On the Shoulders of Giants: Retro art and imagining future transportation

by | Aug 13, 2020 | Future of Transportation

As a futurist, I’ve become enamored with past visionaries and their gift for imagining the future. While some of their retro-futuristic visions may seem poorly conceived or even laughable, each of them had a gift for opening the door of possibilities into the magical world ahead.

One thing I hope we all share, though, is an imagination and a curiosity about the future. Instead of limiting our focus on the present, I trust there’s a little futurist in all of us as we try to visualize the technology advances that future generations will find commonplace.

I really enjoy seeing those online posts where, for example, Millennials try to explain to Gen Z’ers how different life was “when I was your age.” That’s especially true with technology. The 1980s and 1990s versions of video games, computers, recording devices, music media, and so on, seem ancient today – similar to how young people would view a Victrola!

A friend at Budget Direct shared some insights, as a fun way of looking back on what our parents and grandparents considered “futuristic” modes of transportation.

As part of the project, they commissioned drawings of what these vehicles would look like today. (If you’re like me, you were drawing these kinds of cars in the back of your spiral notebook during middle school Algebra class instead of solving for “x”!)

No doubt these 20th Century futurists with a passion for transportation technology and design hoped their dream vehicles would be on the market within their generation. That hasn’t been the case, but if you look at the original and re-created images, I think you’ll see some things that are very familiar.

Let’s have some fun taking a futuristic look at the past!

Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: Future Transportation Technology Modern Mechanix Super Cycle Design
This proposed “Super-Cycle,” sketched in the 1930s, would reach speeds of 300 m.p.h. according to its now unknown designer. As of today, one motorcycle model reportedly has broken the 300 m.p.h. barrier, but it looks far more like a traditional motorcycle than the Super-Cycle.
If you check out that original design in the link, the Super-Cycle doesn’t look much safer than today’s high-performance bikes, even with its vaunted “headrest over the windshield” feature. The fact that the test driver in the drawing appears to be protected only by a 1930s-era leather football helmet probably adds to that perception. Let’s hope that inside this re-imagined Super-Cycle, there’s a bit more protection!
Gil Spear was a well-regarded car designer for Chrysler, but his design (below) for a 1941 model never came to fruition.
Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: Gil Spear Car Designer for Chrysler Futuristic Car Design
Gil clearly spent most of his time thinking about the front ends of his cars – grill design was his forte. The back end in this sketch almost seems like an afterthought. This two-seat coup certainly conjured up visions of a spaceship on wheels, an image that’s maybe subliminally re-enforced when his car is placed in an airport setting.
This 1961 concept car was designed by Syd Mead for the McLouth Steel Corporation in Detroit, which was dabbling in auto production at the time. You may have heard of Syd in conjunction with his work designing the cycles in TRON movies.
Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: Syd Mead Future Dual Direction Car Design

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I like this design because it seems that the car would look just as good (and maybe less bus-like), driving in reverse, bringing to fruition my idea from long ago of having dual direction cars with swivel seats.

Plus, it has kind of a Jetsons’ look to it don’t you think?

The Singoletta (Singlet) was ideated by Sci-Fi author Franco Bandini in the early 1960s. An electric motor, easy parking – the Singoletta seems like a very plausible solution for today’s urban gridlock. This is the 1962 conceptual rendering of the Singoletta from the noted Italian Domenica del Corriere weekly newspaper, now out of print.
Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: Walter Molino Singlet Singoletta Futuristic Car Design

As the Journal of Classic Cars article points out, the Singoletta is essentially a canopy over a Segway!

There’s not much protection for the driver that I can tell (lots of glass to boot), but if everyone stays at or below the 40 km/hr estimated top speed (and if it’s used in this kind of congestion), how much harm could there be?


The New Urban Car, designed by Ken Purdy in the 1970s and drawn by Syd Mead, looks really, really familiar.

Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: Syd Mead Futuristic Look of a DeLorean Single Door Car Design
It’s DeLorean-esque in that the door (a single one) opens up. It’s hinged at the front bumper, a really futuristic look, but not too practical for rainy days.

Last of course, we need to address the hover car issue that’s been a staple of imagination and sci-fi for some time. Some people are eager to jump right from four-wheels on the ground to widespread personal flight vehicles. But for intra-city driving, with no 3-dimensional road systems, I think we need to take it a step at a time and set our sights on hovering for the time being!

Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: Syd Mead Anti Gravity Car a Futuristic Hovering Vehicle Design

Again, working on behalf of the steel industry, Syd Mead put pen to paper to come up with a futuristic Anti-Gravity Car similar to the one here that’s based on his earlier designs.

How close are we to having hover cars on and over the road? Well, we have hoverboards and hover boats. The technology is there. Ford introduced its Levacar prototype in 1959. At this time, Volkswagen and Tesla seem to be in the driver’s seat in developing and marketing hover cars. None of the prototypes I’ve seen, though, come with the very distinctive TIE-Fighter-style side wings in Syd’s visionary plans!

As a final thought, keep in mind, all of the images of the future we’re creating today will look just as dated fifty years from now.

[Acknowledgment: Information for this blog came from the excellent article “Visions of an automotive future that hasn’t come to fruition,” which includes images commissioned by insurance company Budget Direct. All photos in this blog are reproduced from that article, which appeared in the Journal of Classic Cars on August 7, 2020.]

On the Shoulders of Giants: Retro art and imagining future transportation

by | Aug 13, 2020 | Future of Transportation

I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.

Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away.  In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.

After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.

When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.

For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.

The Risk-Averse Nature of Education

When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.

While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.

This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.

From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.

For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.

Offering Pilot Programs

When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.

Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:

  • When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
  • When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
  • When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
  • When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
  • When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
  • When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
  • When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it

Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.

Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.

52 Future College Degrees

As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:

  1. Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
  2. Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
  3.  Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
  4. Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
  5. Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
  6. Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
  7. Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
  8. Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
  9. Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
  10. Smart City – mixed reality modeling
  11. Smart City – autonomous construction integration
  12. Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
  13. Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
  14. Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
  15. Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
  16. Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
  17. Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
  18. Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
  19. Swarmbot – municipal system design
  20. Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
  21. Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
  22. Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
  23. Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
  24. Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
  25. Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
  26. Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
  27. Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
  28. Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
  29. Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
  30. Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
  31. Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
  32. Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
  33. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
  34. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
  35. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
  36. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
  37. Mixed Reality - experiential retail
  38. Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
  39. Mixed Reality – game design
  40. Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
  41. Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
  42. Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
  43. Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
  44. Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
  45. Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
  46. Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
  47. Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
  48. Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
  49. Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
  50. Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
  51. Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
  52. Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration

Final Thought

More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.

Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.

The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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