So, what is the ‘Ultimate’ car? Well, surprisingly it’s fairly easy to define, on paper at least, because technology is driven by desire.
Our desire to go faster means that the machine’s performance will ultimately be limited, not by technology, but by what us humans can cope with. We already have 1,000bhp road cars, and drag racers are running over 8,000bhp and doing 0-100 mph in 0.3 of a second, so soon there will be more power available than you could ever cope with.
Looking deep into my industrial-strength yet slightly dented and oily crystal ball 70 years ahead into the year 2079, where very little of today’s way of life will exist; All cars have a fully automatic robot driver mode and most countries have put a ban on people driving cars themselves. This may sound extreme but in a world where there is no road rage, no speeding and no tragic lapses of concentration all those thousand of lives that are annually lost are now saved, plus with more economical driving, and electronically interlinked vehicles negating the need for delays at traffic lights the efficiency and emissions gains are utterly compelling. But for a special one off article we find our fictional road tester, Figaro Flashbgure – the only person left who knows how to drive, has just been given permission to drive the latest supercar from the last independent car manufacturer in the world (naturally this will be Morgan) on the last road in the world where you are allowed to drive manually (naturally this will be the Isle of Man).
As Figaro approaches the car it recognises him, the aperture opens and the seat swings out of the car and is presented to him – as he sits down the seat and aperture slide back into place, leaving no evidence of shut lines, and the seat gently folds around him.
Inside the cabin there are two hand grips, but they are just to hold on to much like on a roller coaster, there are no visible instruments or controls. Instead the car transmits options directly into his brain, which appear as if on an inbuilt head up display. This is the same technology most people will have so they can seamlessly play their music, watch films, surf the web and be part of a totally connected world. Figaro selects the ‘lets just go for a drive’ fully automatic option and the car sets off, with a computer generated soundtrack specifically calculated to set Figaro’s senses tingling.
Turning out into the road, the windscreen dims a little to prevent glare, our man selects the old TT route and sets the desired speed as ‘as fast as possible’, which is a balance of what is physically possible and safety limits, so through the historic narrow town streets turns out to be well below 20 mph.
But once out in the hills, the car detects that there is no traffic for miles, linked into all the roadside cameras it can see round bends and see there are no dangers, and then gives it the absolute maximum attack, the total traction system delivers over 10000 bhp sling-shotting the car with a force that nearly causes Figaro to black out, as nausea builds and is detected, the car mercifully eases off. The first corner leaps into view at terrifying speed, seemingly too late the system slashes 100 mph off the speed and throws our man harshly forward, thankfully the adaptive seat firmly holds him.
The car plunges into the corner, still blindingly fast, and the seat adapts again as he is thrust hard against the side, the car calculates the maximum force he can take whilst balancing the force delivery to push the car round the corner in perfect control. The corner has come and gone in a fraction of a second, leaving no time for his brain to come to terms with it all.
The scenery is blurred by the mixture of speeds well above 300 mph and the effect the G forces are having on his brain, looking through the windscreen is like watching a film of the TT race on fast forward. Soon our man has had enough and selects cruise mode, the speed tumbles and the seat releases its vice like grip, peace is restored and the car wafts effortlessly back into town.
After a brief stop at the café to recover, its time to head out again and sample ‘manual’ mode. He settles in and the car gives him a cursor which he simply places on the road indicating roughly where he wants to go, placing it close to the front of the car makes it over sensitive and twitchy, constantly reacting to his small inputs, but placing the cursor further up ahead allows the car to work out the best way of getting there and things smooth out.
He now controls the speed, and as a hump back bridge looms our man really goes for it. The compression as the car goes up pushes him down very hard, the seat grips his legs to force blood up to his brain, much like present day fighter pilots G suits. At the crest, the car pulls strong negative G, flinging Figaro upwards and his stomach threatens to come out of his mouth.
A corner allows him to see how much braking force he can cope with before powering out riding a tidal wave of thrust, sending him dizzy.
After a few minutes of high speed body abuse, our man is badly fatigued from the high G forces sheer concentration. So once again he selects cruise mode, and nearly passes out with relief as calm is restored, and the ultimate test drive comes to an end.
So there will never be a car with higher performance, not until there are better humans who can take higher G forces. Truly the Ultimate car.
Is this just some tripe I made up? Well, obviously yes, but it’s all based on sound engineering principals. Here are a few examples of current research to spark the imagination:
Seat adapts to support the driver when generating huge G forces, left, right, braking and acceleration, before reverting to comfort mode when cruising.
(Ref; Lear corp active seating)
Windscreen adapts to lighting conditions, hydrophobic materials disperse dirt and rain so there is no need for wipers.
(Ref; Pilkington SAE paper on hydrophobic glass)
Bodywork is adaptive, adjusting its shape to provide best economy, highest speed, highest downforce depending on conditions. The microbial polymer can heal small scratches and dents automatically.
(Ref; Lotus SAE Paper on adaptive bodywork)
Mind control does away with the need for controls and instruments, making the cabin more spacious and safer. Just looking at where you want to go tells the car where to steer. Most people in this year have tiny implants to connect to the internet, sound systems and most domestic devices. But even without that, Honda have already demonstrated an electric wheel chair controlled by thought.
(Ref; Sony report on thought controlled games, also Prof at Reading uni who plugged his head into the internet, Honda mind controlled chair)
Wheels are still hard to beat, but these tyres are based on the same principle that Geckos use to cling on to walls, covered in microscopic hairs they look fuzzy, slightly flat and never wear down. They bind with the road surface allowing negative G over hump back bridges. Info from the hair sensors feeds back to the computer telling how the road surface ‘feels’ and precisely how much grip is available.
(Ref; 3M report on interference layer adhesives, Michelin SAE paper on active tyres)
Active suspension allows the computer to simulate any desired handling characteristic, if you want it to feel like an Allegro then just select the option for a nostalgia trip, or select max to explore the limits of physics.
(Ref; Lotus report on active suspension)
To generate over 5G of acceleration the electric powertrain is capable of delivering well over 10000 bhp. Each wheel is a motor, delivering total control of power delivery to each wheel for the maximum traction physically possible. Biasing the torque left and right delivers power steering effect and yaw control.
(Ref; Bosch paper on torque biasing and traction optimisation, Michelin wheel motor)
Fuel is a thing of the past, the battery is also the vehicle structure, providing strength as well as power, and this combined with the wheel motors means that all the space in the car is available for occupants or luggage, no engines, radiators, drive shafts or gearboxes cluttering up the space.
(Ref: Carbon NanoTubes used as a battery and structural composite)
The outer body also acts as a solar cell generating all of the car’s normal requirement of energy.
(ref: Pyradian ‘solar electric’ film from NLV Solar, Koenigsegg Quant)
Brake discs are a thing of the past, the motors can haul the car to a perfectly controlled stop as quickly as the tyres and road can allow. Back in our present day drag racers suffer from the hard deceleration of deploying parachutes at over 300mph, some suffering from retinas detaching, but our car of the future doesn’t brake quite that hard in order to save our man’s eyes.
(Ref: Regenerative braking)
Steering is on all four wheels and adjusts for stability at high speed and manoeuvrability at low speeds, when parking it can crab sideways. Torque biasing on each wheel gives power steering effect and high degree of yaw control. Running wheels on one side backwards when parking allows the car to turn on the spot.
(Ref; Honda report on AWS)
Sound is an integral part of a thrilling drive, a screaming race engine can spur you on to drive faster, and a gentle wafting luxury motor can sooth you into driving more gently. As the drive motors make very little noise, a computer generates a synthesised soundtrack to suit the mood. Sound is also broadcast outside to alert pedestrians and animals to the oncoming car.
(Ref: Lotus active sound)
Instead of an accelerator pedal he can simply will the car to go at any speed, but the car will still not enter a corner too fast or pile into oncoming traffic and so gives a safe operational envelope within which to play and explore the cars awesome capability.
The car communicates with other traffic and mingles effortlessly in total safety, if a kid runs out in front of a car up ahead the whole line of cars slows in unison, preserving safe distances. Ground penetrating radar and other sensors detect the road surface ahead, so the car is constantly ‘aware’ of all the potential dangers around it.
(Ref; DARPA test reports)
This article was originally written in 2000, then updated for Evo in ’09, and finally taken from the fridge and reheated for this blog ’10.