“Well, let’s see how it responds to my touch,” James Bond says to “Q” in the movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997). Then, drawing his finger across the touchpad of a phone, Bond sends a weapon-festooned BMW careening about without mishap.

Life imitates art. This veddy British film appears to have exerted a certain influence over a new generation of British boffins, who have pulled off the same trick with an app, a smart phone, and a Range Rover. It’s all shown in this recent episode of “Fully Charged,” an online transportation show hosted by actor and tech-enthusiast Robert Llewellyn:

It’s no mere parlor trick. Even this experiment in remote driving depended on an element of computer assistance, which cars are getting in ever-increasing abundance. At first the computer helps the driver with routine things, like parking; next the driver helps the computer with harder things, like nosing into crosstraffic; and finally the computer takes over entirely.

Another instance of what might be called driving by remote control is when a person steers with small movements of his head and mouth. That’s the idea behind the semi-autonomous motorcar, or SAM, named for the man who drives it, Sam Schmidt—a paralyzed former Indycar racer. The project is managed by Arrow, the Colorado electronics company.

True, Schmidt isn’t remote—he sits right behind the wheel of the car, a modified Corvette. But he controls it with the indirect panache of Bond himself. He steers by looking in the direction he wants to go, accelerates by puffing on a straw, and brakes by sipping on that same straw:

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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