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TED2008: The future of the car

We get two quick talks on the future of automobiles. Felix Kramer fom Calcars.org shows off his amazing hacked vehicle, a Toyota Prius that’s been modified to plug into 120 volt power. For short commutes, the electric power provides all the power, but “if I want to go to the mountains, I’ve still got gas.”

The vehicle gets 100 miles per gallon on average. And the power generated by electric utilities is a lot cleaner than burning fossil fuels and getting cleaner as electric utilities upgrade their facilities. He wonders why hackers need to build these cars and why manufacturers aren’t working hard to bring them to market.

Larry Burns from GM Research shows some of what the auto companies are up to. He shows off a Chevy Tahoe, modified by researchers at CMU, to compete in the DARPA urban challenge. The car literally drives itself, moving completely autonomously.

The competition involved eighty teams, each of whom thought they could build a vehicle that could navigate a sixty mile urban course, obeying all traffic laws, stopping in intersectoions and merging. Eleven teams made it to the finals, and the Chevy Tahoe – named “Boss” – won the $2m prize, completing the course in less than six hours.

Why does this matter? It could make driving much safer, give people their commuting time back and allow us to use our transportation infrastructure better, “bringing sustainabile mobility to more people.”