The 8 Most WTF Ideas In the History of Transportation
Invent the next great innovation in transportation technology, and you'll be living in a house made of platinum. The problem, of course, is that your innovation has to actually, you know, work. And not be utterly ridiculous.
For many decades, inventors have completely failed both of those criteria.
Three Wheeled Vehicles
The design of a tricycle seems to be pretty good at keeping toddlers from falling off, so one would assume that it's a fairly stable system. So why haven't we seen more three wheeled vehicles made for adults, who are capable of spending way more money on ridiculous things?
Well for starters, here is the world's top selling three-wheeled vehicle, the Reliant Robin.
We're not engineers over here, but we're going to go out on a limb and say that taking a corner with just one wheel to balance all the weight on the front of your car ups the likelihood of tipping over and rolling down the street from "possible" to "guaranteed." And we're thinking the odds get worse the faster you go. Basically you can only drive the Robin slowly and in a straight line, so it's best not to purchase one unless all of your errands are directly in front of you and are never an emergency.
Another noteworthy attempt is the Sinclair C5, which we have to give credit to for sticking more closely to the classic tricycle in design.
The Sinclair is best described by the Sinclair C5: The Site for Sinclair C5 Enthusiasts Worldwide, which states, "The Sinclair C5 was a commercial disaster." This is the first line on the group's website after the name of the website itself. We can't imagine why.
Well, there's the fact that your body is exposed and that your head winds up right around the area where the grill of an SUV would be, so if you forget to check your blind spot and merge into a Chevy Suburban your skull might be torn from your shoulders. But other than that...
Though we can't mock it too hard, because apparently this open-vehicle concept is the future. Just look at...
Toyota Personal Mobility Concepts
Toyota has grown into the largest automobile manufacturer in the world, so clearly the only market segment left to conquer is that of the future space wheelchair. From top to bottom we give you the i-unit, the i-swing and the i-REAL.
"The i-unit: Looking like the future has never been this not worth it."
"The i-Swing: You could probably pick up a very specific type of chick in this."
"The i-REAL: You'll wish your back was broken."
The i-REAL was slated for sale this year. As these products demonstrate, Toyota is gallantly ignoring all of the handicap ramps, chair lifts, curb lips and parking spaces in the world to operate under the assumption that motorized chairs are both practical and ideal.
Unfortunately for Toyota, the i-REAL has virtually no selling points. It's, what, a more comfortable Segway? A slow motorcycle that won't impress women? One of the only vehicles ever made that offers zero frontal protection for the driver?
Even its own product page can't really state anything other than "it exists."
It does have an embedded social networking system, allowing you to communicate with other i-REALs in the vicinity, but unless you're trying to coordinate a bank robbery with a group of lazy strangers we can't envision this ever being useful. And its maximum speed is only 20 mph, so really having a cellphone in your car provides pretty much the same exact experience as owning an i-REAL, only the car is infinitely more useful.
It looks like the ejection seat from the car we actually want.
Really, the whole concept of odd-numbered wheels just seems to turn people off. Of course, the most ridiculous expression of this idea is...
Here's the Audi Snook, a state-of-the-art unicycle most likely invented by Dr. Wiley.
Oh yeah, that'll stand up to a mini-van.
That is a legitimate concept from Audi that's actually won an award, although so far none are in production. We're sure it has some kind of complex balancing system on board and that a bunch of children can't just come up and tip you over at a stop light. But even then, a collision between two Snooks would be hilarious.
Way cooler looking is the Unocycle.
Whitesnake is playing in his mind
Sadly, it has only one button and no throttle or brakes. In fact, it works just like a Segway, so although it looks like it can go fast, it maxes out at about 15 mph. And yes, you do look more ridiculous going slow when you're on a vehicle that looks like it was designed for death racing in the year 2050.
What isn't disappointing is the dynasphere, a giant hamster ball they tried to develop back in the 30s.
Understandably, this never took off -- the automobiles being manufactured at the same time were way more practical and functional and didn't require you to lean out the side like Ace Ventura to make a sharp turn, so the dynasphere lost out like Beta to VHS. Oh, what could have been.
Think of how much better this scene would have been in a dynasphere.
Not all old-school transportation ideas were this awesome, though. Just look at...
What's so great about planes? Well, they can travel pretty much wherever they please and they're the fastest mode of civilian transportation available to humans as of 2010. But, they can be quite expensive to ride. What about trains? What's so good about trains? Well, they have to stick to a very specific path, and most aren't particularly fast, but they're comparatively cheap to travel on. So obviously, the only solution here is to merge the two.
Actually, the real-world model was slightly less whimsical but every bit as steampunk.
The railplane was, in essence, a monorail powered by propellers. See, back in the 1930s, a plane was the fastest vehicle around, and all of them had propellers. By that token, someone figured that if you put a propeller on a train, it would go faster, bravely ignoring the whole weight distribution thing involved with aeronautical engineering. The idea was to build rails above regular train tracks so the railplane could travel over top of the standard steam-powered locomotives.
The other problem was that the railplane didn't actually go faster at all, and in fact was pretty goddamn slow. Also, the steam generated by the trains running underneath it would make it shake around like a Yahtzee cup. This isn't even mentioning the safety hazard of having a large four-bladed propeller come roaring through a crowded platform. The project went bankrupt in 1937.
Nothing says "safe" like giant spinning propellers and packed crowds of commuters.
Let's face it -- wheels are pretty limited. Once you're no longer rolling on a relatively flat surface, things become problematic. Slowly, your eyes will shift to your own legs, which can traverse landscapes that aren't flat with relative ease. So why not make a vehicle that walks? Hell, they even had them in the Star Wars universe.
It didn't end well.
Sadly, in the real world, shit just doesn't fly that way. The closest that we as humans got to a vehicle with legs was riding on the backs of other animals -- everything else has proven to be a terrifying carnival attraction.
The military even decided to give legs a go -- and threw tons of money at it, coming up with the walking truck, with such features as being hideous and impossible to control:
The driver has to use his or her own legs to manipulate those of the walking truck. It's also as slow as ketchup in a glass bottle, the problem being that although legs are flexible as far as terrain, they aren't exactly efficient in turning pure force into speed. Add the fact that making good legs is extremely complex and potentially expensive, and you're left with a pretty terrible vehicle. So the military dropped the project entirely.
Hint: Transformers didn't turn into wheeled vehicles just because they thought it looked cool.
The most prominent nuclear-powered car concept was the Ford Nucleon, which we have to admit looks pretty rad.
It's like a radioactive Batmobile.
This was suggested by Ford in 1958, back when we didn't know things. Basically, the reactor sits in the back of the car, with the cab situated slightly farther up front than in a normal car to protect the driver and passengers from radioactivity, a solution that is as hilarious as it is a complete failure to understand both atomic science and rear-end collisions.
Supposedly the Nucleon could travel up to 5,000 miles before it needed to be recharged, at which point it would be taken to a charging station to be reactivated (that is, presumably have the nuclear fuel replaced -- you'd trust the guy at 7-Eleven to do that, right?).
"All victims of catastrophic reactor failure qualify for a free 22-oz. Slurpee!"
Nobody really likes buses -- they're slow and ugly and take up way too much space on the road. But as a "green" mode of transportation, it sure as hell beats 100 separate cars idling in rush-hour traffic. So what we need is a bus that can carry a bunch of people but also zip through the streets and get everyone to their destinations, regardless of congestion. That'd make people want to ride, right?
That's why a group of Chinese engineers designed a bus that can just drive over everything else.
This makes nothing but sense.
The Chinese are 100 percent serious about using these things, by the way. In fact, the designers plan to have them up and running in China sometime in 2011.
It is less of a bus and more of a tram/temporary mobile tunnel/piece of insanity. We suppose that in theory, if you want to get through traffic jams, a good way to do it is to drive over the jam. But any accidents that occur in this thing's maw will be amplified to spectacular degrees when you add in the extra factor of a fucking bus collapsing in on the scene from above.
How long until Bruce Willis has to fight a bunch of terrorists off one of these?
Also, the new infrastructure that will become necessary in order to use these monstrosities will have to be built from scratch due to the fact that the normal bus stop won't reach the doors, which are about nine feet off the ground. They're going to have to build new platforms, install elevators for the wheel-chair-bound (or lazy i-REAL users) and lay rails on the roads, which will definitely screw up traffic. Why don't they just make a damn subway like everybody else?
Interestingly enough, the designers are trying to bring this idea to the U.S., although they are struggling to find manufacturers.
"All this could be yours!"
There has never in the history of technology been a greater gap between concept and reality than the flying car. The idea of a flying car is perfect -- no roads, no traffic, no way the cops are catching you if you decide to rob a bank. But every attempt to actually build one makes us a little sadder.
Behold the Terrafugia Transition, a Boston company's attempt at a Jetsonian future of flying cars:
It is by far the most advanced flying car on sale today--so advanced that it warranted a place on Time Magazine's 50 best inventions of 2010. Believe it or not, the Terrafugia is actually one of the ones that looks the least like the talking car from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Flying car my ass, guys. This is a plane.
What could possibly be bad about a car that can fly? As it turns out, many things, most importantly the need for a freaking runway.
A flying car is still basically an airplane, after all, so you still need a long uninterrupted stretch to get up to flying speed. And it isn't like the Terrafugia is fast either. It has a maximum 115 mph flying speed, with a cruising speed of 107 mph, which you may notice isn't much faster than the 70 mph speed limit of most highways in the US. And the Terrafugia's maximum land speed is 65 mph, so you might as well slap your dreams in the face right now and save it the trouble.
Danny Vittore is a freelance writer. If you feel the need to contact him, his email is Dannyvittore@gmail.com
For more terrible ideas in vehicle design, check out 6 Movies With Uplifting Messages (That Can Kill You). Or get your training on with montages, in 5 Amazing Buildings of the Future (And How They'll Kill You).
And stop by Linkstorm because spending as much time on the Internet is totally healthy for you.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infograpic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!