It's been a while since the Pontiac Fiero was considered a "radical" car. If you don't remember it, the Fiero had a plastic body -- which some folks said made it unsafe (even though owners of it were more likely to be injured from an engine fire). Plastic cars have continued to improve, and here are just a few more car parts that are being made from environmentally-friendly plastic.
David points us to this fantastic post by Ken Segall, entitled Creativity has many fathers, and analyzing the story of two car commercials that seem quite similar. The first, for the Nissan LEAF, is below:
The second is from Renault, for the Z.E.:
The two ads debuted within days of each other. You might note some similarities. Or, actually, a ton of similarities. My first response was to remember that Nissan and Renault are connected at the hip in a slightly odd non-merger alliance where each company owns a substantial stake in the other. However, the two companies are still mostly separate, and their marketing is apparently entirely separate. More specifically, the two ads were developed by two different ad agencies -- and apparently neither is particularly happy about this, with each suggesting the other "plagiarized" the ad. However, neither has been too vocal about this publicly, and no legal action has been threatened.
Segall digs up the possible reason why, in the form of one more ad... for the Mitsubishi i-Miev. This commercial came out way before the other two:
Yeah, it's kind of tough to claim someone else plagiarized you, when your ad looks like a blatant copy of yet someone else's...
Perhaps the reality is that this idea was just so obvious that three different ad agencies came up with it. It's not hard to see how a brainstorming session might come up with exactly this concept pretty easily. Or perhaps there really was some copying. But, in the end, does it really matter? As Segall notes about all three ads, "Wow, what a fantastic concept."
It seems like custom-built cars are getting more attention, lately. Some car enthusiasts are trying to preserve cool-looking cars that could be considered iconic. Other car builders are trying to retrofit old cars with "green" technologies. Here are a few examples. (And maybe someday Xzibit can pimp-my-ride with a biodiesel hybrid powertrain...)
And so it will come as a great shock to perhaps a couple of loin-cloth clad pygmies somewhere in the Amazon Rainforest when reader JMT alerts us that Disney, all-powerful harborer of their intellectual property, managed to be so inspired by a New Zealand-created supercar (called the Hulme CanAm Spyder) that they pretty much copied the design exactly for their upcoming Cars 2 movie. The link to the New Zealand Herald discusses the situation with the car manufacturer's director, Jock Freemantle:
"Everybody is telling us, 'it's your car'. I have had emails from around the world saying it looks like our car. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
Oh, if only Disney had the same perspective as this Kiwi with the possibly single most-fun-to-say name of all time. Why is it that Disney, grim reaper of the copyright/trademark realm, has no problem with this? It's not like this is even the first time the Cars movie series has dealt with this kind of thing, having been through the court system over publicity rights concerning a car in the first Cars movie. Take a look at the image comparison below and decide for yourself how closely Disney's car resembles the CanAm Spyder (hint: if your determination is anything other than "Disney's looks exactly the same, except Disney's looks like they fed a bunch of Skittles to pigeons and then made them fly over the car to, er, color it," then you're insane). The irony of this rip off design bearing the name "Rip" in the movie isn't lost on anyone, either.
To make this as clear as day, the issue is not that Disney used a real life car as inspiration for one of their cartoon movie characters. Rather, the problem is that if the roles in this story were reversed, Disney likely would have pooped its pants as a result from filing a lawsuit with the kind of speed that'd put the Spyder supercar to shame. As one recent commentor put it in an unrelated story, Disney: Sue Thyself.
Lots of folks are working on projects to make car parts out of biodegradable materials. Growing car parts sounds like a cool idea, but there are still some bugs to be worked out (sometimes literally). Here are just a few examples of green materials that might make it into cars someday.
There's been a lot of advancement lately in the field of autonomous cars. The DARPA Grand Challenge a few years ago convinced many people that autonomous vehicles were possible and since then we've been seeing more and more work on concepts around such vehicles, including Google's secret testing of its own autonomous cars and some other researchers doing an autonomous drive from Italy to China. However, with Google, it needed to get special permission to take the car out on the roads, and apparently some politicians in Nevada are working hard to court autonomous vehicle manufacturers to its state. They've put together a bill that would make it easier to get autonomous vehicles on the road in the state, by setting up a process to "authorize" such vehicles, and allow them to operate on Nevada highways.
As Ryan Calo notes in his post (the one linked above) about this, it's great that Nevada is taking a proactive approach, however, he does worry about some of the broad language:
The bill's definition of autonomous vehicles is unclear, even circular. Autonomous driving exists on a spectrum. Many vehicles available today have autonomous features, while falling short of complete computer control. Surely the bill's authors do not intend to require that, for instance, today's self-parking Lexus LS 460L be tested and certified.
Either way, it's exciting to think that such vehicles are getting closer to being available to the public.
Many years back, I remember hearing Jonathan Schwartz (before he was CEO of Sun) predict that one day people would buy "horntones" for their cars, the same way they bought ringtones for their mobile phones. While we haven't quite reached that point yet, it appears that people may soon be buying "apps" for their cars. Slashdot points us to the news that Tesla has announced that (as many predicted) the giant touchscreen console on its Tesla S sedan will have support for third-party apps. Don't like the stereo interface? Download a new one. Want a program that provides you better analytics on your driving habits? Download it. While I'm still pretty skeptical about the appification of everything, I am intrigued by the idea of being able to customize a car via apps. The real question is if there will really be enough demand to make it worthwhile for developers... and if this means that we're going to face another standards battle as people try to standardize what in-dash apps look like.
The past year brought some significant changes to the car industry, and the upcoming year is bound to bring a lot more. Besides just gasoline and diesel, car buyers are going to have a few more options for how their cars are powered. Fully electric or hybrid cars may only be the start. While we're still waiting on flying cars to hit the dealerships, here are some quick car-related links.
We've talked a lot lately about the rise of "publicity rights" as a new, and dangerous, area of the law that is being used to stifle forms of speech. The idea behind it was somewhat admirable. It was to prevent companies from pretending someone famous endorsed their product when they did not. But the law has been stretched and stretched and stretched in ridiculous ways with a series of ridiculous rulings. Thankfully, the courts don't always let the really ridiculous cases go forward, such as the case where Mark Brill claims that Disney/Pixar's movie Carsviolated his publicity rights, because he owns a racecar that looks similar to the lead character in the movie, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson). The article notes that "Apparently Brill is a big deal in the racing world and is closely associated with such a car." Of course, if he was that big of a deal, you would think that doing a Google image search for "Mark Brill, race car" would turn up some images. And I can't find any... Either way, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has upheld a lower court's summary judgment against Brill, saying:
"a fictional, talking, driver-less red race car with the number 95 on it cannot be construed as a likeness of a driver of a similarly colored/numbered race car."
Nice to know there are some limits on publicity rights.
Back in July we mentioned that some researchers had begun an attempt to have an autonomous vehicle drive safely from Italy to China. Then, about a month ago, we also noted that Google had been successfully testing autonomous vehicles on the roads as well. Now, Slashdot alerts us to the news that the Italy to China effort was completed successfully. As with the Google experiments, it wasn't "perfect." Apparently, humans had to intervene during a Moscow traffic jam -- and at toll booths. They also mention that "at one point, a van stopped to pick up hitchhikers." That's quite a story the hitchhikers must have left with... Either way, it's nice to see so much research going on in this field. Hopefully we can start to see some of that research make its way into actual production vehicles, at least to improve accident reduction techniques.