Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If dreams were pennies...

According to the State Department, MIT is on-track to save the world. I always roll my eyes at these articles about concepts and dreams... I like to read articles about things hitting the marketplace or starting to be manufactured. On the other hand, it is MIT, the same group that brought you the "Flexcar2" idea. Here's the skinny:

Amy Jaffe is surprised that only very few people think she and her colleagues are crazy. What the Massachusetts Technology Institute (MIT) senior, about 400 other students and 30 faculty members from around the world want to do is not a small feat. The group plans to build, in just three years, a hyperefficient, supersafe four-passenger to six-passenger car called VDS Vision that will be produced and used with 95 percent less energy and toxic materials throughout its lifetime than an average existing vehicle.

Hyperefficient! Supersafe! Neither of these words are accepted by my browser spell check, just in case you were wondering.
Adrian Chernoff, who volunteers as a guide, mentor and adviser to program participants, says they face a tremendous challenge...Chernoff, an accomplished inventor and innovator, knows what he is talking about. As a chief architect and principal inventor behind General Motors's 2001 Reinvention of the Automobile program, he helped to bring about several concept and demonstration vehicles such as AUTOnomy, Hy-Wire, CARousel and Sequel. With many independent teams spread around the world, working together smoothly and efficiently will be the most difficult part of the project, Chernoff said. “In the end, it is about networking, collaboration and teamwork,” Chernoff said.

*Sigh*, the Hy-Wire...

GM General Motors Hy-Wire concept
It's funny that this car should come up in a article considering my recent reminiscing session. The Hy-Wire was the GM car that really got me excited about hydrogen power in cars. The innovation behind the car was less about its propulsion and more about its actual design. Hydrogen (and electric) cars allow (read: require) you to re-design the idea of a car from the ground up. Forget about steering shafts, drive-lines, engine placement, and cooling systems; everything needed to move the car is modular and doesn't really limit its placement in the vehicle. What this lets you do is include all this stuff into one "skateboard" section of the car and then rearrange the rest of it as you will. I did a Google Sketch-Up to illustrate:

Hy-Wire skateboard section on Google Sketch-Up
So imagine the green as the batteries and/or fuel cell(s) and the blue for your electric motors. Computers are interspersed through-out and the car is drive-by-wire (so instead of the steering shaft actually turning wheels or your gas pedal actually feeding fuel, your inputs tell the computer to do it [my VW is drive-by-wire for gas input so this isn't crazy future stuff]). That means you can add and remove all the interior parts (seats, dash, etc) and even change the body on it and you won't be affecting how the car moves. It's a great concept and not that hard to actually make happen.

The point I eventually intend to make is that this little Hy-Wire guy has been out and about for many years, at least 7 if my memory serves me right. Despite its great ideas and "potential to revolutionize the blah blah blah," it's gone nowhere. Well, Wired got to drive it at least, that's something.

I admire long term goals ("the group's goal goes beyond that; members also want to change the way cars are produced and used") but it's important to take this kind of news for exactly what it is: a step in the right direction and a promise of absolutely nothing. I would hate for someone to read this and go "here it is! The future is now! Problems are solved!" There are quite a few safe and economic options out there to begin with and not everyone is rushing to get them. You can buy and own an electric vehicle, you can choose a hybrid SUV, you can drive differently. All of these things contributes towards the same goal and this project: using less oil, changing our economy, and polluting less. If people the way we produce and buy and use our cars was apt to be changed, wouldn't we already be doing everything we could?

Simply put, there are not enough people out there (yet) who care enough to make this kind of radical change. Never stop dreaming, never stop building, never stop designing, never ever. But make sure you have the big picture in your head too: there's more to overcome than just the products that are available. There is a massive, interconnected, complicated sociology, psychology, and infrastructure in place that just won't shift directions for a product like a Saint Bernard for a milkbone.

Keeping dreaming but don't quit your day job (see number 7):

THE SEX & CASH THEORY: "The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended."

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