Honda Unibox

If you hold the Ferrari 250 GTO as the pinnacle of automotive engineering, you'll be in for a shock. Actually, if you hold just about any of our old beasts in high esteem, you may live long enough to see vehicles like this hit our streets—and it probably won't be as bad as you think.

First shown at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show (where else?), the Unibox debuted at nearly the same time as everyone's other favourite concept car with a fun interior, the Isuzu Zen.

I would imagine that getting a driverless car on the road will eventually be less difficult than certifying something "safe enough" for us humans to actually drive, as the costs of sensors, software, and the like become cheaper. The Unibox is a front-drive hybrid, with control consisting of a small joystick operated by the driver—another likelihood, as convenience begins to trump the need to control our vehicles.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and we're destined to live a crazy, Mad Max-like future where we live out our days fighting over the last few drops of gasoline…

No thanks.

Anyway, the technology involved here is significant because of its ability to be produced almost everywhere. You've got the hybrid powertrain, six(!) wheels, with the four rear ones using in-wheel suspension. Scooters are packed into the doors, and there are a number of interesting storage possibilities when the skin of a vehicle is clear polycarbonate. 

I was watching a talk by Chris Bangle just last week and he was saying exactly this: pretty soon, our need to have "perfect" surfaces on our vehicles just won't make sense any more, at the time referring to the huge room of presses to create the hood fitted to the Mini Cooper. Why not just thick plastic sheets attached to a lightweight aluminum structure? If the computer won't let us crash anyway, how safe does it need to be? (And who cares what it looks like when a new fender from Home Depot is $75 and installed in a few minutes?)

Maybe you don't make the jump when only 10 per cent of the cars on our roads are driverless, but 30? 50? If you live in urban centres, you'll likely see these adopted much faster. For what it's worth, the Unibox's airbag was mounted on its nose, and intended for pedestrians…indicating it was apparently not worried about backing into pedestrians. 

Flavien Dachet wrote of the car's shape, "With its square shape, truss aluminum frame, wooden floor and flat, glazed walls the Unibox sits on the fence between automobile and architecture."

Of course, any successful design has to contain tricks to woo crowds—the Unibox was no exception, and had a shopping cart linked by GPS to, presumably, the car.

Imagine a resort that ran a fleet of these they'd assembled on the premises, or maybe Ikea's home delivery of the future will just drive you home in a cube car that perfectly swallows your purchases? As more of our world becomes digitized and we map our immediate surroundings with ever-increasing clarity, the need for human intuition and skill to navigate our streets will be…unnecessary.

Just think of all the extra time we'd all have to look at cars on the internet!