Many visions for the future of transportation involve everyone being driven around on superfast, self-driving robotic cars or trains. Getting to that future, however, means letting go of the wheel and not everyone is ready to do it. Now a new second-place winning 2014 Michelin Challenge design suggests a stopgap solution that adds a maglev railway option to the side of the road. The AKA24 system allows drivers to transport themselves in electric cars or turn onto a self-navigating pod lane when they want to commute.

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Jiangnan University, School of Design students Chuang Dong, Zhen Qiu and Haowen Deng jointly drafted the futuristic automotive plan, which allows drivers to roll down the roads as they normally do – but with a more sustainable option built in. When users move the vehicle all the way to the right hand lane, a magnetic rail scoops up the car, which will then forge ahead on a user-designated path at much faster speeds. Although the vehicle will be at a slight pitched angle, passengers won’t have to worry about cricked necks because the cabin levels itself out.

One of the design’s more inventive features is a set of wheels that automatically retract when it flips on to the maglev line. The designers imagine the wheels will transform instantly like Batman’s memory fabric cape used in Batman Begins. The concept also relies on some very small in-wheel motors and “glass battery material” for power.

There’s a lot of experimental and unfounded technology in this concept, so we don’t expect the AKA24 system to become a reality anytime soon. However, it certainly presents a new option that’s more approachable in our current times than telling everyone to buy a robotic car and trust it. The idea preserves the openness of the road whilst giving commuters an option to turn onto a much faster maglev line for point to point trips.

+ 2014 Michelin Challenge

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Images © 2014 Michelin Challenge