10 Incredible TED Talks for Car Buffs

Not everyone looks at cars and sees them as mundane contraptions meant solely for transportation. Some are captivated by them as engineering marvels, others see them as viable works of art — and even more consider them an amalgamation of both qualities. TED occasionally channels this fascination with the past, present and possible futures of automobiles into its wildly popular, stimulating lecture series. Luminaries from across the industry (and beyond) take the stage to chat about all things automotive and vehicular, from their design to how they may someday better impact the environment.

  1. Bill Ford: A future beyond traffic gridlock: Henry Ford’s own great-grandson — still affiliated with the eponymous corporation — contemplates “what happens when the number of vehicles on the road doubles. Triples. Or even quadruples.” Profits are not his sole concern, and he uses his TED time to discuss how he welds his passion for environmentalism to his equal enthusiasm for cars. Even beyond eco-friendly vehicles, Ford believes that roads themselves could also contribute to greening the planet. The “smart road” approach, in addition to ecologically sound cars, trucks and public transportation, might one day prove a major turning point in keeping Earth and its inhabitants healthy and safe.
  2. Robin Chase on her Zipcar and her next big idea: ZipCar promotes car sharing between individuals and groups, encouraging them to only hit the road when necessary. This brainchild of entrepreneur and innovator Robin Chase has proven to be just as wildly successful as it is ecologically sound. Beyond that, though, she also harbors the notion that a “wireless internet interstate wireless mesh system” might very well revolutionize the transportation infrastructure, both efficiently and environmentally. It’s an absolutely fascinating proposal, one aiding and abetting clearer communication — and she wants to see this happen in every car on the American roads.
  3. Steven Levitt on child carseats: Car seats, at least in New Jersey, have been proven to reduce a child’s risk of injury in accidents. However, Steven Levitt presents some no-doubt-controversial research challenging their efficacy when it comes to more fatal incidents. 18.2 percent of children in such accidents die when bucked into car seats, compared to 19.4 percent of lap-and-shoulder seatbelts and — startlingly enough — 16.7 percent of those in lap-only seatbelts. Such data really challenges one’s perceptions of using the devices, even properly. Levitt does admit that technological advances will certainly impact the numbers over time, though.
  4. Shai Agassi’s bold plan for electric cars: Better Place founder Shai Agassi relentlessly campaigns for electric cars, dismissing hybrids as too dependent on oil and gas and not nearly as eco-friendly. He hopes the initiative better promotes these vehicles and encourages entire nations to ditch their need for fossil fuels — Denmark and Israel are already on board — by 2020. At the center of Agassi’s strategy sits affordability. The only way to encourage more consumers to purchase electric cars is ensuring they can actually pay for them. But despite finding himself “bound by the laws of physics and the laws of economics,” he outlines a plan involving Nissan, Renault and other major automobile manufacturers that may very well switch the fantasy to reality, someday.
  5. Chris Bangle says great cars are art: Gearheads already know that a well-designed vehicle can stand on its own as a functional piece of art, but not everyone necessarily feels as such. BMW’s Deep Blue Project is a funny and fascinating attempt to design and manufacture an SUV that meets current demands while always keeping focused on the future. Chris Bangle works as the BMW’s chief of design, and paints an intimate portrait of the undertaking’s various ups and downs. What results is a provocative insight of the major, oftentimes entirely overlooked, creative element behind an engineering marvel.
  6. Yves Behar’s supercharged motorcycle design: Talk of electric vehicles almost inevitably involves cars, but some innovators apply similar technologies and sensibilities to motorcycles as well, generally to less fanfare. Along with Forrest North, lauded designer Yves Behar showcases the Mission One bike. But beyond that, the very brief discussion also traces commonalities in their childhoods, particularly the ones leading them up to this professional point. They also open up about their deep friendship and the role it played in Mission One’s development as well.
  7. Larry Burns on the future of cars: As the vice president of General Motors, Larry Burns probably knows a little bit about cars — and where they might very well be headed someday. Sustainability, customization and interactivity, he posits, comprise the future of the motor vehicle. Declaring the company “absolutely serious” about these qualities, he points out that over $1 billion USD has already been sunk into pushing cars to their very limits. Among these proposed developments were hydrogen fuel cells that plug into energy grids and power them up and improved on-board computers. Considering the TED Talk hails from 2005, a few things have changed since then…
  8. Dennis Hong: Making a car for blind drivers: Robotics, such as those developed by Virginia Tech’s RoMeLa lab, open up some amazing opportunities for the visually impaired hoping to someday drive. For those striving for autonomy and independence, breakthroughs such as AirPix-running computers, video cameras, GPS systems and plenty of other amazing high-tech designs will certainly grant them that. At the forefront of such laudable research sits Dennis Hong, who founded and heads up RoMeLa. At TED, he details exactly how their innovations operate and benefit the target demographic. Someday, perhaps, these advances may result in a completely self-driving vehicle — which has its benefits beyond assisting the visually impaired.
  9. Paul Moller on the Skycar: Anyone fascinated by general transportation will love learning all about the Moller Skycar. The eponymous engineer and his team hope to synthesize air and road travel with both the Skycar and a fascinating hovering disc. Such devices are obviously a ways away from hitting the market — and even then, they probably won’t be affordable to most individuals and families at first. But all the same, Paul Moller’s exciting new technology remains a stunning sight to behold.
  10. Edward Burtynsky photographs the landscape of oil: In under four minutes, photographer Edward Burtynsky traces the harried life of the prolific fossil fuel. Although the talk and slide show do not deal with cars and other motor vehicles directly, it does certainly tie in with understanding how their fuel goes from the ground to their tanks. Car buffs concerned with environmental issues will find this TED Talk particularly illuminating.

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