Many of the world’s major vehicle manufacturers have come up with crazy ideas which could improve the convenience, functionality, or safety of their cars.
Some of the most otherworldly ideas seen in the last few years include laser beam wipers, a car-washing drone, and a built-in wind turbine to power electric vehicles.
When a company or individual comes up with an idea, they would typically try to secure the intellectual property rights to make such a device, even when the concept is not yet in development.
This would come in the form of patent – a public disclosure of an invention which would grant the company the legal right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention in certain countries or regions.
While these patents are often not implemented in any production vehicles, they can give an indication of how much time and money companies are pouring into innovative tech that would make their vehicles more appealing.
The surging success of the world’s most valuable carmaker at the moment – Tesla – may in fact be thanks to its advances in lithium-ion battery technology and car software, which puts it way ahead of the pack.
It makes sense that in such a competitive industry, car companies account for a large number of the total patent applications filed each year.
Industry giant Toyota is a good example, having applied for the 10th highest number of patents of all companies in 2019, according to Harrity’s Patent 300 List.
The table below shows a list of the top 10 car manufacturers with the most patents filed in 2019.
|Company||Number of patents in 2019|
Aside from patents, there is also a long list of concept vehicles with features and designs which never made it into production.
Below are a few of the strangest and coolest patents and concepts from car companies and inventors, stemming all the way back to the 1950s.
The sticky bonnet – Google
Google’s sticky bonnet idea is less concerned with convenience or style but rather focused strictly on enhanced safety for pedestrians.
The idea is to cover the surface of a vehicle’s bonnet in an adhesive material that a person would cling to in the event that they get hit by a vehicle.
This prevents the person being flung into the air and hitting the surrounding area in a second impact – which is often the part of the accident where the biggest damage occurs.
The design would include a layer which prevents other materials from sticking in instances where no contact with a person is detected – like during normal driving.
In-car tear gas dispenser – Toyota
This Toyota gadget is designed to repel thieves by dispensing tear gas when someone tries to start the car without the key fob present.
The company suggests using chloroacetophenone – also called CN gas or phenacyl chloride – which is what is often used as a riot-control agent.
The gas would then be dispensed via a built-in storage and ventilation system.
Alternatively, the dispenser could be filled with a substance with a “foul odour”, or pleasant perfumes.
Nuclear-powered engine – Ford
Straight out of a Fallout video game, Ford’s far-fetched Nucleon concept (1957-1958) was a flat and long passenger vehicle designed to be fitted with a small mobile reactor in its trunk.
This reactor would be a scaled-down version of those used on submarines and would use fission to create energy and generate steam to power the car.
The plan was for the Nucleon to only need to be refuelled with uranium pellets every 10,000 miles (16,000km).
Needless to say, the potential dangers posed by collisions on public roads with such a vehicle meant it never went beyond a concept.
Roof-fitted wind turbines – Peter Ripley
Electric vehicle battery range has gradually been improving in recent years, but many consumers are still afraid they may run out of power before they reach the next charging station.
Peter W. Ripley has filed a patent for a wind turbine system that could be fitted to an electric car’s roof and used to charge its batteries where a charging point is not available.
According to the design, an internal wind turbine will be able to rotate when the car is in motion, while an external turbine can be extended when the car is parked.
Laser window cleaner – Tesla
Tesla’s laser-based window wiper employs a beam optics system that produces “pulsed laser cleaning” for debris which has accumulated on the windscreen.
It could also be used to clean surfaces like cameras and solar panels which are fitted to a vehicle or other structure.
To protect the driver and passengers in the vehicle, the system is designed to “limit penetration of the laser beam to a depth that is less than a thickness of the glass article”.
Ford calls this one a “multimodal passenger transportation apparatus” – which is fancy-speak for integrated, deployable, autonomous, electric motorcycle.
In this concept design, the motorcycle would be stored in the front of a passenger vehicle and also serve as the car’s centre console.
The idea is that the owner would then be able to deploy the motorcycle in urban areas where there is limited available and affordable parking spaces and where internal combustion engines are restricted.
Built-in coffee machine – Phillip English
Dispensing hot coffee on the go may sound like a bad idea until you’re stuck in the morning commute between Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Phillip English filed a patent for an in-car coffee machine all the way back in 1991, but has since expired and has not been implemented in any commercial passenger cars.
According to the patent, the machine would be stabilised by an anchored base and use a rotatable holder for levelling on uneven surfaces in a vehicle.
The system comprises a showerhead above a brewing chamber that allows heated water to contact a prepackaged filter with the beverage particles.
The drinking cup also includes splash guard features for additional safety.
Car-washing drone – BMW
Need your BMW to sparkle before your next meeting but don’t have time to stop at the nearest car wash? No problem.
The company has already filed a patent for autonomous flying drones which could be assigned to wash your car on-demand.
The drone will be able to recognise a target vehicle, ascertain whether all doors and windows are closed and send an alert if the car is not turned off.
It will also be able to detect dirt and remove any items that prevent cleaning, send photos of the vehicle before and after the wash.
The cleaning process includes pre-washing, washing, drying, and waxing, although the patent does not detail how the cleaning operates.
Ford’s mobile meeting room places a circular passenger compartment in the rear of a self-driving vehicle.
This compartment could be ideal for business teams who may want to finalise a presentation before heading into an important meeting, or for families or groups of friends who want to socialise or play board games while on the go.
The setup comprises a spacious interior with a round table and stowable chairs.
The compartment may in certain configurations also be opened up to the external environment.