Science fiction has a way of brushing shoulders with science fact, either by taking inspiration from preexisting science or inspiring the science yet to come. And what better way to explore scientific possibility than to dream up crazy, mega-awesome cars that can do really cool stuff?
These 5 vehicles, all iconic in their own right, can hover, fly, and even take the wheel on their own. All of them, in some way or another, have roots in actual or theoretical science. And, as fantastical as they are, they might just be more realistic than we think. So, in honor of May the Fourth, we’re exploring the theories behind these awesome, sciency-rides.
1. Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder
The Star Wars universe is chock-full of vehicles that can walk, fly, and hover. But one of the most overlooked is Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder. Considered outdated on Luke’s home planet of Tatooine, this thing would be quite the technological marvel here on Earth: a quiet, sporty hover-vehicle that harnesses the power of anti-gravity.
Cool feature: hover technology
Is it possible?
Hovering vehicles technically do exist today. The hovercraft we know is suspended by blasts of air generated by powerful fans. But the anti-gravity used to suspend Luke’s X-34 Landspeeder? Slightly more complex, using a “repulsorlift” to create an anti-gravitational field, which pushes against the planet’s own gravitational pull.
Most physicists have written off anti-gravity as a pipe dream, but there’s still no reason to believe that such technology is completely impossible. In fact, it’s written in Einstein’s mathematics that gravity could, theoretically, be turned on its head, to the effect that it would push rather than pull.
2. KITT from Knight Rider
These days, we’re talking to our electronic devices more and more … and they’re learning to respond. Phones can talk back, laptops can follow simple commands, and even automobiles are starting to adapt to our voice. But, in the late ‘80s, the notion of chatting with your car was still a little bit “out there.” Enter 1982’s Knight Rider, a show featuring KITT, the hyper-intelligent, smart-aleck Pontiac Trans Am.
Cool feature: artificial intelligence!
Is it possible?
We may not have anything as advanced as KITT, but the building blocks are quickly falling into place. Google has recently created an algorithm that has the ability to learn, and so far, it’s mastered some old-school arcade games, giving its human competitors a run for their money. Soon, it’ll move on to 3-D racing games. The hope is that, with time, the technology could eventually hit the road in self-driving cars.
3. Doc Brown’s DeLorean
Aside from being a DeLorean and a time machine (major cool points right off the bat), this Back to the Future centerpiece has a bunch of really cool attributes. It was initially powered by plutonium and then later on by the trash-synthesizing “Mr. Fusion.” Plus, it leaves flaming tire marks in the street whenever it goes back (or forward) in time. On top of all this, it can fly! Sadly, a time-traveling DeLorean is most likely impossible. But flying cars? That just might be doable.
Cool feature: um … it can fly!
Is it possible?
Technically, yes. The flying cars of Back to the Future are most likely powered by the same anti-gravity technology found in that galaxy far, far away.
Here on Earth, flying cars do exist, they just work a little bit differently. Several companies have created various designs since the Wright Brothers, producing a wide array of options over years. AeroMobil, for example, has been designing flying cars since 1990, using the same principles of flight. What they’ve devised is essentially a car that transforms into a plane with a super sleek design featuring adjustable wings that extend for flight and retract when it’s time to drive. It may not be Doc Brown’s hovering time machine, but it’s still pretty amazing.
4. 007’s Aston Martin
Oddly enough, James Bond’s stylish Aston Martin from 1964’s Goldfinger might actually be one of the more practical vehicles on this list. It’s outfitted with a number of awesome gadgets, including an oil slick and smoke screen that can both be produced with the flip of a switch. It’s so simple, so elegant, so … Bond. But there is one feature that pushes the boundary of plausibility just a bit more: the iconic and useful rocket-powered ejector seat Bond uses to eliminate any bad guys.
Cool feature: ejector seat!
Is it possible?
Absolutely. Ejection seats have been a staple of military fighter planes since the early 1950s. As military planes became faster, the demand for relatively safe, quick escape options became more and more acute. Various modes were explored: rocket propulsion, air-power, and even ones that shoot through the top and bottom.
Ejection seats could be plausible in a car (although the rockets would torch the inside). But air power is the safest, most plausible method. And if you ask for ejection seats at your local dealership, be prepared for some funny looks.
5. The 1966 Batmobile
No list of fantastic vehicles is complete without the iconic, indispensable Batmobile. It’s been reinvented numerous times, with each incarnation sporting impressive performance, wild aesthetics, and really cool gadgets. The very first Batmobile to appear on film was in 1966. Powered by an “atomic battery” and propelled by jet turbines (not to mention the inexplicable flame-exhaust), this Batmobile was quite the futuristic spectacle of its time.
Cool feature: being able to shout, “Atomic batteries to power!”
Is it possible?
A nuclear-powered car? Well, it’s been considered by Ford Motor Company, which built a half-sized model for their concept Ford Nucleon back in the ‘50s. With a sleek design, black paint job, and major fins, it would’ve been right up Batman’s alley.
Although the project was scrapped, the question of nuclear-powered cars is not off the table. The difficulty lies in housing something dangerously radioactive in the confines of a moving vehicle. A small reactor would need to be densely insulated, resulting in a very heavy car.
We may not have anti-gravity (yet), but it looks like we’re on our way to some pretty impressive technological advancements in the world of automobiles. Of course, scientists and engineers are always working on the next big thing, and at this point in the game, there’s no reason to believe that anything is strictly off limits. What incredible innovations await us in the future? Who knows. Like Doc famously said, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”