Ever since the late 19th century, the automotive industry has held a just reputation as a hotbed of technological innovation. Some of the greatest inventors of the past century have turned their attention to the humble automobile, bringing us bold and brilliant new features that make driving faster, safer and greener.
It’s often said that today’s cars pack more computing power than the machines that guided NASA’s astronauts to the moon during the historic Apollo 11 mission. It’s not an exaggeration – almost any 21st century vehicle comes with dozens of computers to control components like anti-lock brakes, airbags and electronic cruise control. And that’s saying nothing of the advanced infotainment systems starting to appear in the latest new car deals.
But amid this 100-year cavalcade of life-changing technologies, what about the car innovations that didn’t make it? In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the most fascinating vehicular inventions that never made it to the mainstream. Some were ahead of their time, while others were irredeemably silly and a few were downright dangerous. Read on to find out more.
The Horsey Horseless
Back in 1899, a Battle Creek, Michigan native by the name of Uriah Smith was troubled by the prospect that local horses might be disturbed by the presence of motor cars on the Mid West’s sleepy highways. He subsequently struck upon a truly great idea – why not stick a wooden horse-head on the front of the vehicle to rest the nerves of skittish equines?
It’s not known if Mr Smith’s so-called Horsey Horseless was ever built, but we can only dream that a modern car maker is someday brave enough to recreate his timeless vision.
The Dog Sack
We all know that it’s dangerous to keep a dog in a hot car, but few of us could have conceived of a solution as strange as the Dog Sack. Documented in a 1935 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine, the invention consists of a large canvas bag that can be slung from the side of a moving automobile, providing a comfortable place for a canine companion to sit on the vehicle’s exterior. “When you take your dog along for a ride, but prefer not having it inside the car, it can ride safely and comfortably in this sack,” the original article claims.
Again, it’s a mystery that this innovation never caught on. Surely our dogs would have thanked us?
Few car makers have had a comparable impact on the industry as a whole – and indeed, the world – as Ford, which played a fundamental role in bringing the automobile to the everyman. That’s not to say it hasn’t been responsible for a few gaffes of its own, however.
In the 1960s, the company came up with an experimental replacement to the steering wheel called the ‘wrist-twist’ system. This comprised two small handheld wheels connected by a brace, making it possible to turn the car with just a flick of the wrist. Apparently it made parallel parking much easier, but today all that exists of the innovation is some frankly sexist promotional footage.
The thought of holding a conversation with a car has proved an intoxicating dream for motorists for decades, hence shows like Knight Rider. However, efforts to incorporate this technology into real-world automobiles have to date proved somewhat fruitless. Back in 1982, the Datsun 810 Maxima became the first car capable of talking to its driver, albeit with a vocabulary of just six phrases. A couple of other vehicles followed suit, but the feature never penetrated the mainstream.
That said, it’s possible the talking car is about to make a comeback. Thanks to in-car smartphone integration, it’s already possible to use voice-activated personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri behind the wheel – surely a 21st century KITT is just around the corner?