Weekly Brief: Even a ‘Supercar’ Made of Lego is Now Possible

Don’t try to predict the future of automobiles these days, says Andew Tolve.

Guessing what the future will look like is a dangerous business. Just look at the Bugatti Chiron that showed up at the Grand Prix Formula 1 event in Monza, Italy, last week made entirely out of Legos. You heard that correctly: the world’s fastest supercar, capable of a world-record-setting 250mph, has been rendered completely in tiny plastic bricks. The car includes more than a million Lego Technic pieces and is powered exclusively by Lego Technic motors. Granted, the thing maxes out at 19mph but getting 3,000-lbs of Lego bricks to move 19mph using exclusively plastic motors is nothing short of incredible.

It’s a reminder that, as much as we may think we can anticipate what will come next in the automotive world, whole new possibilities are out there. With cutting-edge manufacturing techniques like 3D printing and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, we’re on the precipice of being able to build cars in entirely new ways. Also, they won’t have to conform to the traditional model of an automobile either, as was the case with the Lego Bugatti, instead will be free to change and evolve around a whole new paradigm of mobility. We’re talking pods, pop ups that turn into drones, personal robotic assistants, and other stuff I can’t even pretend to be able to imagine.

No, Lego cars are not the future, I’m confident in predicting that but how everything else unfolds is anyone’s guess. A caveman would be confounded by the Internet. What the automobile becomes will likely blow our minds as well, if we stick around for long enough.

Consider Jaguar tacking a pair of virtual eyeballs onto their latest self-driving shuttles, as my colleague Nathan Eddy reported last week. The carmaker is working with cognitive psychologists to help understand what creates trust between pedestrians and vehicles and whether something like eye contact, even from a robot, can make people feel more secure. They’ve built a model street in Coventry, England, much like Waymo has done with its Castle city out in the California desert, albeit on a smaller scale, where Jaguar can conduct what it’s calling “trust research.” In the case of the virtual eyeballs, when the vehicle registers a pedestrian’s presence, the virtual pupils look at that pedestrian as a signal that it’s safe to cross.

This sort of thing may never make it out of the lab. Or it may go mainstream, raising the prospect that as cars become more independent of people, they may end up more humanized than they are today, with eyes, mouths and ears just as movies like Cars imagine.

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