4 real car inventions that seem like science fiction

2015-04-20 12:01

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Vehicle design and tech have come so far so fast, that what seemed impossible has become reality. These are some of the fun and exciting innovations that have found their way into vehicle tech.

An electric car

The idea of the electric car has been around since the 1830s, when various experimental models were built and exhibited. It’s amazing now to think that in 1900, there were 800 fully electric cars on the streets of New York, Boston and Chicago – and only 400 powered by gasoline. Read more about that on How Stuff Works.

The internal-combustion engine won the battle, and for years we’ve only heard of electric cars as something to dream of in the future. For decades it seemed that there was no way to integrate the noiseless, low emission electric car into our petrol-powered world.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the electric car is no longer the car of the future – it’s today’s car, with all the comforts of any high-end modern vehicle, but the added benefits that an electric engine brings. A car such as the BMW i3, which is the company’s first volume-produced model that is driven purely by electric power, has all the design and driving advantages you would expect from a luxury drive.

A car that speaks to you

The coolest car on TV ever was Kitt, the souped-up supercar that was always two steps ahead of its driver, Michael Knight aka the Knight Rider. An icon of 80s action television, the best part about Kitt was its sardonic humour, delivered in a dry, understated way that made us long for our cars to speak to us too.
 
Thanks to GPS technology, we’ve become used to cars that talk to us, and if you make a mistake you’ll soon realise that your car is cleverer than you are: “Recalculating...”

The most up-to-date vehicles will even talk to you when they’re in the car park and you’re in the office, giving you the opportunity to ask via a phone app how the weather is before you leave the building, and check whether your electric car needs to start recharging its battery.

Technology such as BMW ConnectedDrive allows the car to do a lot of the thinking for you, offering Park Assist, Concierge Services and optional Real Time Traffic Information, to name a few. It also offers Intelligent Emergency Call – automatically detecting the vehicle location and gathering information on severity of the crash in case of an accident, which can be passed on to the emergency services.

A car with a built-in computer

The idea of a computer that is the brain that runs our transportation has been around since at least the 1960s, when the legendary film 2001: A Space Odyssey featured HAL 9000, a sentient computer that, of course, ran amok.

In reality, cars have had computers in them since the 1980s, helping you navigate, controlling driving systems and ensuring you get the best possible performance from your engine. The newest innovations take this even further, offering you everything (and we mean EVERYTHING) you get from your home PC. In addition to vehicle-related navigation and performance, you’ll be able to check your email, use social media, search, and generally behave in the way you do when you’re using your tablet or laptop – but please not while you’re driving at 120 kilometres per hour on the highway.

We’re talking three-dimensional graphics, sound and light effects when you start the engine and a fully digital instrument display. BMW calls this their Head-Up Display – projecting all data relevant to your journey directly into your line of sight. They also offer BMW Night Vision with Dynamic light spot – a thermal imaging camera detecting any pedestrians or animals in the dark and displaying them directly on the Control Display, while selectively illuminating them with a high-power spotlight.

Coming soon: Laser headlights

It’s not a good idea to equip your car with James Bond-villain lasers that will slice your enemy’s vehicle in half (although that could be tempting in Sandton traffic). Laser headlights do offer a great option for visibility with a smaller, more focused headlight. And in case you were wondering, if you look straight into it, it won’t hurt your eyes, as the laser light is converted into traffic-friendly beams.

The BMW i8 has the option of laser headlights that generate a pure-white, extremely bright light, with a near-parallel beam that can be adjusted extremely precisely - these will be available in South Africa from 2016. In addition to being 1 000 times brighter than LEDs, they use half as much power. Let’s face it, what could be cooler than casually referring to your car’s laser headlights?

Find out more about BMW’s cutting-edge electric cars here.

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