Explainer: Auto tech you can't have ... yet

  • Gibbs Technologies

    Want to drive across a river in your car? Spend only $2,500 for a car that gets between 40 and 50 mpg? Have a vehicle with automatic brakes so that stopping is one less thing to think about when trying to avoid a collision? All of these are real — but not for you, not yet anyway. Some technologies have been held back because of safety or legal concerns, and others because they're still in development. Have a look at some of the technologies in autos that you can't have ... yet.

    — By Dan Carney, msnbc.com contributor

  • The cheap gas miser

    Tato Motors

    At $2,500, the Tata Nano, made in India and capable of getting more than 40 miles per gallon, is being called the "cheapest car in the world." But you can't have this version of the car in the United States because it does not meet federal safety standards, even though Tata Motors says the 2-cylinder, 33-horsepower Nano passes all the safety tests required in India ... including full frontal crash, roof crush (roll over), side door intrusion for doors, etc.

  • Ribbet! The amphibious car

    Gibbs Technologies

    Forty years ago, a German company developed the Amphicar, a clunky combination of boat and crummy-to-drive car, like something from a sci-fi movie of the era. Now, Gibbs Technologies of Michigan is working on the 175-horsepower Aquada, shown here. It uses what Gibbs calls "high-speed amphibian" technology to create a sporty boat car that looks a lot more appealing than the old Amphicar. "Simply press a button and drive into the water," the company says, with the Aquada's conversion from car to boat taking less than 12 seconds. Gibbs says it doesn't have a price set yet, or a date for the Aquada to go on sale in the U.S.

  • Brainy brakes


    Wouldn't it be nice not to have to think about slamming on the brakes, if need be, but have the brakes just know when to slam themselves on? The technology exists. Cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class have radar that scans for possible collisions and use electrically actuated brakes that help the driver stop once the car's computer concludes that a collision is inescapable. Brainy brakes that can do all the work without your involvement aren't likely. Why? Legal concerns. Manufacturers worry they'd be held liable if such a car got into an accident, and the vehicle, not the driver, was to blame. In this photo, Mercedes-Benz demonstrates the S-Class' "Brake Assist Plus" technology, which reduces the force of impact on the target dummy car.

  • Wheels up and down

    Image: Aerial view of Nyirangongo
    Terrafugia, Inc.

    An airplane that's also a car isn't practical, but it is possible. Massachusetts-based Terrafugia, Inc. proved that in March when it test-flew the Terrafugia Transition at Plattsburgh International Airport in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The Transition transforms from plane to car in less than 30 seconds, according to Terrafugia. The company says the Transition "can drive at highway speeds on the road and fits in a standard household garage." It has front-wheel drive as a car, and a propeller for flight; no matter which way it runs, it uses unleaded gas. No word yet on public availability — or approvals by regulatory agencies — but when the Transition is ready, it will likely sell for close to $200,000.

  • Split screen in the front seat

    Land Rover

    Land Rover's 2010 Range Rover features a 12-inch screen in the front dash that can turn into a split screen so that the front-seat passenger can watch a movie on one side, and the driver can use the other for satellite navigation. But in the United States, safety regulations ban any video that can be viewed from the front seat while the vehicle is in motion, so passengers won't be able to see episodes of "The Office" while stuck in rush-hour traffic. Still, the vehicle is the first with such dual-view, touchscreen technology available.


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