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Free-Wheeling, Fuel-Free, Flying Cars? Space-Age Travel Really Has Arrived

The future of motoring is about to change radically. In the future, there should be no need for noisy, fuel-guzzling vehicles that belch damaging fumes into our precious atmosphere, pounding our roads and harming our environment, as advances in science have provided stunning new alternatives, some of which do not even require a driver.

One such innovation has emerged from motor giant, Toyota, who have been prototyping a new "hover-car" developed through their sophisticated Research and Development division.

In a recent interview, Hiroyoshi Yoshiki, managing officer with Toyota's technical administration group, revealed that the company had been studying the concept of flying cars. In fairness, Toyota are not envisaging that their new cars will be speeding across the skies à la the "Fifth Element", a film set in a future where ironically old-fashioned automobiles were depicted buzzing through the air like a swarm of massive bees. Yoshiki explained that their plan is merely to get the car "a little bit away" from the road to reduce friction, similar to a hovercraft. Beyond that, he would not supply any further details about the enigmatic new motor, or its future potential on the world's roads - or above them.

Google are also trying to steer the future of motoring and have jumped on the bandwagon with their "driverless car". After years of testing, the gigantic company, which is better known for its omnipotent web presence, has announced a new version of the driverless car that has space for two people. However, to avoid any confusion in its passengers about who is in the driving seat, it does not possess a steering wheel.

The car requires a complex and costly collection of sensors and software to control its automatic driving mechanisms, but Google are confident that it could safely navigate its passengers alongside normal vehicles, and they are hoping to convince governments that the project is viable.

It seems fitting that such space-age-style transport should be powered by more sophisticated means than costly fossil fuels that create pollution and have a finite lifespan, so it comes as good news that this area of auto-development has also seen some amazing advances. Various forms of new fuel technology have been put forward over the past few decades, but one of the latest, proposed by an Israeli company, Phinergy, and the aluminum giant, Alcoa Canada, has incredible potential.

The companies' combined venture has managed to create and demonstrate an electric vehicle (EV) that is capable of driving over 1,100 miles on a single charge; in fact, in tests its Phinergy aluminum-air battery, which weighs in at 100 kilograms (220 pounds) has been able to provide sufficient energy to allow the vehicle to travel up to 3,000 kilometers (over 1,860 miles). Compared to the best battery-powered cars currently on the market, which have batteries that weigh five times as much and can only manage around 500 kilometers (310 miles) on a single charge, this is an outstanding and extremely encouraging performance.

The car uses a combination of aluminum-air and lithium-ion storage technologies, the aluminium air battery being powered by an air-electrode that is capable of drawing in ambient air and extracting the oxygen from it; this renders it a very environmentally-friendly alternative to normal batteries which obtain their oxygen from liquid or solid cathodes. Consequently, air batteries are much lighter and do not need to replace or re-charge their cathode, and are therefore capable of supplying more power over a longer period of time.

On the downside, the air batteries do wear out fairly frequently, but they are recyclable and relatively inexpensive to replace. To make them even more economical they are produced in areas where electrical energy costs are low: the battery used in the latest demonstration vehicle was made at the Alcoa smelter in Baie-Comeau, Quebec , which is powered by a hydroelectric power resource.

The demo car is designed to use its lithium-ion battery on short urban trips, but on extra-urban journeys the more efficient aluminium-air battery is activated. Phinergy is also experimenting with other metal-air technologies, including a zinc-air battery with some advantages over its aluminum counterpart, as zinc-air is extremely durable and a battery can last thousands of hours without chemical deterioration. The batteries could revolutionize more than just the motoring industry, and the company's long-term vision is to see metal-air batteries become the principal type of device utilised in transportation, renewable power sites, electronic devices and in industrial and defense applications.

With transportation alone producing around thirty per cent of the global warming emissions in the United States, these alternative new fuel technologies cannot be integrated into mainstream motoring soon enough. Overall, each gallon of gas burned can emit up to 24lbs of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and other harmful greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, including that which is used during its extraction, production and delivery. Each year, the average family car pumps out 6 tons of CO2 - three times its own weight - into the air.

Whether they are utilised to power flying cars, hover cars or just those that use the device that has served us well since around 3000BC, the wheel, substitutes for existing fuels need to be implemented as a matter of urgency, preferably with government backing and sponsorship to ease the transition. We have the technology to create a cleaner future, we just need to start implementing it - now.

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UC: "One such innovation has emerged from motor giant, Toyota, who have been prototyping a new "hover-car" developed through their sophisticated Research and Development division."

Um, no. Toyota hasn't prototyped anything of the kind. One of their execs said they're studying the idea, which could mean anything, but apparently it's enough to get free publicity and corporate endorsement from sites like this. Never mind how a hovering car (probably electromagnetic like high speed trains) would go, stop, and steer.

Now in complete contrast, the Google driverless car is a real thing, from a company that actually innovates. That technology will in time change the world (and they're not the only company that's been working on it: GM, Volvo, and Nissan being notable others, but Google seems to be a bit further along.) By the end of this decade, semi-autonomous cars for hands-free cruising on approved highways are likely to be on sale from Cadillac, Nissan-Infinity, and possibly others, and that's just the beginning.

UC: "We have the technology to create a cleaner future, we just need to start implementing it - now."

It already is available, the problem is getting people to adopt and step out of their gasoline comfort zone. There is a range of pure electric cars available, most notably the Tesla Model S. Although pricey, its almost 300 mile range on each charge and ability to use Tesla's "Supercharger" network for rather fast and free electric "refills" makes it the darling of well-heeled forward thinkers. And they promise a similarly capable sedan for around $35K within a few years time. There are also a large number of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models available at reasonable prices; like I now own my second Chevy Volt that provides about 38 miles avg. on a $1.50 charge totally gas-free, then can switch to a 37MPG mode burning gasoline if you need to go further without recharging. It requires no sacrifice from regular car ownership at all, costs less than $30K after incentives, and the average owner gets the equivalent of triple digit gas mileage, with many using virtually no gas at all. It's also worth mentioning that in multiple surveys, the Tesla and the Volt are ranked first and third in overall customer satisfaction among ALL cars (a regular Porsche takes the number 2 slot). Other plug-in EV/gasoline models with about half the electric-only range of the Volt are available from Honda, Ford, and soon Mitsubishi, and very low electric range (about 6 miles) from Toyota's plug-in Prius. Any of these vehicles can go a long way to reducing the carbon footprint of transportation, and yet combined they account for only a few percent of the market at best. Hopefully, that number will increase sharply by the end of this decade, but the point is people can make very positive choices NOW, not wait until some tomorrow.

Yes, this, and other innovations like the solar roadways project currently on IndieGoGo, might be the way to go because they basically retrofit the current way of life rather than scrapping it in favor of something more radical (and harder to implement, such as going back to hunter-gathering). So they might happen sooner, and the need for change is urgent. At the same time, I notice the Google publicity emphasizes how "empowering" the self driving car is; that will be the sticking point for most people now driving the old way, who associate being in the driver's seat with empowerment. Who can forget how exciting it was to drive a car for the first time as a kid. The love affair with cars is largely based on that sense of empowerment. Sitting passively and being driven by a machine... it will take some selling. But make it fun and it might work. Change can happen fast.

Oh come on, all this has already been invented in one way or another. Really, are the Big Brother types going to let all of us have anything worthwhile??? The Google-do-evil driverless cars are all about keeping people enslaved, not offering a new avenue of freedom. If only we did have real flying cars, would the population be so easily managed???

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