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Science & Technology
Cars of the future

Gas price + Pollution = Car of the future

From Diana J. Choyce
May 21 - Jun 03, 2001

Take the frustration over gas prices, and the concern for pollution, add the wonderful creativity of man and you get the cars of the future. From flying cars to cars that run on vegetables, the creative juices are flowing. Some of the things one sees in science fiction movies seem to be coming to fruition. And if these ideas and prototypes actually work, they could change the face of transportation. Judging from the cars below, it will indeed be an interesting evolution.

First up is a flying family car that is about to begin testing in the states. The Skycar M400 was invented by Canadian engineer Paul Moller. The M400 is slightly wider and taller than a family car and runs on regular petrol. It operates with four pairs of engines which power fans and provide the thrust that allows the car to life directly into the air. Once in the air, it should be able to achieve speeds of 600km an hour. "It really is a magic carpet ride," says Mr Moller. Mr Moller, a former engineering professor at the University of California at Davis, has been working on the technology for a flying car since 1963. In 1989, he built a two-person prototype, which he has flown to an altitude of 20 metres. His company, Moller International, has spent $100m developing the flying car, which he calls a volantor. A computer will actually fly the M400, so no pilot's license will be necessary. "We want to be able to land in grandma's backyard at night, in thick fog, without hitting the clothes line," says Jack Allison, an engineer on the project. But if the computer or the engines fail, the M400 does come equipped with two parachutes for emergency landings. The car would have to take-off from what Moller calls a vertiport. Noise levels and safety risks make it impractical to take-off in the middle of the street, but he believes that in the future vertiports could be as common as corner shops. The M400 will not be cheap. The first models will cost up to a $1m, but Moller believes that a mass-produced model could cost as little as $60,000. And the flying car is not easy on petrol either. It does only 8km per litre. So much for environmental concerns!

The Advantage R, however, is perfect for those who strive to recycle our resources. It's the world's first sports car that runs on rotting vegetables. It goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds and reaches a top speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometres per hour). One hundred kilograms of common household organic rubbish will power the car for 100km. The car is being developed by a Swiss manufacturer who is displaying it at motor shows worldwide. Chief Executive Officer of Rinspeed, Frank Rinderknecht, said the model was a concept car "meant to give input for future technologies and possibilities". The car runs on two sources of power. As well as conventional petrol, it uses kompagas, a renewable fuel source made from rotting greenery. "Even sports cars can be environmentally friendly," Mr Rinderknecht told BBC News Online. "Kompagas is made of natural waste, " he added. "As long as there's greenery, there's natural waste." However, the car is not yet ready for mass production. There is only one in the world and it comes with a half-a-million-pound price tag.

Then we have an amphibious hybrid car that was shown recently at the London Water Boat Show. The road/water boat is manufactured by the Dutton Marine workshop in the East Sussex, UK. Produced at a rate of 12 a year, they are the only models of their kind currently being made in the world for commercial use. The engines are taken from Ford Fiestas and the bodies are glass fibre. The vehicle's creator is hoping it will lead to the UK's under-used rivers being filled with water traffic. The Commander model, which is diesel powered, sells for about 20,000BPS and more than forty cars have been sold over the last few years. Many were exported to the US, New Zealand and the Arabian Gulf. On water the commander travels at six knots, and on land it will do just over 90 mph (140 km/h) and it is corrosion proof. It looks like a land vehicle but closer observation will show extras like navigation lights, a bilge pump and jet steering. "Hopefully, in five years, I want to see every river in the world full of these types of vehicle, says company owner Tim Dutton. "With most cities having rivers going through them their most under-used resource this is the way to go for transport, I think." Customer Peter Curlender sees the advantages. He says: "I've moved to Florida and my friends who have boats have to spend a lot of time and money pulling them out of the water and maintaining them, and this seemed like a wonderful way of having a car and a boat at the same time."

Aside from the above hybrids, many cars already in production are being refitted with some interesting technology. As you get into the drivers seat of The Volvo Safety Concept Car a sensor automatically seeks out your eyeball. Once it makes contact, the car adjusts to accommodate your size, moving the floor (and seat), steering wheel, console and gear lever to your comfort level. Mazda's concept model, the MX Sport Tourer, features a "Zoom Zoom" button on the steering wheel. Press it while the car is running on the combustion engine, and it starts up the electrical engine at the same time for an extra boost. Nissan, meanwhile, is testing two electric vehicles in Europe and Japan. The Hypermini is a two-person "city commuter" that runs on a full lithium-ion battery. It goes at speeds up to 50 miles per hour and lasts about 50 miles before needing a charge, says Nissan product specialist Kenneth Paul.