from USA

June 2001 design news
by N. Rain Noe

roadrunner.jpgMeep Meep

Here's a question worth examination by designers: Why is it that the future never looks as good in real life as it does in the movies? Consider the fantastic spacecraft of Star Trek vs. the depressingly un-designed International Space Station. Then the flying cars Syd Mead penned for Blade Runner vs. the contraption pictured above, the Roadrunner.

That's right, someone's finally designed a workable flying car, but it's not, ah, exactly what you might have expected.

"There are hundreds of small airports where you can land an airplane but no rental cars are available," says retired USAF pilot Roger L. Williamson. To compensate, Williamson has designed a car (of sorts) that attaches to an airplane (of sorts). Collectively titled "Roadrunner," the idea is, you land at an airport, ditch the wings, and drive off into the sunset. It's less Blade Runner and more Lego.

To avoid federal regulations, Williamson designed the Roadrunner with only three wheels, thus sidestepping official categorization as an automobile. (Which federal law defines as having four wheels).

Those of you with a good memory may recall that a similar project was enacted in 1973, when a Californian crossbred a Ford Pinto and a small Cessna. Though it generated appreciable press, the contraption fell out of the sky on its maiden voyage, dampening enthusiasm.

Will the Roadrunner work? "I have been trying to design a practical flying car most of my adult life," said Williamson. Which is ironic--Wile E. Coyote spent most of his life chasing a roadrunner, too.

FAA approval still pending.

Dry Clean Only

Solar-powered clothes: Scientists at the University of Stuttgart have created synthetic fibers that generate electricity when exposed to light. Possible applications could include clothes that recharge personal appliances (e.g. cell phones, walkmen), or a dastardly inventive Death Row suit to replace the electric chair.

Learn to Lego

As it turns out, big auto companies don't wield sole design power in the production of their own cars. Johnson Controls, one of the U.S.'s largest suppliers of parts for auto interiors, delivers completed consoles, doors, seats and dashboards to companies like DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors. For example, the slide-out storage drawer featured in Pontiac's Aztek wasn't conceived at GM, it was developed by JC.

That being the case, JC is trying to get a bigger piece of the auto pie. Their first effort is an entire concept car, called the InMotion, jointly developed with Lego. Yes, that Lego.

Billed as "the ultimate family vehicle," the InMotion features an interior with dedicated, separate areas for adults and children. The adults get upholstery; the kids get a washable rubber surface. The adults get massage chairs; the kids get a surveillance camera. The adults get a microphone; the kids get an intercom.

In addition, there are electronic entertainment devices on board: a DVD player, digital camera and integrated internet access. No word on whether you'll be able to stack several InMotions to make one big one.

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