It's amazing how those new-fangled car features keep emerging: GPS, Web surfing, high-voltage door handles. Well, that last feature won't be widely available anytime soon, but it is part of a U.S. Army prototype vehicle called SmarTruck. It's a Ford F-350 with a little extra technology and testosterone, including oil-slick dispensers, night vision, and a rugged on-board PC that functions like a black box.
The vehicle also uses biometrics, so you'd better have the right fingerprints to access the touch-screen main controls. Future versions will require fingerprint identification to open the car doors as well.
If this sounds like something James Bond might drive, there's a reason. The truck's design team drew inspiration from 007 movies, says GerMaine Fuller, a project manager with the Army's National Automotive Center. Was the design team also influenced by the Urban Assault Vehicle, Bill Murray's chariot of choice in the movie "Stripes"? "Definitely not," Fuller says. She emphasizes that the SmarTruck isn't designed to eliminate assailants, just immobilize them. The Urban Assault Vehicle, in contrast, had more deadly attributes. Not only did it sport a missile launcher, but it was a Winnebago.
The SmarTruck, which could be used to transport dignitaries through dicey regions, was designed with urban warfare in mind. Some folks definitely see its potential for the urban jungle. "I think it would be a wonderful addition to any freeway," says a spokesman for the Association for the U.S. Army, a nonprofit educational group. He envisions an antidote to road rage: Drivers could use the vehicle's smoke-screen feature on tailgaters, he says--and if that doesn't work, there's always the tack dispenser, which should deflate tires in no time.
The SmarTruck's current design doesn't have lethal attributes, but it does have a couple of intimidating features, such as the pepper spray that shoots up to 12 feet and the high-voltage door handles designed to temporarily stun intruders. The association's spokesman points out that the electrified door handles are more effective than car alarms, and quieter. "Just think of the deterrent value." Of course, consumers would have certain issues to consider, such as liability. "The military isn't likely to get sued if they shock someone or douse them with oil," says a spokesman for the Society of Automotive Engineers. Ford Motor Co., which based much of its 2002 Explorer enhancements on customer feedback, couldn't be reached to comment on whether it would consider customer requests for electrified doors or tack dispensers in future truck models.
While the SmarTruck has some useful features, it's not ideal for the urban warrior since there's no place to put your latte. Fuller says she doesn't think there are any cup holders. "That's not a focal point for the Army."