I borrowed a friend's 35mm film camera the other day just to fool around with for a week or two. I figured that it couldn't hurt to shoot the old school way for a while just to put a couple of extra hairs on my chest and to be able to say I paid my dues as a photographer.
But every time I took a picture of my 4 year old daughter, she would reach for the camera and say, "Can I have a look, dad? I want to see my picture", expecting to see the very
familiar, 3-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera that could zoom into every pore on her angelic face. Trying to explain to her that the image was recorded on film and won't be ready to look at for a few days was like trying to convince her that there was actually a life before LCD TVs, cell phones and facebook™.
She just could not grasp the concept of such an inefficient system involving a highly tedious and non-biodegradable process just to capture a simple image. It simply didn't make any sense to her. And she is absolutely right, too. Technology has revolutionized the way we capture information and communicate, and the very thought of leaving home without a 3G cell phone, iPod, wireless laptop and blue tooth headset makes me feel as naked and vulnerable as the day I was born. Well, guess what? This is how your grandkids will feel about the internal combustion engine.
Yup. Sad to say, but the internal combustion engine that we have all come to love is finally hitting its use by date. And if you could get a glimpse of what is in the pipe line, you, too, will scratch huge chunks of hair off your head wondering why we ever settled for such a crude and inefficient way to achieve personal mobility.
Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of meeting the sharpest minds in the automotive industry as well as been given numerous opportunities to witness first-hand the technology that will drive the next era or motoring. I’ve spoken to countless engineers from every respectable automotive brand as well as other visionaries and world leaders in green technology, and although they all seem to have different approaches, there are some common threads.
Collectively, their vision of the future didn't exactly look like the cartoon The Jetsons, but it wasn't far off. Basically, we're talking about electric (or hydrogen) cars that drive themselves on e-highways using drive by wire technology and GPS and have enough computing power to make complex calculations in one thousandth of a millisecond, making them virtually impossible to crash.
They could do this as soon as this afternoon if they wanted, but obviously the plan only works if everyone is on board. Basically, the master plan is to engineer the human factor out of the equation, which in effect, would make our cars personal transportation capsules. Boring, perhaps, but here’s the interesting part; try and imagine that car being as disposable as a cell phone. You contract yourself to an energy company, agree on a minimum spend per month for your kilowatt use, and voila! You get the car for free after 3 or 5 years. Same as you would with your smart phone on a retention program.
The coolest part is that you may not need to ever go to a filling station. Asides from having wireless charging pads in car parks that you just park over, you would be able to purchase wireless energy (similar to how you use Wifi) that can charge up your battery while on the go. The energy you consume will just go on your monthly tab much in the same way a cell-phone company charges you for your calls.
The benefits are seemingly endless, I know, but there was something missing. While the idea of no more air or noise pollution from vehicles excited the responsible motorist in me, it also offended the enthusiast that has to share the same skin. The worrying part of all this modern technology is that if we anesthetize the motor vehicle so much, it will end up with as much sex appeal as a household fridge. What happens to that intoxicating sound of those hairy-chested V8s? Or the kidney punching acceleration of a gas guzzling Camaro? I needed answers, reassurance and comfort––and I told myself wasn’t writing this piece until I got them.
Well I got them. (Be careful what you wish for) Just like in any video game, you will simply download the MP3 file of the exhaust note and engine sound you like and that will work with your throttle inputs (which is already electronic in many cars) and feed in enough engine noise to blow the doors off the electric Hummer next to you. Or you can turn it off when you want to go into stealth mode. And as for acceleration, your little Vios will have a better torque curve than the current 911 Turbo while using less power than heating up a TV dinner in a microwave oven. Slowly, it started to make more and more sense.
See, as much as I love cars, I've never met a car enthusiast that was emotionally attached to filling up gas. I know we're all aroused by the sounds and smells of the internal combustion engine, but if you consider that even the cleanest engine out there wastes 77% of its energy just to produce its power, it's like carrying your entire desktop computer under your arm everywhere you go just so you can keep track of your emails and daily appointments. There are more efficient ways.
Sure there will be resistance, just like when photography went from film to digital, or music went from records to CD, to eventually MP3. I'm sure our forefathers also panicked and set up their own version Anti-Henry-Ford facebook page to protest against the beloved horse being replaced by this mass-produced, futuristic, personality-less, engine driven cart. People fear change. It's normal.
The truth is there will always be resistance to any new technology or idea. I'll admit that I walked away with a slightly hollow feeling at first. But then it got me thinking. These future electric cars won't sanitize motoring. They will just make it more efficient, and that can’t be such a bad thing. There will always be a place for the gasoline powered vehicle just like there will always be a place for riding horses or listening to vinyl. But only for sport, leisure or hobby. You see, as much as we dream about them, write about them and salivate over them, it is not necessarily the internal combustion engine we have fallen in love with all these years, but the freedom of personal mobility. And that is something that nobody can pull the plug on.