Space & Innovation

Modular Supercar Morphs Into Tractor, Bus, Ambulance

The Google Community Vehicle won first prize for its vision of a durable, low-cost vehicle that could be used in rural farmlands.

As a card-carrying member of the vast Motor City diaspora, I'm always happy when the Detroit Auto Show rolls around. Formally known as the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), this annual showcase is a nice reminder that innovative technology often passes through Detroit on its way to bigger and better things.

Cool Concept Vehicles Push Futuristic Design

A case-in-point: Winners of the 2016 Michelin Challenge Design will be displaying their concepts at this week's show. The prestigious competition invites designers from the automotive and academic design communities to submit ideas for cutting-edge mobility concepts focusing on a specific theme.

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The theme for this year's competition,"Mobility for All – Designing for the Next Frontier," challenged teams to come up with mobility solutions for underserved areas of the world.

Designed by Rajshekhar Dass, Abu Huraira Shaikh, Sunny Duseja, and Joji Isaac Abraham, the Community Vehicle is actually several vehicles rolled into one. The modular design allows for farmers to use the vehicle, on a day-to-day basis, as an all-purpose tractor-truck for agricultural work.

In an emergency situation, however, the vehicle can be turned into a makeshift ambulance - the drop-down floor and specialized suspension are designed to carry an injured person on a stretcher. The rear deck can also be reconfigured to morph the vehicle into a kind of mini-bus, for transporting passengers across the rough rural terrain and giving farmers another potential source of income.

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The Google part of the name comes from a larger plan to work with Google's Project Loon initiative, which would deploy weather balloons in the stratosphere to facilitate wireless communication in remote areas. During emergencies, farmers provided with the Community Vehicle could be dispatched to problem areas to transport injured persons or otherwise evacuate groups of passengers.

This year's second- and third-place teams - from Columbia and South Korea, respectively - will also be in attendance at this week's auto show. You can see those designs, plus eleven more finalists, at the Challenge Design website. In all, more than 800 registrants representing 68 countries participated in the competition.

When it comes to creative design, there's something to be said for just getting your ideas up and out there.

is a non-profit idea-sharing project, founded by Canadian inventor and engineer Charles Bombardier, in which industrial designers collaborate with Bombardier to publish early-stage concepts for futuristic vehicles. New designs are rendered and posted each week in various categories: Road & Urban, Aviation & Space, Marine, Powersports and Transportation. The


microbus, pictured here is a compact public transportation vehicle that uses modular video screens to give the illusion of transparency.

The eco-friendly


vehicle works like a radically scaled-down food truck, with a biodiesel engine that runs off the same cooking oil used in meal preparation.

Two vehicles designed to work in unison, this

urban combat unit

features a main armored vehicle that can be piloted remotely, along with a "robotic stretcher" deployed to extract wounded soldiers from the battlefield.



saucer drone autonomously patrols forests and parks, putting out small fires with a built-in acoustic extinguisher that uses sound waves to douse flames.

A kind of underwater bicycle for scuba divers, the


isn't a sealed submarine -- rather it's a biomimetic propulsion system that divers can climb into for moving around rapidly underwater.

An all-season vehicle for traversing swamps or arctic terrains, the Maskek is also an amphibious vehicle that can cross bodies of water when needed.


is the Cree word for "bogland."

The autonomous


electric hearse --with refrigerated coffin -- is designed to be an all-in-one funeral procession and multimedia memorial.

Inspired by the Light Cycles in the sci-fi franchise "Tron," the


features an enclosed cockpit with twin rubber tracks powered by a self-contained magnetic levitation system.



concept vehicle is loosely based on those "flying car" designs from old Popular Mechanics magazines, but with futuristic turbine technology enabling vertical takeoff and lateral flight via the four swiveling fan engines.

It's all about horse power with the


, which aims to update a very old vehicle template with high-tech design elements including composite body panels, an alloy frame, panoramic windows, digital disk brakes, and a sensory-feedback comfort harness for the horses.