Supercars occupied a tiny niche at the fringe of the car market, but that hasn’t stopped them from capturing our imagination. In fact, it may even be part of why they do. Supercars adorn bedroom posters and find their way onto desks as scaled-down toy models. So, of course, it’s always fun to think about what they’d look like in the future. But how do we reconcile those dreams with a future where humans may not be driving?
There’s no getting around the fact that supercars are getting faster and faster. A supercar today could easily have 1,000 horsepower. Hell, Croatian supercar maker Rimac claims that its new C Two will have close to 2,000 horsepower. There really doesn’t seem to be a ceiling to these incredible outputs of power, but there is a limiting factor to all of this: Us.
As cars become faster, more powerful and advanced, their abilities far outpace what a mere human can drive them to do. Professional race car drivers fare better than the average person in these instances, but they aren’t the only ones buying the cars.
One solution would be to turn towards an autonomous supercar. Admittedly, the idea at first sounds ludicrous. Supercars are supposed to embody the raw driving experience. No compromise, just speed and performance and excitement. All of the autonomous concepts we’ve seen so far seem to incorporate some sort of “living room on wheels” idea.
The benefits that accompany them often have to do with convenience and safety. Performance and sheer excitement are rarely qualities that get brought up. After all, driving a supercar yourself is way more fun than being a passenger in one, isn’t it?
Yet the autonomous future might not be so bad. Pugh’s argument is deeply rooted in attainable enjoyment. He reasons that most of us are just average drivers, so even our everyday cars have limits that we’d have no hope of safely reaching. Limits in a supercar are only astronomically higher.
“The driverless Exotic of the future starts to make a little more sense when you imagine a machine that can reach its true potential performance overcoming the weak link in the current situation, the human driver,” he explains. “The autonomous supercar will give its passengers the ultimate thrill ride in relative safety and an experience that is impossible with today’s driver-oriented technology.”
So, how would such a car look?
In Pugh’s eyes, a supercar needs to look fast, expensive and flashy. No subtleties. People need to know that they’re looking at something special.
The resulting idea is some high-octane science-fiction material, but awesome to think about nonetheless: An all-electric, three seater (triangle formation) supercar called the Stark MK-Xv. Yes, it’s inspired by Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit in terms of its color scheme and some of its concepts, but its autonomous features and how such a car fits in the supercar narrative are born from Pugh’s vision.
He explains that because extensive driver controls are no longer necessary in the MK-Xv, the car doesn’t need a dashboard anymore. The driver feels even more connected to the road because the windshield extends over the hood. Visibility out the front looks incredible. Elsewhere in the interior, there is digital screen material that shows a real-time animated view of the surroundings, so riding in the car would feel sort of like flying.
Pugh’s car has some pretty insane performance projections, too: zero to 60 in 1.6 seconds, a top speed of 300 mph, 9,000 lb-ft of torque, all-wheel drive and a 500-mile range. It also has a full suite of autonomous features (LIDAR, collision detection systems, etc.,) which are all integrated into the body panels, giving the whole thing a very polished and clean look.
Currently, we only have five levels of automation defined, but the MK-Xv is so advanced that it forced the industry to define two additional levels: Creative Performance Automation and Passenger Emotive Automation.
CPA means that the car’s systems understand what “fun” driving is and can “create choices that generate excitement and pleasure for the occupants.” The driver also has input here: They can use joysticks and pedals and work with the car toward a collaborative driving experience. Think sporty driving, just enhanced by a computer that would never let you crash.
PEA means that the car can read the emotions of the passengers through facial expression, hormone levels and heart rate. This helps suit the overall driving experience to the passengers’ comfort level.
That comfort level is important, because the MK-Xv has the ability to push people to the very limit of of the human body. For this, Pugh writes:
The interior of the robotic supercar will demand a special type of seating where the passengers are protected in a variety of ways. Just as with fighter planes or space craft, the performance of the new supercar will push the human body to its limit.
With the driverless supercar being able to perform beyond what the human body can endure, a new type of G-SEATS are employed that wrap around the passengers and grip their extremities keeping them secure and preventing blackouts or other injury. The seating can change shape and density depending on the physics of the vehicle at any given time and also eliminate the need for traditional seat belts. The technology behind this new seating is a smart, reusable airbag fusion system that is linked directly to the vehicle’s intelligent exterior sensors.
Finally, since the car is powered by four motors at all four wheels, Pugh could afford to get creative with the seating arrangements inside. It offers a traditional seat position, but if the driver wanted, they could also activate another, leaned-forward “flying” position. This, Pugh believes, would just enhance the “thrill ride” experience of the MK-Xv.
People who buy cars like the Ferrari LaFerrari or the Bugatti Chiron have always puzzled me. Those cars have been engineered to do the wildest things on track, engineered to push the limit of what is currently and physically possible... and most of owners only take them out on Sundays and park them at concurs events. Seems like a damn waste.
The MK-Xv, fantastical as it is, solves that conundrum. The same people who buy Koenigsegg Ageras would buy that, too, but they would actually be able to safely experience what the car was designed to do. It wouldn’t be just another waste of potential, sitting on the front lawn of some château somewhere, awaiting a prize.
That’s the kind of future I’m interested in.