There I was, minding my own business, nothing to do till I arrived at state, trying to wake up to a world whizzing by like escargot, wondering if geological time was ever this slow, trying not to let my car go, in yet another cocophony of revenue generating speed limits, two story trucks and darting downtown eyes. If slow meant slimy, I was a double wide trail of sticky boot ooze. Deprived of the usual sensory stimulation, something odd caught my eye as I passed yet another warehouse sized building in this reduce-your-speed boiler room district, a bizantine glass on steel complex. Something very unusual going on there. "When in doubt, whip it out." Pulled a squalling U-turn and after some hassle, shoved it in park. Studied the entrance, held my breath for the final and walked in like nothing was wrong, quickly flicking a credit card as though it were an ID, right in the face of the patron saint of entry who relented out of habit. With an exhale, a latent blush and a tribute to Blackstone I saw that my glimpse from the street wasn't half the story. One entire side of this warehouse was a video wall. A great wall of monitors. A monolith of video screens stacked 12 high and at least 50 wide crammed to the gills with details, specs, numbers, and glossy images of moving mechanical things.
In front of this massive stack of displays, this tubular tribute, was a viewing area assembling an assortment of casually dressed managers, executives, administrators and some tense people in white coats. There were microphones, an audio system and music that purred until a filtered snippet of speech was seamlessly intoned. How did they do that? A special tube at the top of the wall displayed a three digit number, a number changing moment by moment. Employees maybe? Had it really come to that?

Further back from the luminous wall, was a gaping openscape, an immense honeycomb of office carols. A 20 by 30 array which went on forever according to my walking pedometer, clicking away in iambic pentameter. Each of these carols held one, two and sometimes three times two eyes staring intently at screens, screens that were duplicated on the great wall beside.

There was an artery bleeding people, a septum leading down, a well-trodden hallway from the openscape to the wall. That carpet was burned, burned in and burned out. People were on it, walking in, walking out. The white coats walked faster. They carried little scanners mounted on a flat frame reminiscent of a clipboard. Better keep moving. Making friends could be risky.

This was "DesignDay". A new car was to being designed from a clean sheet of paper in a one day fashion statement. This car gradually and intermittently appeared on the screen, first in toto, then in cutaway, then in animating pieces, between smoothed bursts of speech on the audio channel manned by the suits. It was aerodynamic, more than I had ever seen, faired down to a blunt cone at the tail. It had a smooth underbelly protecting engine, drive train and occupant alike from corrosion, crosswinds and chaos. There was this funny dimpling that started about the middle of the car and got coarser as you went back. I thought it was the paint job till they spun the picture of the car around noon. Reminded me of the skin of a golf ball, coated with plastic yet soft and Nerf like.

Buried six inches deep into the body was a yet smaller copy of the same shape, an exoskeleton made of Kevlar and HDPE, the kind from old shopping bags. Deeper still, graphite stiffeners would save screaming passengers from wayward trucks headed into the seats on those quick left hand turns. A turbine and a rotor no bigger than your fist ran at 50,000 rpm and burned natural gas or so that screen said. One guy in white said, "You can suck from the ventral tube and still think it's springtime." Bizarre. Connected to this turbine was "real jack."an alternator sending power to four integrated permag wheel motors running at 500 VAC. A ten pound bucket of molten lithium smelt hung around for those energy robbing hard stops and starts.

"Poled cobalt samarium will pull a nail through your hand at 6 inches," someone in another carol was saying. The perfectly cylindrical urethane tracked wheels were enclosed in almost spherical bubbles, with a little slot at the bottom and a flat spot for clearance. Independently steered front, rear, and sideways. No steering wheel. Force fedback Jstick, when the digital drive controller said, "Yes", "No" and "If you insist." No brake, no shifter, no gas or parking pedal either. Just grip-molded stick, in a padded ink well. Other stuff was missing too. No mirrors or wings, just three camera things. "Range-locking cruise, ImageTrak steering and GPS safety override are mandatory this year, a white coat said stiffly on leaving a carol."

Five minibags focused on contoured foam and short napped velour seats to limit motion in a crash. The outer body panels were flexible to the extreme, one graphic showed an impact smooshing them a good foot or so. "Hmmm, No damage at low speed, the body shops will send out assasins", I thought." Greater impact speeds yielded fast replacement, on a drive-through basis or so the protocommerical said. Power was routed via small flex cable. Control signals moved through the car via on fiber. No right angles, no gears, no flywheels, no driveshaft runs dictated the shape or design of that car. Could be assembled or disassembled in 15 minutes, down to the last screw in the instrument panel... if you had the access card.

It was called JavaCar, in honor of the software that made it possible they said. Designed in 12 hour marathon that ran from eight to eight, about the time I was due in at state. Six hundred people were brokering the details on this buggy, as in every bend of every part. Some came from existing models. Most did not.

There they were simultaneously designing, checking, simulating and perfecting all day. Each component of the vehicle was sketched, checked for integration, and detailed within moments of existence. The fast moving people with the white coats were the SWIT team which stood for Special Watchdog Integration Team. They came from the great wall like prophets forewarning of major glitches. You did what they said or the music would stop. The top center image on the great wall ended the day at 673, which turned out to be the dry weight of the vehicle. Day really smooth till the big hitch at four between molding and routing. I watched that one carefully. "Don't get caught in the crossfire, unless Stevie Ray is playing, Dad always said." They decided to use the standard connector, but to machine it in a custom way. I guess you have to leave one flaw in a car like that.

I forgot my state deadline, and acted busy all day, walking back and forth but never arriving. Never was noticed, except by some gal at the coffee carol who asked me if I liked HotJava.
© 1996 L. Van Warren