Just Down the Road

The car of the future, we deduce, could be a minivan equipped with a built-in laptop computer, multiple cell phones, fax, and printer, and powered by a super-efficient engine that runs on ethanol coaxed from agricultural waste by genetically engineered bacteria.

The next question after assembling that picture from recent news reports, is whether this makes good sense.

The office on wheels, feeding the workaholism of "multitaskers," is already with us, in somewhat jerry-rigged, primitive form. Companies are quickly springing up, however, to produce new generations. One has even designed a laptop holder that fits right on the steering wheel.

Maybe that's slightly better than frequent glances to the right to make sure that hand is legibly typing while the left is steering. But the problem is obvious. What about the wisdom all of us learned back in driver's ed? The place for the eyes, and much of the mind, is focused on the road.

Complaints are mounting about cell-phone-distracted drivers, and laptops are even less compatible with road awareness. No, we'd like to drop that part of the prediction.

But the engine powered by ethanol drawn from farm and yard waste? That's worth further exploring. No need to grow expensive corn to produce the proposed new clean-burning fuel. Will the bacteria perform as planned? The first test plant's gearing up in Louisiana. Let's hope the first test vehicle isn't a minivan equipped with you-know-what.

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