Futuristic Vehicles: 15 Concept Cars & Transit Designs

The future of transportation is undeniably green, but that doesn’t mean we’ll all be driving boring hybrid sedans. From electric cars with bizarre scales that pop up to gather solar energy to rental bicycles that harvest energy and use it to power buses, the transit of tomorrow is all about nixing fossil fuels, ceding control to computers and coming up with creatively compact designs.

A Robot that Pedals Your Bike

Want to get around on an eco-friendly bicycle, enjoying the breeze and seeing the community close-up – but you’re too lazy to actually pedal yourself around? Then you might want to invest in your very own bicycle-pedaling robot. Joules could be your constant mechanized companion, riding on the back of a special tandem bicycle and doing all the work while you enjoy the scenery. The bike and the robot together weigh around 200 pounds, so this is no lightweight ride, but it’s an intriguing – and sort of frightening – concept, all the same.

Wireless Road Train Concept

All those distracted drivers who try to apply makeup, attend conference calls and check their email at the wheel will be able to do so safely when the EU-funded SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project rolls out onto European motorways. The SARTRE is a wireless road train that allows drivers to join a convoy of commuters controlled by a “lead vehicle”, piloted by a professional driver.

All you’d have to do is signal the driver via GPS to let him know you want to join the road train, pull up behind the train and relax as your car automatically follows the group. When you get close to your destination, you signal the driver to release your car and resume control. Details are sparse, but this concept is actually coming to EU roads soon.

People-Powered Monorail

Many an urban pedestrian has wished for a way to get up beyond the chaos of traffic so they can safely navigate cities without worrying about getting run over. That wish could someday come true if concepts like Schweeb, a people-powered monorail, catch on around the world. Currently a ride at a New Zealand amusement park, this pedal-powered monorail consists of a long track with individual ‘pods’ hanging down, which can go up to 30 miles per hour without the rider expending too much effort.

Driverless, Self-Parking Vehicle Concept

For people who enjoy having a personal vehicle but don’t like to drive, the Atnmbl – short for “Autonomobile” – could be the ultimate in mindless transportation. With room for seven passengers and transparent side walls, but no driver controls, this self-parking vehicle emphasizes conversation between its occupants and focusing on the scenery rather than navigation. The designers estimate that it could be a reality by 2040.

Solar Electric Luxury Car – With Scales

With a sleek physique that’s remarkably similar to that of other futuristic electric vehicle concepts, the BMW Lovos nevertheless stands out in one major way: it has scales. Solar scales, to be precise, which function as both energy producers and wind-resistance air brakes. Created by Anne Forschner, a graduate of Pforzheim University in Germany, this concept may not be the most practical or realistic electric vehicle ever designed, but it certainly has a unique look.

Modified Subaru Glides Effortlessly on Snow and Ice

Only cat tracks, a seriously beefed-up suspension and a supercharged engine could allow the Trax STI to go where no other Subaru possibly could: off-road, onto snow and ice. This majorly modified Subaru Impreza WRX STI, created by American rally car driver Ken Block, easily zips through wintry landscapes. A tow-behind sleigh hauls snowboarders and their gear up to the top of the mountain.

Four Zero-Emission Cars from Renault

While American automakers are still debating the pros and cons of selling all-electric vehicles, European brand Renault is way ahead of the curve, debuting four fully electric cars at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. The line includes a tiny two-person urban car, a “light commercial” vehicle designed for professionals, an SUV-like family car and a five-passenger “city car”. All four will be available for purchase in 2011.

Ultra-Compact Folding Bicycle

What could be more eco-friendly – except, perhaps, for walking on your own two feet – than riding a bicycle around town? For folks who live just a bit too far from work, or live in small apartments, bicycles would be ideal transportation if only they were compact enough to tote on trains or store in a closet. Enter the incredible Contortionist, a folding bike that twists around itself to fit inside the 26-inch circumference of its wheels in just 20 seconds.  Once folded, the bike can easily be pulled down the street by one end of its handlebars.

Stackable Electric Robot Cars

Just like strollers at the mall, stackable electric vehicles could be rented in major cities and then returned to kiosks to recharge. CityCars take up very little space, with room for two passengers and a minimal amount of luggage, and can squeeze into the tiniest of parking spots. Created by researchers at MIT, the CityCar concept may come to U.S. cities sooner rather than later – General Motors is currently working on a prototype.

Cool Rider: Slightly Less Nerdy Segway Alternative

The Segway isn’t exactly known for being a hip vehicle – but it’s actually a cool concept, and certainly one that would have been considered futuristic just a decade ago. The CoolRider is a tad more – well – cool, though it still only goes about 12mph and gets about an hour of riding per charge.

Rental Bikes Generate Electricity – to Power Hybrid Buses

Cyclists produce a lot of kinetic energy when pedaling, and that energy might as well be captured and used.  One concept, involving rental bikes, would do just that. Designer Chiyu Chen created the ‘Hybrid’ bike system, which allows riders to earn credits when riding bicycles which can be used for other methods of transportation as needed.

Smooth, Computer-Aided Ride on Theft-Proof Bike

It can’t be stolen, thanks a fingerprint reader that only allows the owner to ride it. The tires won’t ever get flat. A solar powered battery provides power assistance to get up hills. All in all, the futuristic-looking bicycle designed by Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman removes a lot of the excuses people use not to own a bike, but it does cost a pretty penny at about $4,000. It’s currently just a concept, and Boardman expects it to take another two decades before it’s available commercially.

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