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Electric 4X4s

Electric 4X4s are coming, like it or not. Rivian, Atlis, Bollinger and others are working on it.

My work so far on electric 4X4s:

I have also driven a Hyundai Kona EV on an interstate trip, tow-tested with a Tesla Model X, and tested a Range Rover Sport PHEV offroad.

Of course, there’s a downside to technology, and the late, great Isaac Asimov was on the right lines…read this!

And a story….

It is January 10th, 2040. James Smith relaxes in his echair, letting the furniture wrap around his body, contouring itself for comfort and in accordance with the Cloud’s plans for musco-skeletal health.

James is just about to watch “4X4 Vehicles of the 20th Century”, a throwback to the late 1990s, over a decade before James was born.

James’ room dims, and before him the documentary starts. Shapes of vehicles and people take place, high-definition three-dimensional holographic models created by unseen projectors. James loves these old cars; Toyota 200 Series, Jeep Wranglers, Nissan Patrol Y62, Land Rover Discoverys…all names from the past, the cars his grandfather knew and loved, each so very different, as they were before the Amalgamation.

While James watches, the Cloud is active. The Cloud is never not active. It is where James’ life is stored; every movement, communication, idea, vital health statistics are monitored and collected in real time. The Cloud knows it all, never forgets, and instantly cross-references its vast data store on James, people like James and his friends to calculate exactly what they all need to do next, or predict moods, opinions and actions.

The Cloud is there to help, make life easy, reduce the effort required to live. It curates, selects and presents what’s needed for a world view. And it is easier for the Cloud now than in the past, as there’s just one Cloud. James’ long-dead grandfather used to talk of Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and many more…James thinks having to work with so many different clouds would have been confusing, and he’s happy there’s just one the Cloud these days. Life is easier, and that has to be better. 

There’s just one of most things these days, and that saves time too.

James watches as a convoy of 4X4s stop, and the occupants get out and crouch beside the tyres. He can see that the reason is something about air, but the documentary isn’t clear. James frowns at the screen and touches his chin — the Cloud notices, pauses the documentary, and attempts to explain.

“James, the people are reducing air pressure in the tyres for better performance offroad, increasing the surface area of the tyre for improved flotation”.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense to James, as the group is clearly heading into rocky terrain. Fortunately, James has his grandfather to explain.

“Grandad, what’s going on with the tyre pressures? Why do they need to reduce pressures for rocks?

”Another hologram forms, and the head of James’ grandfather takes shape.

“Hello James. The lower air pressure in the tyre softens it, so it better moulds to the uneven surface of the rocks, and there’s less bouncing of the tyres so there’s less shock to the driveline. Here’s a photo of my friend driving his GU Patrol on rocks, see that front left tyre? All compressed and able to shape itself to the rock thanks to the lower air pressure.”

“Thanks Grandad! Kind of makes sense now.”

“Any time, kid. Love that you’re interested in the way we used to do things”.

The head fades, and the Cloud updates its simulation of James’ grandfather. The basic building blocks are its record of everything the man ever did online; every post on all the old platforms such as Facebook, all his searches on the early platforms such as Google, what he read, what he knew, his fitness tracking data, even his activity on dating apps like Tinder. But the real power comes from the extrapolation of that data to infer moods, opinions, and reactions. With sufficient data and computational power, it has become possible to create a digital version of a human being — their face, expressions, knowledge and personality. So, James’ grandfather may be dead, but to James, he’s as alive as his friends who also, for the most apart, appear to him on video projections.

The Cloud is thinking about it should do for James. It has noticed he isn’t very active of late, and seems a little depressed. Cross-referencing James’ emotional data against others, the Cloud decides James need some recreation. Based on its databank of James’s life, the Cloud thinks that tomorrow might be a good day for some offroad driving. It checks the availability of James’ friends and suggests a location, having searched through recent tracklogs, social media postings and accounted for track closures.

The documentary finishes, and the Cloud presents its suggestion for tomorrow’s trip, projecting it onto the wall in James’ line of sight. James looks at the suggestion — it’s actually a fully-planned itinerary — and nods to accept. Swiping phones isn’t necessary these days, there’s enough cameras around the house for the Cloud to work out what’s needed from real-time analysis of body posture. The Cloud tends to just figure things out and do it…saves the time of involving the human. Just to make life easier.

The Cloud has calculated the time James needs to wake up, and worked back from that to figure out the time he needs to go to bed, based on his current physiological needs. James knows the dimming lights mean it’s time to turn in, but doesn’t really consider it an order. It’s for the best, after all, and if he wanted to stay up, he could.

The following morning the Cloud knows what time to wake James, but it has a window. It waits until he comes out of REM sleep, and gently plays his favourite music until he awakes, then switches to the news, selecting what’s best for him, delivered using a voice he likes. Everybody has their own favourite newsreader voice, and no two are alike. That’s because the news isn’t read by error-prone humans any more, computers are more precise in speech and timing.

The Cloud has also prepared James’ day; the shower water is pre-heated before it comes out of the head, and the coffee brewer has been activated. The cupboard quietly whirrs, cycling through clothes and the electronic hanger extends, knowing to offer his old jacket, bush boots and gloves. James moves to the kitchen, where the appliances have prepared a cut lunch and snack…all compliant with James’ personal energy plan, Cloud controlled. Supplies are low, but the necessary orders for the basics have been made, to be delivered by robot later on through the houses food hatch and stored ready to be converted to edible food later on.

James is ready, and he walks out the house’s door opens as he approaches. Likewise, his 4X4 vehicle senses James’ approach and opens its door, reconfiguring its settings to his preferred choices of music, seating and controls, adjusted based on the Cloud’s view of his current mood. The Cloud continues with current affairs, and after monitoring his reactions to the topics in the summary of the world news, has selected for him more detailed analysis of the stories that analysis of his body language indicated may hold his interest, or that the Cloud considers useful for James’ career.

James get in the 4X4, and the route flashes up. It’s preset anyway, not really that interesting to him, he trusts the Cloud and simply murmurs “go”. The vehicle moves off, smoothly under electric power, charged overnight by simple proximity to the charge grid. There’s no cables to disconnect with proxcharging, so no need for actual, physical contact. It’s just easier.

James has nothing to do but look at the screen which shows him his progress, and that of his trip companions, Bob and Julie. James want to talk to Julie, so he inclines his head slightly towards Julie’s avatar, and the car’s cameras notice the gesture, establishing a high-definition camera link.

“Hi Julie. How are you?”

The question is redundant, because James won’t ever know how Julie is. The Cloud does, but it keeps its knowledge to itself, or doesn’t share it with James. Privacy is important.

Julie is wearing a little makeup and her hair is tied back, but that would more than likely be a filter she’s applied over the video. She could instantly appear, entirely naturally, as fully made up, or not. James himself could dispense with his stubble, if he so wanted.

“Hi James! Good thanks! Looking forwards to the day’s trip, should be a good one!”

There’s no need to discuss the weather. They both have a detailed briefing from the Cloud.

“Good stuff. Hey, how about we try Winch Hill first, see how we go? See what we can see from the top of Mount Salkirk?”

That was one of the two options the Cloud presented. Free choice is important.

“Why not. Looks doable, should be a challenge!”

James casts his eyes over the 4X4’s status. Battery — still fully charged after twenty minutes of driving. The maintenance indicator glows green, and the car’s drone is ready. There’s nothing left to do, the Cloud and the car have done it all. But there’s half a hour before 4X4 leaves the autoroads and James will need to take control himself.