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Self-Driving Vehicles May Usher in a New Era of Extreme Driving

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We're on the verge of a new era, where self-driving cars promise to make road transportation safe, efficient and, well, kind of dull. But, for those who will still crave the open road, automated cars in cities might free up designers to create vehicles built explicitly to enjoy driving outside of populated areas.

Just as cars largely turned horseback riding into a form of recreation, Ben Abel, who helps run the Michelin Challenge Design—a project to discover cars of the future—tells the BBC that, in the coming decades, driving might be more about pleasure than getting from one point to another.

Abel explains why the theme for this year's design contest was passion:

The premise was that the cityscape is full of autonomous cars. We're all driving around in washing machines. And if that's the case, then the roads outside the city have become playgrounds, and you can have non-autonomous cars where you can go out and experience these roads. So we asked people to give us a specific road and then design a vehicle for it.


The winning designs included a team from South Korea who chose the Stelvio pass in Italy—a windy stretch of road with several sharp curves. Their concept (photo, top) envisions a car when you can make the most of this experience by crawling out of the car, unfurling a sail and controlling it like you would a wave safer.

An Iranian designer who immigrated to Australia presented an idea for a vehicle—inspired by a lizard—for driving in the Australian Outback: "Wheels are attached to the body via an arm which can extend, flex and tilt, so it gives lots of possibilities to the vehicle. It can revolve around itself and it can effectively assume a posture like a Lizard on uneven roads with one wheel located up and another down."


Does Abel want to make and sell these cars? No, but that's not the point of the exercise. Car companies are looking for designers who can give them a preview of what passion looks like to a demographic that doesn't exist yet—hardcore, recreational drivers in a world dominated by autonomous vehicles.