for bug fans

Mike Spinelli in Wired:

Folksy The Volkswagen bus: 1960s beach bums dug it, brah. And no wonder. It was cheap, had plenty of room for surfboards, and was about as complicated as a lawn mower. That’s why, when Volkswagen of America’s Electronics Research Lab in Palo Alto wanted an unassuming vehicle to house some of its undercover tech, it settled on a roomy, 21-window Deluxe Microbus from 1964. Dubbed Chameleon by the ERL team, the van — purchased on eBay for $20,000 — has been completely restored, converted to electric drive, and stocked with the lab’s souped-up automotive electronics. But the best part? It still looks boss on the beach.

The Paleolithic air-cooled engine, which once put out double-digit horsepower, has been replaced with an electric motor fueled by 10 lithium polymer batteries. The plug for recharging is hidden inside the false tailpipe, and rooftop solar cells mounted on two surfboards provide additional juice the natural way.

Can’t catch a wave? Catch a movie instead. A 42-inch Sony LCD rises into place behind the front seats at the touch of a button. The rear window glass changes electronically from transparent to opaque, doubling as a movie screen for a digital media projector. Plus, the MP3 player responds to voice commands.

In lieu of a key, an infrared palm-vein scanner built into the gas cap identifies the driver. The system can be programmed for multiple users with separate security levels (door unlock only, door unlock and startup, et cetera). Similar ID systems are already in use at ATMs in Japan and top-secret US government facilities.

A circular digital instrument cluster mimics and updates the original analog speedometer, acting as a central information hub with a graphical user interface and speech recognition to control the bus’s various functions. It also serves as a display for the nav system, which links with Google Earth to provide 3-D maps.

More here.