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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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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by Scareduck ( 177470 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:31PM (#19571087) Homepage Journal
    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?
  • 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 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.
  • 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: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.
  • Magic 8-ball says (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:39PM (#19571193)
    You will die unhappy.

    Even people in cities will take a taxi or drive a car before waiting for a train or bus.

    People will always want on-demand travel.

    Some form of car will be around forever.
  • 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.
  • Re:Screw NASA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by The0retical ( 307064 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:40PM (#19571213)
    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 (Special facility only for the TESLA since it is all electric) and figure the batteries last 10 years maybe (you cannot avoid some sort of wear and tear on the batteries and they are not 100% efficient) then factor in the electricity cost.

    Starts to add up after a while eh? Over time the TESLA is not more cost effective to have around and will probably cost quite a bit more than an fairly high end sports car in the first place.

    Now buying something like a SMART which gets 50+ mpg and costs around 15k (loaded) then you have a car that will be economical and good for the environment as well.

    As a side note most of the idiots in office here in the US have managed to convince the general public that nuclear obviously means bomb not a more efficient cleaner fuel so we are still stuck with dirty power in most regions of the country. If there were some alternatives like wind, geothermal, or tidal in the US it would be great but what do we have instead? Fossil fueled electrical plants! Just displace those emissions from a car to the power plant can't be a foul if you don't see it coming out of your tailpipe right?
  • 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.

  • Re:Heh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Paperweight ( 865007 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:41PM (#19571239)
    Isn't 180 degrees enough?
  • Re:Crash tested? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:43PM (#19571261) Journal
    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. Fuel prices will eventually put an end to those for all but the most wealthy.

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

  • Re:Simple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by donglekey ( 124433 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:49PM (#19571357) Homepage
    Imagine everyone fighting for the roof spots in a parking garage.
  • Re:Crash tested? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jammo ( 981940 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:49PM (#19571359)
    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, performance and safety.
  • 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 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 nbert ( 785663 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:14PM (#19571671) Homepage Journal

    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.
  • $16,000 seats (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:14PM (#19571679)
    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:Crash tested? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:21PM (#19571759) Journal
    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 basis). Also, there is always the need for beefier vehicles (large families, towing requirements, snow). The "everyone driving the same car" idea is nonsense.
  • 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 ass.

    By the way, the car you want is basically impossible. Just making it bulletproof requires solid tires, and THAT is enough to blow your efficiency out of the water. It also requires obscene weight (barring some kind of magical forcefield technology.) Just thought I'd keep it real :)

  • 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]
  • Re:Crash tested? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by razablade ( 118107 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:43PM (#19572041)

    Then we should get the 4x4s off the road.
    Those of us in Colorado and many other states, would definitely be against this proposal, because every year that little season called winter rolls around. Last winter, Denver had 3 blizzards in 5 weeks. I was able to get out and do important things like go to work, go get groceries, etc. because I drive a 4x4. My buddy with a VW Golf couldn't get out of his parking space.

    Not everyone who drives a 4x4 lives in sunny CA and uses it as a status symbol.
  • Re:Simple (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrMunkey ( 1039894 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:51PM (#19572137) Homepage

    Industrial Hemp != Marijuana

    My state is actually taking this issue up with the DEA to not classify industrial hemp as marijuana. It's very interesting that there are a whole bunch of products that use hemp products that are legal to import, but we can't produce the stuff here. Meanwhile just across the northern border, in Canada, they are getting about $250/acre profit.

    You no longer have to be a stoned hippy to want to legalize industrial hemp. Now you can also be a farmer who's trying to make a living while crop prices keep dropping

    http://www.kxmb.com/getArticle.asp?ArticleId=13562 7 [kxmb.com]
  • Re:Simple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spood ( 256582 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:55PM (#19572169) Homepage Journal
    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 collectors than installing them on vehicles.
  • 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
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @07:09PM (#19572343)
    You also have to add in changing jobs. We in the tech field change jobs a lot. Are we supposed to pack up and move every time we change jobs? The mortgage and/or apartment/leasing industry would love that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @07:27PM (#19572539)
    algae [wikipedia.org] would be far better [slashdot.org]. With further development, it could potentially reach 20,000 gal/acre or more.
  • by spood ( 256582 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @07:41PM (#19572651) Homepage Journal
    The problem with compressed air is that the energy density is even worse than batteries. Plus, as you approach capacity, the incremental energy required to add more energy to the tank increases exponentially. Converting the air pressure directly to motive power will always be more efficient than converting the energy to electrical then to motive power. Compressed air is inefficient to produce, dangerous to store, and low energy density. It is not currently a viable alternative.
  • great, just great (Score:3, Insightful)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @07:58PM (#19572801)
    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 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.


  • Re:Simple (Score:2, Insightful)

    by coredog64 ( 1001648 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:10AM (#19574677)
    The reason the air conditioner seems so overbuilt in a car is because it -is- overbuilt, because the demands upon it are huge. Peope don't treat them the same as they do in their homes. You don't leave your glass house to sit in an unshaded parking lot for 8 hours and then expect its AC to cool it off from 100+ degrees to something tolerable in just a few minutes, do you?

    The numbers I've heard tossed around is that here in PHX when it gets to be 100+ your typical automotive interior is ~ 150F. The two minutes between when I start the A/C and when it actually starts blowing cold air are some of the hottest minutes of my life.

    I'd also add that the 5HP from the GP is probably the raw engine load -- that's not being converted into cooling at an efficiency of 100% You're losing ~ 10% of that energy in the belt drive itself. Then you've got to deal with inefficiencies due to the installation requirements. Your home AC unit has a very large heat exchanger. The heat exchanger for automotive AC units (condenser) is relatively tiny. And it's picking up loads of radiated heat from your engine's other heat exchanger (what is colloquially called the radiator). Finally, the compressor is required to support the wide range of operating speeds of the engine (~700 rpm to 5000+ rpm) without the possibility of being overdriven/underdriven by more than about 10% while being small enough to actually fit under the hood.
  • by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @06:25AM (#19576633)
    Every conspiracy theorist uses the same logic. For example, compare and contrast:



    "So I guess Enron didn't really cause rolling blackouts in California just to drive up the price of electricity? ..... I guess MCI/ Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers wasn't really convicted of conpsiracy to commit securities fraud in the $11 Billion Worldcom collapse. .... That type of head-in-the-sand attitude helps no one."

    Now, granted, you sound a bit more reasonable than the 9/11 conspiracy nuts, but only on the surface. When we actually examine your reasoning, you use the exact same logical fallacy that every conspiracy theory makes use of, and the original post used several common logical fallacies, as well as many lies. Unfortunately, as they say "A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes". Debunking this type of nonsense takes way too much time. If you're interested in improving your critical thinking skills, and minimizing the chances of you being fooled again, check out the James Randi Educational Foundation [randi.org]. Otherwise, carry on believing whatever you want.
  • Re:$16,000 seats (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GeckoX ( 259575 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @09:01AM (#19577989)
    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 doing it bigger and cheaper than whomever does it first. The biggest problem is that the big 3 truly believe that the combustion engine is it, that there are no radical alternatives that will ever work, and that the only efficiencies left to be had are small and incremental. (This is already what has been hurting the big 3 so much over the past 20 years.)

    I kind of doubt China will be the one to do it first, but you never know...where there's a will and a need things can happen.

    It will happen though. Actually, it already has, numerous times. The biggest problem with revolutionizing the car industry is with the fuel infrastructure...big oil has it by the balls and will NOT let go of their own accord. Jurisdictions like California with their braindead hydrogen schemes etc are not helping either. How many major attempts at new fuel infrastructures has California mandated in the past 10 years alone? Not ONE of which actually lowers environmental impact, and the ONLY way they can justify it is by legally requiring companies to sell cars that use these new infrastructures...doomed to failure. Government can not force these things to happen, the free market makes or breaks these kinds of changes, not governments trying to force these things.

  • Re:Simple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GeckoX ( 259575 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @09:26AM (#19578445)
    Major problem: Crop farming is a cycle. If you continuously grow corn on a plot year after year, and take the entire plant year after year, you will have a desert in but a few years. You have to return something to the soil. Further, you can't even just grow one crop over and over, even if you do leave everything but the fruit or seed behind, key nutrient deprecation. You have to rotate crops AND return waste material to the soil AND fertilize AND allow rest periods.

    That is the problem with all biofuels, NOTHING comes for free. All that energy has a cost. We'd be wise to remember this.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351