At the dawn of the age of self-driving cars, the big question on everybody’s lips is, well, “Will they really become a thing?” Are these actually the cars of the future, or are they fated to end up, like, well, Segways?
Here, for the benefit of any Google Car boosters that might be reading, is a selection of cautionary tales about innovations that fell by the wayside.
1. The Sinclair C5, 1985
“Congratulations,” says Sir Clive Sinclair in the advert above. “You’re among the first owners of the remarkable Sinclair C5 – the world’s first practical personal tranpsport powered by electricity.” Little did Clive know that you were also, probably, one of the last owners of the remarkable Sinclair C5: only around 5,000 were sold before the manufacturer went into receivership.
Why it never came to anything: It looks like a cross between a scooter and a wheelbarrow, is too low for cars to see, and places drivers at the perfect height to inhale exhaust fumes from every passing HGV.
2. The Toyota i-REAL, 2007
“Is that a sumo suit? Oh. Right. New car, eh? Okay. Looks really, um, nice.”
Why it never came to anything: The i-REAL never actually made it into the consumer market, just to a few “personal mobility” showrooms. It probably didn’t help that it was touted as a “sofa on wheels” and, as those with mobility problems the world over know, most urban environments don’t make it terribly easy to get around in a motorised chair.
3. Honda’s U3-X electric unicycle, 2009
This is not, despite appearances, one of those fancy new bladeless fans – it is a “self-balancing” electric unicycle with one large wheel supported by smaller wheels.
Why it never came to anything: The inventor of the unicycle is still waiting for it to take off as a serious form of transport, and he or she has been waiting since the 1800s – so perhaps Honda shouldn’t expect serious uptake for a few centuries yet.
4. The flying tank, 1932
Image: Popular Mechanics, July 1932.
First tank engineer: “We need this to be the heaviest, most durable vehicle ever created.”
Second tank engineer: “I feel that wings would be an appropriate addition to this design.”
Why it never came to anything: Winged tanks were proposed as a way to bring armoured vehicles onto battlefields quickly. The problem was, crews were dropped separately, often a few hundred metres away – which made the whole process a bit inefficient, and left tanks sitting on their own in the middle of battlefields. In the 1970s, the Soviets managed to drop BMD-1 tanks with crews aboard using a combination of rockets and parachutes. Still never took off, mind.
5. Sea Shoes, 1962
These were the creation of inventor M.H. Hulton – here he is demonstrating them in the Grand Union Canal:
Why it never came to anything: Because if we wanted to go down a canal wearing a suit, we’d just get on a boat.
6. The Monowheel Dynosphere, 1932
Monowheel designs, in which riders sit inside a single giant wheel, have been bouncing around ever since the 1930s – but no designer has ever produced a practical, usable model.
Here’s the Owen Monowheel, designed in 1998:
Why it never came to anything: As you can see from these pictures, the problem with sitting inside a giant wheel is that your view is then mostly of the giant wheel you’re sitting in, and anyway there aren’t really any benefits over a model with two wheels. The design also limits the ability to carry a passenger, use panniers, or look like anything other than a one-wheeled threat to all other road users.
7. The Fliz pedal-less bike, 2012
So you kind of trot along, hanging from the bike’s frame and occasionally leaping into a crouching position whenever you gain enough momentum. According to the Fliz bike’s designers:
“Its laminated, innovative frame with 5-point belt system provides a comfortable, ergonomic ride between running and biking.”
Why it never came to anything: PUT THE PEDALS BACK ON. PEDALS WERE INVENTED FOR A REASON.
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