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There are now over one billion automobiles on the road worldwide. An explosion in the auto markets in China and India ensures that number will increase, with China supplanting the United States as the world's largest car market. It's fair to say humanity has a love affair with the car, but it's a love-hate relationship. Cars are at once convenience, art, and menace. People write songs about their vehicles, put them in museums, race them, and wrap their identities up in them. About 15% of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels comes from cars. Traffic fatality estimates vary from half a million per year to more than double that. Gathered here are images of the automobile in many forms, and our relationship to and dependence on our cars. This is the second in an occasional Big Picture series on transportation, following Pedal power earlier this year. -- Lane Turner (40 photos total)
Antti Rahko stands next to his self-made "Finnjet" during preparations for the Essen Motor Show in Essen, Germany on November 22, 2012. The car rolls on eight wheels, offers ten seats, weighs 3.4 tons and is worth about one million US dollars. (Marius Becker/AFP/Getty Images)

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As designers, we often engage in many of what we call "future of..." programs, for both clients as well as for ourselves. These projects often remove some of the constraints that exist in our current product developments cycle to focus on larger macro trends in human behavior and technology to try to look forward into the future. Cynically this is sometimes called crystal ball gazing, but it often it can reveal insights that can help us to course correct more production oriented programs. Hollywood has picked up on how amazing these kinds of future explorations can be in many movies over the past 50 years, such as the way HMI is portrayed in Minority Report (UI which is already looking old) and Iron Man (CAD interface).

These types of explorations have been going on for a long time in R&D departments, the pages of magazines, and as part of promotions. Sometimes they were amazingly close, and sometimes they are hilariously off. They are our best educated guess of what comes next after next. For a look at the history of such predictions, check out one of my favorite blogs Paleofuture.com

In these kinds of projects we often abstract existing behaviors to manifest a vision of where we think technology can take us. I LOVE this new Dodge commercial shows how that abstraction can quickly become irrelevance, annoyance, and even cause an outright backlash.

There are a lot of things that technology could do for us, but the question is, what do we WANT it to do for us and HOW. As software becomes ever more advanced, will it manifest itself in ways that feel genuinely mechanical? A nice example of this are the fly-by-wire systems in commercial aircraft that work hard to reproduce the feedback of mechanical linkages to pilots. Another example are tunnel mounted stick shifts in automatic cars. The gear selection in an automatic car could be a dial, a switch, or a touch screen, but we seem to prefer the large mechanical lever that emulates the mechanical shifter on a sports car. Is this longing for the more understandable what is behind retro styling and Steam Punk? Is the embrace of mechanical interfaces merely a transitional affordance or is it how human's prefer to interface?

I don't have the answers to any of those questions, but continue reading to see the bonus "Slippery Slope" commercial that pokes fun at Google's attempt to drive your car.

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