I'm guessing if you saw my byline up there, you've already made an instinctive grab for your preferred vomit bucket. That's smart, because what I'd like us to consider today is sort of gross. But it may not be such a terrible idea, if you really think about it. It has to do with advances in growing biological organs and using them in cars.
Okay, let's get that first heave out of the way, as you picture steaming piles of offal and intestines. These images will be coming up again, so best we get used to it. Here's what I'm thinking:
In the past few years, there's been many advances in the science and technique of growing functioning, actual organs in the lab, often from specially-cultured stem cells. Some of these have even created 'custom' organs, like this trachea, which had living cells grown over a structural model.
So that got me thinking, and not just about the perfectly square, wall-sized steaks we'll be able to grow in gigantic vats. It got me thinking about how there's a lot of parts of a car that could work quite well with self-healing biological replacements.
That trachea, for example. It's basically just a muscular hose, really. Cars are full of hoses, and they're often complex, expensive specially molded rubber ones that eventually crack and break and dry rot and tear. But what if these hoses were biological, like a trachea or a section of intestine? They'd be able to heal themselves in the cases of tears or damage, they'd be constantly maintaining and renewing themselves, and they could be grown with muscle tissue, which, like an esophagus, can use peristalsis to move material and liquids through them, eliminating the need for heavy, power absorbing pumps.
Sure, the car would need some sort of rudimentary circulatory system and maybe a few other associated organs to keep all its living organs alive, but if everything is designed together and grown as a system maybe right in the car, what's the problem there?
So much of mammalian biology seems to revolve around storing and pumping and squirting fluids everywhere, and, slightly less disgustingly, so does a car's engine. Could muscular bladders, much like our own, you know, bladder, replace fluid reservoirs and pumps, delivering fluids as needed? Could organs be bred to be tolerant of heat and fuels and a biological fuel-injection/delivery system be created?
Maybe small and powerful bundles of muscles could be grown to replace heavy electric motors for ancillaries like windshield wipers or power windows and seat controls.
Hell, if we're taking this revolting thought-experiment this far, and it looks like I am, why limit ourselves to what's under the hood? Instead of using dead animal skin to cover your seats like we love to do now, what if that skin was still living? Seats would self-repair if torn or cut, the option to have your seats grow fur in the winter could be added, and they'd probably stay nice and warm. Maybe too warm? Would they sweat?
Your 2068 Jaguar from this strangely disturbing future could have a dash that's got DNA from an actual jaguar, and grow silky, fine, non-shedding Jaguar fur all over it. Your 2077 Ford F-150 could have a self-replacing bedliner made from tortoise shell DNA, and the jump seats in the bed (I'm also imagining a major relaxation on US passenger safety laws) could be covered in hard-wearing, living rhino skin.
If we want to stick with wheeled transport, I don't think we'll ever be able to grow an entire bio-engineered car-beast, with a bone-spaceframe body and massive drive muscles, because a biological wheel and axle I think is still to difficult to overcome, biomechanically. But I bet we can get pretty damn close.
Yeesh. There really is something disturbing about this. Take my advice: do not imagine what a junkyard of these cars might be like.