A 3-D “Globe” dashboard display? Bending traffic lights to your will? Seats inspired by fish? If you can imagine it, chances are those quixotic MINI engineers are already working on it.
Imagine sitting at a traffic light, listening to the throaty V-8 sound of your MINI engine rev as the light suddenly changes in your favor after only a few seconds of idle time. You hit a button on the dash and the sound changes to the sporty whine of a straight six. As you speed up, a colorful display splays across your windshield, telling you what the speed limit is here, what the traffic looks like up ahead, and that, since you’ll be needing fuel soon, the best price for premium unleaded is up ahead a half mile on your left. A local urchin kicks his soccer ball into the street and you alertly hit the brakes as your seat – intuitively – molds to your body’s sudden, subtle shift, cradling your neck to prevent even the slightest hint of whiplash.
It seems like all the good stuff has already been invented – anti-lock brakes, intermittent windshield wipers, radials, et al. – so now auto engineers are turning their thoughts lightly to fanciful “improvements” that are, well, kind of out there.
Take the MINI Center Globe concept. Using state-of-the-art laser technology, the center display screen on a Mini could very well be in the shape of a globe and present information in a three-dimensional way. A transparent ball shell with two spherical moving projection areas - one for the driver and one for the passenger – lets them access different functions and view different information at the same time, but each only gets to see what he or she wants. It has a huge advantage over conventional TFT displays, such as being able to show a much wider color spectrum and also projects fast-moving images quicker. It’s just going to take some getting used to, that’s all.
Or how about Mini Active Sound Design? Here, they fit a computer in the car that actually creates the sounds of different sized engines and sends it through the speakers, giving occupants the virtual aural experience of being in a car with all sorts of different engines. While the speakers can’t replicate the vibrations and sensations you get from the real deal, it’s still pretty cool. Mixes it up a bit, you know?
Fish Seats… Seriously? Believe it or not, the next generation of seats could have fish to thank. By studying their anatomy - the fishes, that is - orthopedic experts have designed seats which are not only safer, they’re also lighter. Developed with the ‘Fin-Ray’ principle, the structure of the seat, when pressed at one end, bends towards the direction of the force applied at the other end. This means that in the event of a collision, for example, when your lower back hits the backrest first, the headrest actually bends forward. The result is that it makes contact with the head 10-milliseconds earlier and reduces the risk of whiplash. It’s also a lot lighter – two front seats can easily weigh as much as one adult, so by lightening them up a bit, you're also reducing your fuel consumption. That’s improvement on a grand, er, scale.
Intelligent heat management. As almost everyone knows, energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only change form. That’s the first law of conservation of energy, in science lingo. In auto-speak, chemical energy from gas is converted into heat energy upon combustion, and then into kinetic energy when the vehicle is in motion. But even the most efficient engines around are only able to convert a third of the chemical source into useful propulsion, so a full two thirds are wasted as the heat goes into the exhaust, radiator and the environment. Now what if that heat could become electrical energy as well? Utilizing a thermoelectric generator (TEG) - you know… the kind found in space probes - up to 250-watts of electricity can be recovered. That’s more than half the on-board consumption of a MINI, plus it can also save up to two percent on fuel. Sounds pretty intelligent to us.
Sustainable Traffic Management. Gotta love that term “sustainable”. BMW calls it ‘Car2X’ communication, where ‘X’ refers to traffic lights or roadwork markers. The system is capable of advising your car if the Auto Start Stop function should be deactivated (if it’s only a short stop), or if there’s a drop in the speed limit ahead so you can gently lift off the throttle instead of having to brake hard.
There’s also TPEG, or Transportation Protocol Expert Group. With this system, drivers can be informed of almost everything relevant to their driving route. From providing live information such as traffic jams, accidents, road closures, traffic speed and flow, weather conditions, available car park lots and even the price of fuel, the on-board computer can calculate the best route to take, or even advise you to give up, just park your car and take the bus. Maybe they should call it TMI – Too Much Information - ?
The MINI of the future may not be too far off. We'll take whatever comes... so long as they don't lose that MINI Mojo in the process.
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