What will cars look like in 50 years, when ASSEMBLY celebrates its centennial? If today's designers are correct, we're all in for a wild ride ahead.

When ASSEMBLY debuted in the late 1950s, American car design was at its zenith. Automakers were busy turning out classics such as the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, Chevy Bel Air, Chrysler Imperial, Ford Fairlane, Hudson Hornet, Plymouth Fury, Pontiac Safari and Studebaker Golden Hawk.

Chrome ruled and plastic was virtually unheard of. Cars with throaty V-8 powerplants were king of the road. Tailfins, swept wings, dart profiling and other sleek designs were inspired by the aerospace industry.

Unfortunately, automobiles today don’t look anything like their counterparts 50 years ago. Which makes me wonder what cars will look like in 2057, when ASSEMBLY celebrates its centennial. I predict automobiles will still be around, unless someone comes up with a way to mass-produce jetpacks.

Assuming cars still dominate the highways and byways of the world, will they still have four wheels and an internal combustion engine? Will the steering wheel go the way of the rumble seat and the hood ornament? Will we all be driving solar-powered, 8-wheel-drive super SUVs that change color on command?

According to designers who recently submitted entries in the RoboCar 2057 competition, cars of tomorrow will look radically different, both inside and out. The design challenge was sponsored by the organizers of the annual Los Angeles Auto Show. Eight automotive design studios based in Southern California created design concepts.

“Today's vehicles feature artificial intelligence that allow hands-free parking and electronic stability control, but in 50 years, vehicles might be able to move in any direction, drive and navigate robotically, and have structures that morph and adapt to passengers' needs,” says Chuck Pelly, director of Design Los Angeles and partner in the Design Academy Inc. (Woodland Hills, CA).

The RoboCar 2057 designers entered two-dimensional renderings and concept descriptions predicting how the rapidly advancing field of artificial intelligence will integrate into the automobile to make life safer, more convenient and more attractive to consumers 50 years from now.

"Much how the Transformers toys and the more recent “Transformers” movie have captivated millions of imaginations, the question of how artificial intelligence will evolve in the service of humanity is a topic of almost universal fascination," explains Pelly.

“These futuristic designs adapt to a variety of environmental conditions and consumer needs, from battling LA's traffic vertically to turning pollutants extracted out of the air into fuel and even picking the kids up after soccer practice without the need for a human driver,” adds Pelly.

Entries in the RoboCar 2057 Design Challenge include:

*Audi of America Design Center California. The “Virtuea Quattro” is a hydrogen-powered vehicle that functions as a solid unit at its core, while providing a myriad of possible holographic exteriors.

*General Motors Advanced Design. The “ANT” features vehicle-to-vehicle communication to optimize traffic flow along with omnidirectional propulsion provided by three independent Nanorb wheel systems.

*Honda Research and Development, North America. The “14–One to the Power of Four” is a solar-hybrid powered robotic commuter that allows carpoolers to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Once near final destinations, the car transforms itself into four separate vehicles.

*Mazda R&D of North America. The “Motonari RX” integrates the driver with the vehicle, allowing the driver to experience the road psycho-somatically. It features 360-degree movement capability.

*Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design of North America. The “Silverflow” utilizes micro-metallic particles that can be arranged via magnetic fields in many different forms, based on preselected models. It can be completely disassembled into a pool of ferromagnetic material.

*Nissan Design America. The “OneOne” is guided by a real-time GPS network. It acts as both transportation and personal assistant, with the ability to run errands or take children safely to school. It also adapts from performance car to city car by lying down for speed or standing up for better visibility.

*Toyota's Calty Design Research. The “Biomobile Mecha” can extract pollutants in the air and utilize it as an energy source. Nanotechnology enables the structure of the vehicle to expand and contract horizontally and vertically for multiple uses.

*Volkswagen of America Design Center. The “Slipstream” adapts for city and freeway driving. Two-wheeled, teardrop-shaped pods travel in an upright orientation that occupies one-fifth the size of a traditional vehicle. When on the freeway, it tilts horizontally to be more aerodynamic.

For more information and to see some futuristic illustrations, go to www.laautoshow.com/2007/DC/start.htm