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VW's high-tech microbus

VW's high-tech microbus

Volkswagen's Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) announced the Chameleon, a 1964 Microbus outfitted with the latest in automotive electronics. While doing a story at ERL earlier this year, I saw the bus in the lab's garage. ERL employees could tell me at the time only that it was a secret project. One goal of the bus is to show how high-tech can be integrated in such a way as to not distract the driver, a good argument to take up because so many old-school driving Luddites don't trust all this new-fangled technology. And the bus makes a good platform to challenge the engineers because it has few visible instrument faces to work with. VWs of this vintage have only a speedometer--my old 1961 Beetle didn't even have a gas gauge.

The Chameleon is a pretty seriously modified vehicle, starting out with an electric drive system replacing the old four-cylinder gas engine. It draws power from lithium-polymer batteries and solar cells mounted in surfboards on the roof. Charging surfaces set around the cabin let occupants charge up cell phones, PDAs, and MP3 players merely by setting them down. The charging surfaces won't harm a person, but devices need special batteries to work with them. The speedometer is swapped out for an LCD that shows navigation, a backup camera, and, of course, speed. Hopefully we'll get a look at this car in the near future, at ERL or the Los Angeles Auto Show.