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How Did the Future Become So Fugly?


On Thursday morning, an Uber employee took a break from swimming in money to post a photo of the company’s latest prototype: a self-driving car.

“If you’re driving around Pittsburgh in the coming weeks you might see a strange sight: a car that looks like it should be driven by a superhero,” reads the post on Uber’s blog. “But this is no movie prop — it’s a test car from Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh.”

That statement, however exciting for the future of transportation, was not wholly accurate. While it’s true that self-driving cars — an invention that companies like Uber and Google have only recently begun to test on the roads — are amazing enough that you’d expect them in a Batman flick, no superhero would ever step into something that looks … like that.

Sure, the body of the car, a Ford Fusion, is inoffensive. But why are its various sensors sitting on its roof like a misshapen fauxhawk? It’s as if Uber hired Xzibit to arrange all those gadgets atop the car the same way he doled out sound systems on Pimp My Ride. “Yo dawg, I heard you like laser scanners, high-resolution mapping cameras, and radars. So I put a giant crapload of them on top of your car!”

For years, technologies like self-driving cars and virtual reality have been romanticized in science fiction and movies as mind-blowingly sleek machines that are both dynamic in design and, yes, fun to look at. But their real-life iterations tend to be aesthetically disappointing. The Oculus Rift, for all the mind-blowing VR experiences it delivers, is a heavy, bulky, ugly pair of cumbersome goggles. (To be fair, it’s not like its competitors are doing any better.) I was truly wowed when Google announced it would launch balloons above Indonesia to beam internet to those in need, but that excitement dampened when I realized the balloons looked like shriveled-up condoms in the sky. Even the most basic products we’re chained to, like the battery-pack cases we slap onto the backs of our iPhones, have a way of making our increasingly futuristic lives a little less sparkly.

Of course this is just the beginning, and it’s important for Uber to make sure the car won’t change lanes into a school bus before it worries about making it look pretty. But let’s hope the design evolves alongside the technology eventually, Uber. Batman would not approve.