Thought-controlled cars as LA concepts looks to motoring’s future

Car firms compete to map out the most forward thinking - and bizarre - future for the motoring world

Infiniti predicts a future where cars will be thought-controlled.

Infiniti predicts a future where cars will be thought-controlled.

 

Every year for over a decade, the Los Angeles Auto show has featured a competition for the most high-tech car concept that can be thought up, inviting the world’s top car companies to submit designs so futuristic, they’d make Buck Rogers’ eyes water.

So this year, how about a thought-controlled vehicle that can be converted from road-hugging racer to SUV and, if the mood takes you, into a flying car?

This year, the competition has attracted entries from Infiniti, truck maker Peterbilt, Sino-Israeli brand Quoros and two from Honda – one design from its American studio, one from its Japanese development centre.

Honda’s entries are possibly the most predictable of the group, using technologies that seem at first far-seeing but which we’ve pretty much seen before in one form or another. The Tokyo studio’s CARPet (all of the designs are joined together by utterly risible names,,,) is essentially a glass-walled pod, intended to be self driving and which uses a single controller called the Honda Ball, which acts rather like the joining of a joystick, steering wheel and mouse.

It’s really an autonomous vehicle and the idea is for those inside to sit back, relax and use the giant glass touch-screen walls to either explore the world around them (they are supposed to allow you to zoom in on distant objects or call up information on anything interesting you see whizzing past) or simply to use them as giant TV or computer screens – reading and viewing while driving.

Honda R&D Americas Acura-badged concept (Acura is Honda’s US-based luxury brand) is presenting the Human/Machine Interface Concept, a vehicle that looks on the surface rather conventional, in concept car terms.

Actually, surface is what it’s all about, as the Concept uses “an exterior and interior shell, connected through a modular adjustable mesh that can flex and shape to custom-fit a passenger’s needs.” Or, in other words, a car that can stretch, shrink, pull and change depending on what you need it to be, using biometric recognition to know who you are and what you want.

Quoros’ entry is rather more prosaic again, but also somewhat more distressing. Called, with agonising silliness, the QloudQubed, it’s essentially a chamfered box on wheels that is designed to be more or less fully autonomous. Inside, the ‘driving’ seat can move around depending on what the driver wants – to take control of the vehicle or to swing around and chat to their passengers. Rather worryingly though, the Qloud is designed to take over control if it detects that the driver is being ‘irresponsible’ although Quoros sadly stops short of telling us what the criteria for that are, nor who sets them.

Infiniti, Nissan’s high-end sporty brand, has come up with a concept that is equally the maddest and most exciting. Its SYNAPTIQ is a racing car with three switchable modes – ground hugging F1-style race car, high-set, rough-riding 4x4 and, wait for it, jet-plane. Yes, really. The whole thing is controlled by thought – the driver wearing a suit (rendered in suitably comic-book skin-tight style in the concept drawings) that plugs the car directly into their spinal cord, the adaptive skin of the suit clenching and supporting the wearer in a virtual seat. Insane, but rather suitably pulpy stuff for a car show taking place a stone’s throw away from Hollywood studio lots.

Finally, there is the concept being presented by American truck maker Peterbilt. Better known for its big, diesel-belching 18-wheel rigs, Peterbilt is using its SIMBIOTUX concept to peer into a future of electronic convoy driving. Inspired by such test programmes as Europes SARTRE road train project, the Peterbilt proposal sees a fleet of cargo truck roaming the highways, which allow cars and other trucks to electronically tag themselves to it, following it as if ducklings following their mother. The idea is that speeds are reduced, congestion eased and drivers can switch off and relax, letting the computers deal with it all and avoiding accidents.

Up front, Peterbilt sees the truck driver shedding their denim-and-check-shirt image and instead becoming an airline pilot for the road – responsible for the safety of the convoys of cars following them and garnering new found respect, possibly adoration. If that seems like something of a long-shot, as does the smell-powered cabin warning system, then the future-rig’s other innovation is rather more sensible – using full satellite and airborne drone connections to give the driver over-the-horizon warnings of dangers, traffic, obstructions and weather.