EO car explores power-sharing platoons

The research institute is showing off a car designed to test new techniques for linking cars into highway-riding trains. The EO also is unusually adept at steering.

The EO prototype electric vehicle comes with radical steering options such as the ability to rotate in place.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

HANOVER, Germany--The future of cars--or at least one possible future of cars--is on display here at CeBIT.

The Robotics Innovation Center at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) is showing off an electric-car prototype designed to test new technologies.

For one thing, the car can lengthen itself and lower the profile of its podlike passenger compartment when it's time for fast driving, then shorten its wheelbase when it's time for tight-turning urban driving. For another, it can toe its tires in as much as 90 degrees, letting it rotate in place or drive sideways for painless parallel parking. Check below for a video showing the independently pivoting wheels.

DFKI's EO has gull-wing doors designed to lift out of the way in cramped urban areas.
DFKI's EO has gull-wing doors designed to lift out of the way in cramped urban areas. Stephen Shankland/CNET

More dramatic, though, is that the car is designed to link up with an as-yet-unbuilt second model while both vehicles are being driven.

"The goal is coupling while in motion to demonstrate the validity of the concept," said project researcher Martin Schroer.

The prototype, called the EO, is hardly ready for the road. But it does embody an attempt to make a long-discussed driving idea a step closer to reality. Platoons or trains of cars on highways offer better energy efficiency and higher utilization of roads. The DFKI adds another perk to the list, Schroer said: power could be shared among the members of the train so those with low batteries could be recharged.

Of course, there are any number of obstacles in the way of that future--cultural resistance to the idea of giving up control to an automated driving system, for example. The DKFI is also focused on an autonomous control that would be used when it was time for cars to couple.

The researchers, who built the first prototype in 10 months, have plenty of other ideas besides building their second car. One is adding new components such as extensions for cargo or more than two passengers--to the modular design. Another is the ability to "walk" up a curb by lifting each wheel individually. Another is tilting the car as it corners to cut down on sideways forces on passengers.