Cars are immensely complicated machines, but when you get down to it, they do an incredibly simple job. Most of the complex stuff in a car is dedicated to turning wheels, which grip the road to pull the car body and passengers along.
•The defining characteristic of the Hy-wire (and its conceptual predecessor, the AUTOnomy) is that it doesn't have either of these two things.
•Instead of an engine, it has a fuel cell stack, which powers an electric motor connected to the wheels.
•Instead of mechanical and hydraulic linkages, it has a drive by wire system -- a computer actually operates the components that move the wheels, activate the brakes and so on, based on input from an electronic controller. This is the same control system employed in modern fighter jets as well as many commercial planes.
•There is no steering wheel, there are no pedals and there is no engine compartment.
•In fact, every piece of equipment that actually moves the car along the road is housed in an 11-inch-thick (28 cm) aluminum chassis -- also known as the skateboard -- at the base of the car.
•Everything above the chassis is dedicated solely to driver control and passenger comfort.
•The floor of the fiberglass-and-steel passenger compartment can be totally flat, and it’s easy to give every seat lots of leg room.
•The "Hy" in Hy-wire stands for hydrogen, the standard fuel for a fuel cell system.
•Like batteries, fuel cells have a negatively charged terminal and a positively charged terminal that propel electrical charge through a circuit connected to each end. They are also similar to batteries in that they generate electricity from a chemical reaction.
•But unlike a battery, you can continually recharge a fuel cell by adding chemical fuel -- in this case, hydrogen from an onboard storage tank and oxygen from the atmosphere.
It fully intends to release a production version of the car in 2010, assuming it can resolve the major fuel and safety issues. But even if the Hy-wire team doesn't meet this goal. Automakers are definitely planning to move beyond the conventional car sometime soon, toward a computerized, environmentally friendly alternative. In all likelihood, life on the highway will see some major changes within the next few decades.