For every invention that revolutionizes the auto Industry, hundreds of ideas fall short. On Pages 20-22, we name 10 technologies that will change the industry. Here, we celebrate all of the ideas that will not.
We found our examples in the files of the United States Patent Office. The items pictured here are offbeat proposals to improve safety. But before we dismiss them, imagine how strange airbags must have seemed at first ...
1 Item: Vehicle safety apparatus
Inventor: George Boswell, Springfield, Virginia
Year issued: 1976
Summary: An impact on the vehicle's bumper sets off mechanisms that push energy-absorbing panels against the upper torsos of passengers to prevent them from being thrown forward.
2 Item: Economy safety passenger vehicle
Inventor: Hubert Tidwell, Price, Utah
Year issued: 1993
Summary: The design calls for a narrow vehicle that tapers to a point in front 'to minimize the danger of a head-on collision.' After hitting an obstruction, the vehicle would be deflected to the left or right, avoiding the force of a frontal impact. To improve fuel economy, an electric motor would drive the rear wheels on short trips, while an internal-combustion engine would power the front wheels on long trips. In bad weather, the motorist could use both motors to obtain all-wheel drive.
3 Item: Externally mounted vehicle speedometer
Inventor: Sheila Ann McNeill, New York, New York
Year issued: 1997
Summary: A display on the rear of the vehicle would tell other drivers its speed. The device would warn other motorists of excessive speed or dangerously slow speed. A computer chip would retain a speed history for use after a crash.
4 Item: Ice-melting system for vehicles
Inventor: Muhamed Ahmed, Paris, France
Year issued: 1989
Summary: The system would use waste heat from a vehicle's exhaust pipes to increase traction of the drive wheels. With a blower and conduits, it would direct exhaust gases to the road near the wheels. According to the patent application, the system would reduce the need for motorists to push vehicles that are stuck on snowy roads.
5 Item: Shock-absorbent electric vehicle and batteries
Inventor: Johan Bjorksten, Madison, Wisconsin
Year issued: 1979
Summary: Imagine a battery you can drive. The battery sections would be made of collapsible metal plates in the vehicle body that store electricity and absorb crashes. 'The liquid electrolyte in the battery cells will contribute to the smooth action' of deceleration, according to the patent abstract.
E-mail writer Harry Stoffer at [email protected]