A summer heatwave drives us to the beach. Carpark, cars parked. Windows down, tops off. Beneath the gleam of metal machines we enjoy the spectacle of blue skies and blue water. The dark clouds on the horizon make us hopeful for a change, but still seem as distant as tomorrow. For now, a breeze plays to the beat of R&B cooling the heat of the summer sun. Then on cue, silently except for the faintest whir of rubber on bitumen, a machine appears in a shiny, dazzling, brilliant glare.
The curious vehicle is low, sleek and new to the squinted eyes now fixed on it from every corner of the carpark. Like a giant cockroach, top blacked with solar panels it comes to a stop in the middle of the road. Sunglasses are lowered for a better look at this rare machine as the domed enclosure rises to reveal the Pilot.
Standing now, he steps out of the carbon monocoque. Tall and thin with long flowing sliver hair, he lifts his arms and gestures; beckoning his audience to approach him.
“Come!”, he calls as his white shirt billows in the breeze. “I want you all to come and look at this car. I built it myself.”
A handful of the bravest and/or most curious accept the invitation and march like zombies toward the Pilot who wastes no time in commencing his speech.
“Friends, lend me your ears. I come to bury the motorcar and to show you the future.” His voice carries on the breeze, lifted above the silence.
“How much did you pay for your lump of metal? This design is free online and I assembled it all myself in under a month with just a laser cutter and 3D printer to create the shell and body. The solar panels. the lidar and the electric motor were all purchased online and the electronics runs off open sourced hardware and software platforms.”
“Sounds expensive” the unowned words drift forward through the crowd
“No. Less than half the price of a Prius. One month to make.” The pilot smiles and pauses, “It’s cheaper because you assemble it yourself at home, just like a project from Ikea. There is full online support to guide you through the process step by step. Anyone can do it.”
A mix of mirth and disbelief rumbles through the crowd, but the Pilot ignores it.
“Solar powered and backed up by rechargeable batteries. On a sunny day I can drive all day for free. 0-60mph in just 5 seconds, top speed 100mph while using less energy than your electric toaster.” He points randomly at individuals emphasizing his words.
The point is made, thoughts spark and minds spin like electric motors.
“Free power. Fast too.” The audience is tuned in, as pictures of the Pilot and his craft start to spread via social networks.
The Pilot continues,
“If at night I return home with a surplus charge, I can plug in and charge other devices in my home for free. It can talk to the other systems in my house, I can adjust all its settings using an app.” He waves his phone at us and without drawing a breath,
“The car is fully connected too. It can run Google Chauffeur, or any other driverless system available on the market.”
“But I like driving”, interjects a voice on behalf of the crowd
“Only because you don’t know any better. Automation drives a car more safely and efficiently than a human ever will. And anyway, who wants to sit at traffic lights when you could be reading the newspapers, watching youtube or drinking a couple of beers.” The Pilot shrugs and presents his open palms to his audience as clouds begin to gather in the distance.
“Remove humans from behind the wheel and you remove traffic lights, traffic jams and traffic offences. Road rage will be a thing of the past. Lives will be saved, road trauma will be a footnote in the history of transportation.” The Pilot widens his smile, but the mood has darkened now just like the skies.
The breeze blows harder, there is a change in the air and the crowd can sense they don’t like it.
“Not in my lifetime Buddy”, shouts one who emboldens the others assembled and in an instant the breeze rises in an aggressive bluster of faceless words. The Pilot stands still in the face of a rising storm.
“But its my right to drive, its in the constitution!”
“Go back to the future where you belong and take your toaster with you”
With each interjection the audience disperses, save for a few of us, still trying to get a good look at the vehicle. The sky is now dark with impending rain and the Pilot’s hair is tousled unkindly by the gale. He sinks down low into the cockpit and pulls the canopy closed.
The outside of the car is smooth and hard, and the first rain drops bead on its skin. Then without a sound or warning the car moves, rolling silently beneath the mottled sky and the Pilot and the car disappear. Those of us who saw him and his car eagerly await that day when he returns to take us with him on a road trip into the future.