It was the summer of 2016 and the chance for a vacation. To avoid security lines and checked bag fees we decided to drive from Omaha to Florida; to get down on the highway for the classic American summer road trip. Instead of spending two weeks aimlessly cruising the back roads of America with the windows down, music up, and the beer staying cold in the car fridge on the back seat we decided to drive the interstates and toll roads. Two days to travel the 1610 miles Omaha to Boca Raton; 3220 miles round trip and if you add the miles sightseeing Florida your just a few miles short of the distance between New York and London. Just out of Omaha the horizon sky was darkened by rainstorm clouds. The car was in cruise control.
I was watching the broken white line of the highway and the grey vague distant shelf cloud. As I stared at the broken white highway centre line it transformed itself into bubbles and streaks as if it was becoming a whitecap on a sea wave. And I started to think about driving a Gibbs Aquada’s from Omaha to London. Sir Richard Branson drove the New Zealand Aquada into the Guinness Book of Records in June 2004 when he set the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel by an amphibious vehicle; crossing in one hour, 40 minutes and six seconds. I saw the waves caused by some Channel ferries come crashing down on the highway ahead. The car seemed to slow automatically; as if sensors had adjusted the car’s speed because of the danger ahead. The white caps became the broken white highway centre line when I took my foot off the brake and I wondered if the car would have stopped itself if I hadn’t stepped on the brake in time to avoid hitting the car in front.
My first car was a dull cream colour, the late sixties, Volkswagen Beetle; a simple, uncluttered, car that was easy to understand and drive. It had a boot, a motor under the bonnet, mudguards, and windscreen. And it ran on petrol. You never drove on the footpath and you always stopped for pedestrians at tram stops and at zebra crossings. The heater was a knob on the floor that you turned to vent hot air from the motor into the car. I thought it would look really cool driving around Melbourne with reversed wheels; I took off the hubcaps and then the wheel nuts, flipped the wheels and put the nuts back on; with no idea if it was safe to mount all four wheels backwards. The tires pushed out a few inches from the mudguards. I was probably around nineteen when Andrew Lambrainew and I decided that we should drive to Sydney for a weekend.
The inland Hume Highway was a two-lane country road that passed through every small Victorian and New South Wales country town. We left Melbourne a little after five on a Friday night; I was driving. Today it takes about five hours to drive from Melbourne to Wagga Wagga; back then probably around eight hours. On the dark country road, I followed the car in front into a slight bend; it swerved to the side of the road and all I saw was a blinding light. They kept telling me I couldn’t sleep; every breath I took produced a bubbling, percolating, in my throat. The ambulance took me to a small district hospital and my eyelid was stitched back on, and because of the severity of the injuries, I was immediately transported to Wagga Wagga base hospital. I was unconscious for the next few days, and they waited to see if I would wake from the coma and if my chest would stop inflating. Several ribs had been broken and the broken shards had pierced my lungs. The bubbling and percolating in my throat was the escaping air and oxygen from the punctures in my lungs that was mixing with blood and spit in my throat. I saw my VW several weeks later; every piece of metal and car part on the driver’s side had been smashed and collapsed into the front firewall.
Over the next few years I went through a stable of cars; Jack Brabham black Mini Cooper, Ford Capri, Volkswagen two-door station wagon, and a Holden EH station wagon. Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar is still in Lygon Street Carlton; the outdoor courtyard area was a great place to park yourself with friends on warm Spring and Summer Saturdays. Jimmy’s had a kitchen because of the new licensing laws in the early sixties; you could order simple cheese plates and assorted grilled steaks. Watson’s was the place for inexpensive good red wine. Some Saturday afternoons we would leave Jimmy’s courtyard, the collection of empty bottles of red, and head for one of Carlton’s Italian cafés. It must have been Argyle Place because there were meter parking bays in the centre of the street; the EH hit the parking meter with such force that it bent and pushed the bumper bar back into the radiator and the radiator was pushed back into the fan. There was without doubt a radiator failure.
Many of the new 2016 cars come with driver-assist technologies; Active Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning and Prevention, Auto Braking, and Lane Departure Warning and Lane-Keep Assist are just some of the standard technologies. If only the EH had Auto Braking instead of the Power Swept styling that made it look longer at the back and have neater more modern lines. And if only the car that was a blinding white light had Lane Departure Warning and Lane-Keep Assist technology.
After driving the interstates and toll roads from Omaha to Florida I have come to the conclusion that there are two other driver-assist technologies that should be mandatory on every car; even if it means retrofitting every car now on the road. And they are Pheromone Navigation Assist and Dimensional Reality Assist. Without exception, every approach to an exit and on-ramp on every freeway, interstate, tollway, and turnpike was congested and clogged. Six lane roadways gridlocked miles before and after the ramp; drivers refusing to give way to anyone trying to merge onto and move across lanes to exit or not giving way as cars entered from an on-ramp and tried to merge into a lane. The pheromone technology would be based on the chemical communication that ants use; when an ant finds food it lays down a scent trail from the food back to the ant hole; other ants then follow the scent trail to the food and at the same time reinforce the scent. Just before entering a roadway, a car would release a pheromone according to its destination. Cars on the roadway would already have laid down a scent trail; the onboard pheromone identifier of the car entering the roadway would analyze the scent trails and auto navigate the car into its correct destination lane. Lane-departure warning and Lane-Keep Assist driver-assist technologies would keep each car in the right group and lane. With Pheromone Navigation Assist and automated merging, gridlock, accelerating to pass and then slowing down, and passing at the same speed should be a relic of the past.
Without being able to control the path of their car some drivers may experience a damaged sense of being; a loss of pride, freedom, independence and sense of identity, power and control. To eliminate this feeling of removal of self from the car I think the second mandatory driver assist technology should be Dimensional Reality. At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show Panasonic introduced a transparent TV screen. The display can show videos or still images in High Definition quality and when it is turned off the screen fades to total transparency. So here’s my thought; replace the windscreen and windows of all cars with organic light-emitting diode screens; the inside of the car would become an OLED virtual reality space. This brainchild is a homage to Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt. I was introduced to The Veldt in the eighties. Back when, under a federal grant, the college where I was working acquired four IBM Personal System/2 computers to explore and introduce technology-based learning to faculty. Our team of faculty and Instructional Media Production support staff produced an interactive videodisc of The Veldt. The hallway and nursery of the Hadley’s house were assembled from innovative animations and two-dimensional graphics; crude by today’s standards. The disc was authored in Toolbook.
They stood on the thatched floor of the nursery. It was forty feet across by forty feet long and thirty feet high; it had cost half again as much as the rest of the house.
“But nothing’s too good for our children,” George had said.
The nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high noon. The walls were blank and two dimensional. Now, as George and Lydia Hadley stood in the centre of the room, the walls began to purr and recede into crystalline distance, it seemed, and presently an African veldt appeared, in three dimensions, on all sides, in colour reproduced to the final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot yellow sun.
George Hadley felt the perspiration start on his brow.
“Let’s get out of this sun,” he said. “This is a little too real. But I don’t see anything wrong.”
“Wait a moment, you’ll see,” said his wife.
Now the hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odour at the two people in the middle of the baked veld land, the hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air. And now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery rustling of vultures. A shadow passed through the sky.
Because a driver has no control with Pheromone Navigation Assist, Dimensional Reality Assist would create a virtual environment inside the car that would return that sense of identity, power and freedom back to the driver. Outside the cars would be moving as pheromone guided caravans and inside you could be on the freeway in The Matrix Reloaded. Your choice; maybe that’s what Google, Tesla, and Uber are road testing with their self-driving autonomous cars.
Alas, Easy Rider, Thelma & Louise, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Little Miss Sunshine will just be memories of yesterdays road trips. I think I will host a summer backyard Mad Max theme party, and everyone should wear something ruined and destroyed, and bring their favourite neck oil.