In the future, they say, cars will drive themselves. You'll call a roving robo-taxi, tell it where you want to go, and check out mentally in the back seat. People will be human cargo—as unengaged in the journey as a smiley-faced Amazon box awaiting delivery.
That's the storyline, anyway. And who can argue? Driverless vehicles are the logical conclusion of megatrends—the century-old march of automation, perfected by artificial intelligence. (Hey, they're called auto-mobiles.) Carmakers and tech giants are racing to get on board. In the media, autonomous cars are no longer the answer to a question but the starting premise.
Well, here's a tip from an old WIRED hand: When everyone agrees on where the future is headed—especially when that destination is so far from our current reality—that's not a sign of inevitability; it's a sign that people have stopped thinking. A good time, perhaps, to hike out to some awkward, sideways headland where we can look things over from a contrary angle.
Enter the Roadable Synapse, a concept car developed by artist-provocateur Jonathon Keats and Hyundai engineer Ryan Ayler. Instead of turning drivers into passengers, the fully working prototype, recently unveiled at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, uses technology to engage the human driver more fully in the operation of the vehicle.
In this scenario, you don't tune out when the wheels start rolling, you tune in. Literally. Keats and Ayler have hacked together an interface that allows the driver to feel what the car is doing—whether banking a hard turn, say, or pushing the engine to climb a hill—by listening to music.