Science Fiction is becoming reality thanks to innovative automakers
September 18, 2015 5:00 AM
The Chevrolet FNR is an autonomous electric vehicle that is actually more futuristic than the Johhny Cabs in the original “Total Recall.”
Toyota will have a major announcement on its Hoverboard this fall, after product testing in Barcelona this summer.
Initial consumer response in focus groups to Toyota’s i-Road three-wheeler has been overwhelmingly positive.
Audi has taken its “piloted” driving program one step further to fruition, and will offer its first generation of piloted driving features on the next generation A8.
This Advertorial published in Wheels on Friday, September 18, 2015.
Summer always brings its share of blockbuster science fiction movies, and this year is no different. It was 30 years ago that “Back to the Future” took us back to 1955, its sequel taking us forward in time 30 years to October 21, 2015 when people were seen floating around on futuristic hoverboards. That date is going to be more important than you might think.
Twenty-five years ago, the blockbuster “Total Recall” hit theaters, featuring autonomous Johnny Cabs. While science fiction back in 1990, autonomous vehicles are already on our nations roads. Virtually every automotive manufacturer is working on some kind of autonomous vehicle, including Audi, Toyota, General Motors, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz among many others. Even Google, which seems to have its hand in everything we do these days, has jumped into the fray.
Indeed, Ford Motor Company, recently announced that it was “one step closer” to actual autonomous vehicle production, appointing industry veteran Randy Visintainer director of autonomous vehicle development.
“During the next five years, we will move to migrate driver-assist technologies across our product lineup to help make our roads safer and continue to increase automated driving capability,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “At the same time, we are working to make sure those features and the whole way you shop for, buy and own a Ford vehicle provides an outstanding customer experience.”
For its part, Chevrolet rolled out its FNR autonomous electric concept this year, a vehicle that offers a glimpse of what mobility might look like in the near future.
The Chevrolet-FNR boasts a futuristic capsule design. It has crystal laser headlights and taillights, dragonfly dual swing doors, magnetic hubless wheel electric motors and a wireless auto-charge system. The Chevrolet-FNR is also loaded with a range of intelligent technologies usually seen only in science fiction movies. They include sensors and roof-mounted radar that can map out the environment to enable driverless operation, Chevy Intelligent Assistant and iris recognition start. The Chevrolet-FNR can also serve as a “personal assistant” to map out the best route to the driver’s preferred destination.
In self-driving mode, the vehicle's front seats can swivel 180 degrees to face the rear seats, creating a more intimate setting. The driver can switch to manual mode through the gesture control feature. The FNR also looks a whole lot more futuristic than the Johnny Cabs seen in the original “Total Recall.”
For a company that prides itself on making its vehicles fun to drive, Audi is sure doing a lot to take the wheel out of the driver’s hands. The four-ringed brand recently took its “piloted driving” program one step further at the Sonoma Raceway in California, where the latest generation of an Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept vehicle exceeded its previous record performance.
Now, Audi is saying that it will offer piloted driving features in the next generation of the Audi A8. However, the roll out will likely come in stages, according to Audi.
"In Sonoma we brought the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept lap after lap to the physical limit, and in constant precision," said Thomas Müller, head of development for braking, steering and driver assistance systems, Audi AG. "The car reached lap times that were better than those of some experienced sport riders."
Audi has long emphasized that pilot driving systems will reach consumers in a step-by-step manner. The first of these highly automated systems will come in the next-generation A8 with something Audi calls the Traffic Jam Pilot System, which will handle driving tasks in congested highway traffic at speeds up to 37 miles per hour.
That means you’ll be able sit back and relax while the car drives you out of congestion on the highway. That could do a lot to relieve construction traffic stress in Pittsburgh, and offer an easy way to check emails when you’re stuck in traffic. However, the thought of that actually sends shivers down my spine, especially when you consider how many people drive distracted these days. However, the technology in the Traffic Jam Pilot may eventually offer a solution to distracted driving.
Another technology targeted for the new A8 is said to be a system that will allow you to park your car remotely from an app on a smartphone.
In addition to autonomous vehicles, automotive manufacturers are also redefining locomotion itself. While visiting the North American International Auto Show earlier this year, I was greeted by a product specialist in the booth riding a UNI-CUB, a lithium-ion powered personal mobility device that is best described as a bar stool on a single balanced wheel—although it’s built more for hallways than expressways.
If you’re thinking there may be some push back on future small vehicles by more conservative consumers, think again. This summer, a focus group in Texas got to try out the new the Toyota i-Road, a three-wheeled electric vehicle, at the American Airlines center in Dallas.
The response from the 65 participants was fantastic. At an earlier focus group in Silicon Valley, one participant actually presented a credit card for an immediate purchase. But he will have to wait a while longer, according to Toyota.
Which brings us to Toyota’s most recent announcement. The company’s luxury Lexus brand has developed a Hoverboard. It operates using magnetic levitation utilizing liquid nitrogen cooled semiconductors and magnets to achieve amazing frictionless movement.
Testing is currently being performed in Barcelona, Spain. The company has stated that it will release more information on its new Hoverboard on October 21, the same date Doc, Marty and Jennifer traveled into the future in “Back to the Future II” over 25 years ago.
It may sound like science fiction, but the Hoverboard will bring Toyota one step closer to its already announced goal of flying cars, which were made famous by George Jetson on Saturday mornings, for those of us old enough to remember.
It certainly is a brave new automotive world we live in, and one that boggles the imagination.
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