it now and the gas mileage has drppoed somewhat. I'm getting the same or better than mos of these "fuel effecient" cars. My friends laughed at me. I laughed right back when they discovered their monthly gas costs would last me 3-4 months. Don't turn on the AC though.
  • by the_kanzure ( 1100087 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:17PM (#19570867) Homepage
    The real car of the future may in fact be no car at all. Might it be possible that there are methods of living that do not require us to live distantly from useful and necessary services? Looks like we can get services to our computer fairly well, right?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:21PM (#19570937)
      The real car of the future may in fact be no car at all. Might it be possible that there are methods of living that do not require us to live distantly from useful and necessary services? Looks like we can get services to our computer fairly well, right?

      If you refer to the practice of living in your parents' basement, then yes, I can confirm that it does indeed obviate much of the need for transportation.
    • Yeah, they're called "tall buildings" and "train systems". (UK: TEE-YOOB)

      See: any city that experienced significant growth before the advent of the automobile.
    • by fbjon ( 692006 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:29PM (#19571061) Homepage Journal

      we can get services to our computer fairly well
      If by services you mean sexual services, then yes, I suppose the supply is adequate for the average slashdotter's needs.
    • by Sciros ( 986030 )
      Don't people have to get to work somehow? Many live far away, so we'd need awesome public transportation.

      Fast trains to get to other cities would be nice, too. But... that would cost money, money people would rather give to our rich-ass school district that has so much money to burn they actually built a water park with some of it T_T
      • by benhocking ( 724439 ) <{benjaminhocking} {at} {yahoo.com}> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:44PM (#19571267) Homepage Journal

        Fast trains to get to other cities would be nice, too. But... that would cost money, money people would rather give to our rich-ass school district

        Or money that people would rather use to build roads instead of to subsidize train systems. A lot of people who are against subsidizing public transportation seem to conveniently ignore the fact that we are already subsidizing private transportation. (I am not lumping you into this category.)

        • by Sciros ( 986030 )
          A very good point! I personally would be happy to have some of my taxes go towards a high-tech train system in our city, connecting distant parts of town as well as other cities.
    • by Urban Garlic ( 447282 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:36PM (#19571157)
      > Might it be possible that there are methods of living that do not require us to live distantly from useful and necessary services?

      Possible, but improbable, especially in the US. The most significant problem is couples who want to live together, but who don't necessarily work in the same place, combined with the fact that, with dispersed land-use patterns for housing, mass transit has no hope of keeping up, because the population is widely spread out at a low density. So, if half of every working couple can't live near where they work (because if they moved there, their other half would have the same problem), and if these people can't use efficient, high-capacity transit (because they want to live in a low-density residential environment), you're left with figuring out a way to move a lot of individuals to dispersed destinations. And that's *before* you take into account transportation for shopping or recreation.

      Maybe both you and your (future?) partner can both live and work near public transportation, for both of your entire careers. That's great, but it's not typical.
    • Summer 1977 Probably you weren't born yet or were an infant.

      In any event your parents were sneaking a few tokes on a joint in the parking lot of the theater (and a few gulps of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill) that was showing Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever, Marathon Man ('is it safe?'), or Black Sunday (' Zere ahr no accidents!' Martha Keller and Ahhnold - jeez what a team!)

      Honda is losing all their credibilty on a piece-of-shit CVCC engine. Mazda is blowing their wad on a Wankel. Toyota is
      • ...In any event your parents were sneaking a few tokes on a joint in the parking lot of the theater (and a few gulps of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill) that was showing Star Wars...

        Luke... I am your parents.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        Honda is losing all their credibilty on a piece-of-shit CVCC engine. Mazda is blowing their wad on a Wankel. Toyota is toying around with the uglyest cars ever made. GM gives us the Vega, Ford the Pinto, and AMC brings up the rear with the Pacer. And the only pants that we could buy a bell-bottoms. No wonder we needed to get stoned and right now if not sooner.

        You forgot Nissan (or still Datsun, then) blowing their good name they gained with the 240Z and the Honey Bee by releasing the 260Z which sucked

  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:18PM (#19570879)
    I think that's called the Smart car. It may still run on gas, but can park backing up to a curb. And I guess if you want more style, you can go with a Mini.
    • I think that's called the Smart car. It may still run on gas, but can park backing up to a curb.

      That's nice, but even if your car fits, this is illegal pretty much everywhere in the US AFAIK. Only motorcycles are to be backed to the curb.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nbert ( 785663 )

      It may still run on gas, but can park backing up to a curb

      Yes you can, but you'll be in the way just like someone parking right in the second lane. At least on very narrow streets in Europe (redundant?) this is the case. Might be different if you put it between two Hummers...

      If I have to park next to one, I put my car close enough so that it's not possible for the smart guy to open the driver's door anymore. Not that I'm evil - just compensating for DC's marketing division telling them that it's a good idea to park like this.

  • Crash tested? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jammo ( 981940 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:20PM (#19570913)
    Love to see the stills of a simple 20 mile per hour crash, let alone higher. A four wheel drive would literally drive right through it without slowing at a guess.
    • Re:Crash tested? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DavidpFitz ( 136265 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:36PM (#19571161) Homepage Journal

      Love to see the stills of a simple 20 mile per hour crash, let alone higher. A four wheel drive would literally drive right through it without slowing at a guess.
      Then we should get the 4x4s off the road.

      Or, just get a huge JCB/Lorry/Truck/Juggernaut type vehicle to crush the SUVs. Bigger is better, eh?


      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jammo ( 981940 )
        Don't get me wrong, I don't own a 4x4 myself; but I really wouldn't feel safe in a car that has aparently no "crumple zone", whatever hits you will not have any of its kinetic energy absorbed before hitting body parts. I'm all for the environmental issue as well, but don't see that the choice of car can really impact when for example China is building 2 coal fired power stations per week, just one of which will produce the emissions equivalent of 2 million cars. I'll continue to buy based on looks, perfor
    • Re:Crash tested? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:37PM (#19571171) Homepage Journal

      A four wheel drive would literally drive right through it without slowing at a guess.

      Which is why every sensible driver should engage in the SUV arms race. As a nice side effect, we'll run out of oil much faster, and we'll actually have to start thinking about alternative energy sources.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The problem is never the small car smashing into something; it's trivial to reinforce a car against the g-forces generated by it smashing into a solid object, because both sides of the equation are known, and the amount of energy can be calculated.

      The problem is always something else smashing into the small car. The aforementioned SUV is a good example. And this is always going to be a problem with efficient cars, as long as the disincentives to driving a large, heavy, fuel-inneficient monster are too low.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by camperdave ( 969942 )
        When it hits a point where all cars are comparable in mass, then that sort of thing will cease to be an issue.

        It will never cease to be an issue. Take a look at what is actually on the road. An empty transport truck is, at a guess, an order of magnitude more massive than an SUV. A full one... who knows? While high fuel costs may drive people into smaller vehicles, they will likely push for bigger transport trucks (cheaper to fuel one massive truck, than several smaller trucks, on a cost per unit cargo
    • Re:Crash tested? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:46PM (#19571293) Homepage Journal

      Love to see the stills of a simple 20 mile per hour crash, let alone higher. A four wheel drive would literally drive right through it without slowing at a guess.

      I don't know about any of the rest of these but the SMART car is supposed to be quite excellent in a crash and not that it's on this list but VW alleges their new ~230 mpg concept is safer than an F1 racer (it's built on some of the same principles and provides an enclosed cockpit, unlike an F1 car.)

      There is nothing inherently uncrashworthy about a small car, although it IS likely to be substantially more expensive for the same level of safety.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nutshell42 ( 557890 )
        If that's true, sign me up.

        Robert Kubica crashed [youtube.com] into a wall at 280km/h and walked away (well, "was cut out of the car") with a sprained ankle and a mild concussion.

  • Screw NASA (Score:5, Funny)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:20PM (#19570915)
    From Silicon Valley, that's where, and it's almost here.

    ... the TESLA Electric Roadster. [gizmodo.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by The0retical ( 307064 )
      The Tesla is great and all but if you read the article you would see that the 100k price tag is a bit of a roadblock that developers are trying to overcome.

      For example, I buy a 50k Lotus Elise which the TESLA chassis is based on. It gets 25ish mpg and has a 5 second 0-60 and is fun as hell to drive. Though I get crappy gas mileage compared to the TESLA it will be a long time before I hit that extra 50k that I would need to spend to just start to have the TESLA pay for itself. Then you factor in maintenance
      • "Starts to add up after a while eh?"

        And $4.21 per gallon gas doesn't? :)

        Gas/diesel will only continue to increase in price. The points about the Tesla you make are valid, but if you plot the two curves, with those points being ticked off one by one against the rise in fuel, my money says the two will cross soon enough.

        "...can't be a foul if you don't see it coming out of your tailpipe right?"

        I'm guessing that is a rhetorical question, but... I'm ASE certified auto and heavy truck - journeyman. T
    • Slashdot Reader of the Future: Saves time by not only ignoring TFA, but the Summary as well by only reading the headline.

      I don't think that the general populous is willing to drop 100k on a roadster.

  • It would be nice to have full automatic computer control, at least on highway. It will greatly increase throughput and allow to spend time during daily commute more productively.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:22PM (#19570957)
    Their design requires you jettison your gas tanks once you get up to speed and occasionally the vehicle explodes on the way home (even worse than the Pinto).
    • by trb ( 8509 )
      their vehicle will six and be the size of a semi trailer truck and will cost you a billion dollars to make a 500 mile round trip. good acceleration though.
  • It's my very humble and limited understanding that the big reason we don't see electric cars is the battery technology. Not that the basic technology isn't there, but it's my understanding that a battery specific to autmotive applications still isn't on the market. Didn't the Tesla just string a bunch of NiMH or lithium ion batteries together from laptops?
    • by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:34PM (#19571139)
      Quite true - present battery technology is pitiful for bulk energy storage. Compared to any combustion fuel, batteries are at least an order of magnitude worse in terms of watts per kilo or watts per unit volume. The Tesla used a giant array of lithium polymer batteries, which is the best we can do right now. Consider this: An electric car like the Tesla has a battery pack several times larger and heavier than a normal car's full gas tank. The drive system and the vehicle as a whole are much more thermodynamically efficient (miles per watt of input). Yet, the vehicle's range is at most a third of a normal car's. Until electrical energy storage makes at least an order of magnitude improvement in density, electric vehicles will remain highly inconvenient compared to combustion engines.
      • The Tesla's range is 250 miles on a full charge which takes 3 hours. That's not that bad. It would suck for cross country going 250 miles then have to stop for 3 hours to charge up. Around the city though it would be more than sufficient, even enough to take it to the desert for some track racing.

        Battery technology is definitely the limiting factor, I think at this point it's specifically the charging end of the equation though.

    • by shmlco ( 594907 )
      Yeah, too bad that's it's impossible to make an effective electric car now. Or even, say, eight years ago.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_EV1 [wikipedia.org]
    • Didn't the Tesla just string a bunch of NiMH or lithium ion batteries together from laptops?

      Yes they did, but with pretty decent results. The Tesla Roadster can go 200 miles on a single charge. That will almost get you from New York City to Boston (technically 217 miles, so maybe do a quick charge when you stop for lunch). It also goes from completely dead to fully charged in just under 4 hours. So essentially you get 50 miles per hour of charging. Not too bad. Tesla is also heavily investing in imp

  • No mass-market innovation will EVER come out of the government. Superficially, the Internet appears to be an exception to his rule, but in fact it was only once the NSF dropped the AUP and gave up policing interconnection policies that it became a commercial success. I give this "car of the future" exactly zero chance of being anything in anybody's driveway. The real question is, why is NASA wasting dime one on research and development that GM, Ford, and Chrysler should be doing?
  • Motors in the wheels (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:32PM (#19571109) Homepage Journal

    Motors in the wheels are okay when you're moving at low speeds and/or over extremely regular pavement. So they're fine for city-only cars that will never go over 35 mph. But while you might be okay going up and down the hills in SF, get on the freeway to scoot across town and you're fucked.

    Why is that? It's because one of the greatest enemies to handling is unsprung mass. The "sprung" mass is everything sitting on top of the springs, hence the name. But the unsprung mass is the weight that's not sprung, which in practice means directly or indirectly attached to the wheel and moving up and down with it.

    Thus, the problem is one of inertia. When the road sends the wheel upwards, the tire deforms more and it takes longer for it to rise, when there is more mass to move. When the wheel returns, the spring has to push against the greater inertia of the more massive suspension member, so it takes longer to make the first part of its motion, but the spring conspires with gravity (which has more to work on with more mass) to push the wheel back down. The falling wheel has more inertia than it would if you had a lighter unsprung mass, so it comes down harder, compressing the tire more (again). All this excessive compression of the tire makes handling inconsistent.

    This will actually negatively affect handling even in most cities, when cornering quickly. And it is often necessary to do so, or be stuck behind long rows of people.

  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:34PM (#19571133)
    Damn commies! everybody knows the true American Patriotic Car of the Future is an eight wheel, 6 ton, armour plated X-SUV (Extreme Sports Utility Vehicle) with night vision, aircon to chill a Canadian winter, bull bars to win any collision with anything short of a tank, 12 seats, and a beer cooler, doing two miles to the gallon (US not the dirty supersized British one). It's my Right as an American citizen!
  • by tinrobot ( 314936 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:39PM (#19571203)
    Electric cars are looking like the best bet for a clean car. The big issue, of course, is the batteries, but those problems are being solved very quickly.

    I think the route to all electric cars will be traveled using better and better hybrid technology to wean people off of gasoline. Right now, my hybrid car uses it's batteries about 20-25% of the time. Next generation plug-in hybrids will at least double that, so you'll only use the gasoline engine 50% of the time. After that, you're looking at cars like the Chevy Volt where the power train is 100% electric and the gas engine is only used to power a generator. Concurrent with that, you'll see batteries evolve to the point where they're cheap and powerful enough to run a car around town for a day or two on a single charge.
    • by Ogemaniac ( 841129 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:05PM (#19571559)
      They are improving only a few percent a year, with no signs of any acceleration in this trend. If anything, it is slowing. The reason is that batteries are actually pretty simple devices. Even the first ones over a hundred years ago weren't all that bad. Like the internal combustion engine, the simplicity of the device led to even the earliest designs being reasonably functional...and leaving little room for improvement.

      One can never say never, but within the limits of our knowledge, it is unlikely that batteries as we know them will ever improve two-fold.
  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:41PM (#19571235)
    My requirements for an urban commuter are 75 miles in a Buffalo, New York, winter. Ice and snow. Brutal cold and wind.

    I can't help thinking that all of these futurist projects assume near damn near ideal conditions of road, weather, distance and terrain.

  • I am so sick of reading about how the "car of the future" is going to run on hydrogen and be extra-sleek and this and that. We've heard it all before, for the last 15 years or more. What I REALLY want to know is this... when will the car of the future be the car of the PRESENT? Tell me when they will be on the market and be affordable for the common consumer. What good does it do us to say what's coming if it NEVER GETS HERE?
  • City Car (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:51PM (#19571387) Journal
    Because One-Size-Fits-All everytime.

    Because Somebody loves to live in suburb, while working in a big city and has to commute 20-60 miles each way.

    Because Someone thinks everyone should drive the same damn thing.

    Because Someone hates SUVs because they can't afford one.

    Because Someone Can't parallel park.


    Seriously. I'm sick of people who suggest "the City Car" (or other super small, single or dual seater) as a perfect car for most everyone.

    I drive a van (Aerostar) seats seven. I live in a small town having grown up in Los Angeles. I use maybe 25 gallons of gas a month, most months. I haul computers around in it. I can parallel park. And I don't fit in most subcompacts at all (6'5" or 1.95m and 270lbs or 122.5kg).

    So please stop projecting your tiny little self in your tiny little world onto the rest of us who live outside the city and actually practice conservation. Thank you
  • by soren100 ( 63191 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:14PM (#19571663)
    If you're at all interested in the forces at work behind the "car of the future" topic, you owe it to yourself to see the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? [wikipedia.org]

    The state of California mandated in the 1990's that 10% of the cars sold in California be emission-free, so GM and Toyota put out all-electric vehicles. The cars had a top range of 80-100 miles before recharging, but since most people only drive around 36 miles a day, that was a non-issue for many people.

    Here are some of the issues the film discusses:

    1) the people who leased the cars were absolutely in love with them and thought that they were very well-engineered
    2) The people who leased the cars tried desperately to buy them, but were never allowed to. GM turned down $1.9 million for the 78 uncrushed EV-1's before they were finally crushed.
    3) All of the electric cars were crushed, even the brand-new ones, after the companies who made them promised that wouldn't happen.
    4) The drivers of the electric cars really loved the engineering and handling of the cars.
    5) The federal government joined the car manufacturers in a suit against the state of California fighting the 10% zero-emissions law.
    6) one person in the movie told about a congressman who told him to get the electric car killed before it spread to other states (or the congressman would "battle" him)
    7) The electric cars were so simple to work on that major dealership revenue sources would have been lost.
    8) Consumers were very interested in lowering emissions and helping the environment, and were also willing to pay to do it.

    The top 3 oil companies in America pulled in well over $700 BILLION [marketwatch.com] for the last two years, without even looking at the record profits for the previous years. The movie makes a serious case that there was a serious push against the electric car to preserve those future profits from harm and keep the electric car from being a mainstream idea / product.

    Some might call this a conspiracy theory and there are market forces involved, but it also really just sounds like intelligent business practices by the oil companies. Given the tremendous needs in the marketplace now, and the advances in technology, it will really be very interesting to see how this market develops.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shivetya ( 243324 )
      Mostly has been discounted.

      #1. There were not enough people that wanted the car, yeah a lot of them with it but many didn't want to pay for it.
      #2. Blame the government. Laws requiring replacement parts and service over reasonably expected lifetimes meant GM would be subsidizing the ownership of the cars
      #3. Can't attest to that, GM did get rid of theirs for money reasons
      #4. Repeat of #1
      #5. States should not be allowed to create rules that affect other states adversely. Also, California for all its so calle
    • great, just great (Score:3, Insightful)

      by c6gunner ( 950153 )
      Every time I think that the Slashdot crowd may have regained some of their critical thinking skills, some fool goes and posts a whackjob conspiracy theory and gets modded +5 informative. What's next? Gonna tell us all THE TRUTH about the Kennedy assassination? Or maybe you'd like to talk about the Apollo moon landing? Let me guess, Kennedy was whacked because he wanted to buy an electric car, and the moon landing was faked because all that rocket exhaust makes people want to buy gasoline, right?
  • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @07:05PM (#19572291)
    The radical new design of the Scuderi power plant splits the cylinders of an internal-combustion engine in two, compressing air in one chamber, then shooting it into a combustion chamber where it's mixed with gas and ignited....It also creates a highly efficient combustion environment, promising to double gas mileage while drastically reducing tailpipe emissions.

    This technology already exists in a sense. It is called a "turbo" or a "super-charger", and has been in use for years. The only difference is that instead of doing it external of the engine as a separate device, they want to combine it into the engine itself. Personally, I think this is a stupid idea. They are increasing the complexity of the engine, adding more moving parts into an already complex system, when you can already get the same or better results by having the compressor (either a turbo or super-charger) being separate from the engine and simply feed the engine cylinder the compressed air. You can get just an efficient combustion environment without increase complexity to the engine system, simply place some electronic controls on measuring the amount of compressed air fed into the cylinder. This is also call engine "tuning"...

    Again, if you can't tell, this is not anything new. Everyone who knows anything about cars knows you can get more efficient engines by having a properly tuned engine to feed the correct amount of gas for the correct amount of air that is put into the cylinder. The problem is that doing this has a lot of variables on that exact specific car, from the air intake system all the way to the exhaust system. Even the small tolerance changes from part to part will screw up the calculations to doing a mass production car that is properly tuned right off the line. So you get what we have, which is cars that put more fuel into the cylinder then there is oxygen to burn completely (in other words, the fuel/air mixture is "rich"). The reason you run "rich" is because there is very little risk of physical damage to the car or engine for running the car rich, other then the loss of some power and wasting of fuel. However, if you run "lean" (the opposite of rich), you risk serious damage to the engine and vehicle as a whole. Excess waste heat is generated when running "lean", as well as environmentally damaging gasses are produced in this condition (as there are extra oxygen and nitrogen molecules available in the chemical system to create these gasses). You run the risk of there being enough oxygen from the previous ignition in the cylinder to ignite with the new fuel being injected and causing "knocking" (which is a premature ignition which fires when the cylinder is in the incorrect position, usually while the cylinder has not reached the apex of its current rotation, and is still compressing the fuel and air mixture. When this happens and the fuel/air mixture ignites while the cylinder is still compressing, the cylinder has nowhere for the gasses to expand because the other cylinders in the engine are all pushing against the single cylinder that mis-fired. This can cause anything from the cylinder itself being shot out of the engine (like a bullet being fired out of a gun), to the engine block failing and cracking so the gasses can escape, to the crank shaft being sheared off where the cylinder rod connects.... In other words, major engine damage can occur when running too lean. This is why all cars are factory set to run rich.

    Now again, this is no radical concept, everyone knows the engine could use more air intake, which was why turbos and super-chargers came about in the first place to get more air oxygen into the cylinder to allow the amount of fuel to be increased or burned fully. It is also why the diesel engines are almost always turbo diesels (well, it also helps with the basics of the design of the diesel, as it increases in rpm's there isn't as much air that gets sucked into the cylinder in the time it has before it is compressed and ignited by the compression, so as the rpm's go up, the exhau
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The radical new design of the Scuderi power plant splits the cylinders of an internal-combustion engine in two, compressing air in one chamber, then shooting it into a combustion chamber where it's mixed with gas and ignited....

      This technology already exists in a sense. It is called a "turbo" or a "super-charger", and has been in use for years.

      Actually, it's older than that. It's the "brayton" cycle - as opposed to the "otto" cycle where it's all done in one cylinder in four strokes.

      The FIRST patent on au
  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @10:50PM (#19574225) Journal
    A Bicycle.

    The world can't handle more cars. The car has to go away.


  • My car of the future (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zoxed ( 676559 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @03:00AM (#19575557) Homepage
    I already have my car of the future: it is called a bicycle :-)
  • Most batteries wear out faster than tires!

    Some of the best and most expensive batteries currently available are good for only about 3000 cycles with about a 2/3 draw down. The batteries in the Toyota Prius are drawn down about 25% and are good for only about 3000 cycles at this level. This is with the best battery management we can conceive.

    If I calculate the amount of energy the battery will furnish at the best possible management of the battery system what I come up with is that they are at best marginal. Now Toyota has much better usage data than I have and perhaps the physics of the battery system is that they get many more cycles at lower draw downs and at draw down/recharge cycles which are quite short. I don't have the data. Maybe others do. If so then it would be great to put up a website with a consolidated explanation of the care and feeding of battery systems.

    Nevertheless, having invested bux in RailPower (TSE:P) after doing the engineering and concluding their systems would not work... I conclude now that I was foolish to have relied on their engineers. The short of it is that their systems didn't work! They ended up selling hybred locomotives and then buying them back for about 1.5x what they sold them for in order to avoid litigation - litigation presumably for fraud.

    Toyota and Nissan are playing this game now and I suspect they are banking on developments in battery technology IN THE NEAR FUTURE to bail them out when their present battery systems start to fail.

    Perhaps this is what GM faced. I suspect they would have clicked their heels and screamed "Yahoo!" if the battery systems in the EV* autos were standing up. They seem to have done pretty much every thing else right. Of course the owners loved the car. We just need batteries that work.

    Last I looked, the best batteries cost about $10,000 and could convert a Prius into a true EV with gas assist as required. I think this is an excellent way to go. But even with these batteries we are looking at 3,000 cycles.

    The short of it is that most batteries wear out faster than tires.


    What we are looking for is a way to store energy or to buffer energy.

    Toyota and Nissan designed their current hybrids to buffer energy.

    Its a small step as people have noted to buffer from the wall outlet to the office and call it an EV.

    There are nuclear alternatives. Alpha emitters can be used to create a small to large and continuous energy flow which can _slowly_ recharge batteries. These are totally safe. But they provide no surge ability. In this hypothetical senerio if when you get home you forget to plug your car in then what does the car do with its extra juice once the batteries are full? One option: make lotsa noise then run a big toaster and finally if that fails catch on fire?

    What of a high pressure air tank?

    What of phase change?

    Here is a funny idea: Lets use CO2. In liquid form its at 800 PSI at say room temperature. When compressed it can provide quite a lot of energy. We could expand it through a normal motor and run the low pressure gas into a bag. For regenerative braking we could take the low pressure gas and re-compress it. The problem is the size of the bag. To do anything useful the bag for a Prius sized auto might have to be about the size of a city bus. We could put this on a trailer - like a boat trailer of course and tow it behind the car.

    This system would have virtually unlimited cycles and I guess when the car wears out we could trade in the car and keep the old bag and trailer system.

    Obviously I write this tongue in cheek. I wish to illustrate the problem.

    How do we store or buffer the energy?

    If we can solve this problem the rest of the problem is simply a matter of good engineering and even GM showed they have very good engineers available.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser