Best of CH 2015: Cars and Tech

From self-driving cars to palm-sized drones, our favorite stories covering auto and innovation

With each new software update, design tweak or circuit configuration, it becomes more and more difficult to imagine there’s any space left for our daily technologies to improve. But, without fail, we are surprised and impressed by a new gadget, interface or interpretation that we simply can’t believe wasn’t available before. In the past year, we witnessed groundbreaking technologies come to fruition, from self-driving vehicles to drones that fit in the palm of your hand and more. So as a nod to the imaginative minds of 2015 and as a look ahead to what we might expect in 2016, we’ve rounded-up our best stories covering cars and technology from the past year.

Test Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Just last year, it seemed Volkswagen had reached peak hatchback status, but evidently, they had grand plans. This year they released their ultimate hatchback, the Golf R. It’s the fastest, most powerful Golf ever made and has the specs to back it up. It’s bigger and more spacious than the previous generation R, but also lighter and packs a hefty punch. Then there are the larger brakes, big wheels wrapped in performance rubber and a stiffer suspension—it’s a Golf that handles as well as it accelerates.

KiiTAG 2 Ultimate Phone Accessory

An update on the original KiiTAG item finder from mobile accessories brand Life n Soul, the KiiTAG 2—billed as a digital Swiss Army Knife—is available for both iPhone and Android and is roughly the size of a car key fob, with a handful of impressive features. Highlights from the long list include a power adaptor (boasting two hours of charge), USB flash drive for storing media content, flashlight, bluetooth key-finder and two programmable buttons that can be set to do a number of things; from faking (yes, faking) a phone call or sending text messages to acting as a remote camera-trigger for taking pictures.

CH Video: Microcars at the Jesada Technik Museum

While traveling through Thailand, we discovered the Jesada Technik Museum in a small town outside of Bangkok. Home to over 500 vehicles including double-decker buses, airplanes, helicopters and scooters, the museum’s most unique attraction is the vast collection of microcars. Also known as “bubble cars,” these refrigerator-sized automobiles were built small due to limitations in materials and resources in Europe following World War II. The retro and progressive designs of the 1950s microcars have become a model for the modern-day smart vehicle.

The Light Phone

Artist and designer Joe Hollier and mobile phone industry veteran Kaiwei Tang’s The Light Phone only makes and receives calls (and tells the time). It works with your existing phone so that calls get forwarded, so you can leave your “personal computer” at home when you go for a jog, take a lunch break, escape for the weekend; for those moments when Twitter and email can wait, but calls from your very pregnant sister can’t. And the Light Phone is pretty much everything your current smartphone in rotation isn’t: it’s the size of a credit card, has 20 days of battery life, and meant to be timeless—not replaced every year.

Test Drive: The All New 2016 Volvo XC90

Volvo’s 2016 XC90 is the product of not just the global investment that came from Chinese automotive firm Zhejiang Geely Holdings, in many ways it’s a consummation of Swedish design ethos in car form. The Gothenburg-based automaker went all-in when it came to bringing their Swedish heritage to the forefront of their new line-up, something previous parent company Ford arguably went through lengths to water down. And while the entirety of that investment surely isn’t in just one vehicle, it’s the world’s first material look into what’s to come from Volvo—and we had two days behind the wheel on Catalonia’s most scenic roads.

Carbon 3D’s CLIP Technology

After two years in stealth mode, Carbon3D finally unveiled its breakthrough 3D printing technology, which will make printing speed 25 to 100 times faster than that of any 3D printer model currently on the market. The announcement was made at the TED 2015 conference in Vancouver by Carbon3D co-founder Joseph DeSimone. Instead of printing an object layer by layer as traditional 3D printers do, Carbon3D’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology shapes objects out of a pool of resin using precise bursts of light, which chisels a design into the resin by hardening the liquid, and oxygen, which keeps the resin malleable during the process.

CH Video: Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept

On a sunny day in Alameda, California, we waited patiently at the end of an abandoned naval airstrip for the silver torpedo-like Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept car to drive itself down and pick us up. Mercedes created this concept not as evidence of autonomous driving technology, but to showcase the future of an autonomous luxury experience. Designed with passenger interaction and entertainment in mind, the car provides a plethora activities to enhance the riding experience.

The Wonders of the Leica Q

It’s easy to understand why photographers turn to Leica. Simply put, they’re beautifully designed, highly durable and capture superb images. The new Leica Q—a powerful, compact digital camera with a 24MP full frame sensor—lives up to the promise. The Q is set apart from other cameras in its class by the pairing of a prime f/1.7 28mm Summilux lens and a uniquely tailored CMOS sensor. With a sleek design, and true made-in-Germany production (only the top-end Leicas are actually built in Wetzler), it’s a worthy device for professionals and hobbyists alike.

Long Term Test Drive: Mercedes AMG E63 Wagon

In the Fall of 2013, we spent a day driving the fastest station wagon on American soil and were thoroughly impressed. Both at the Willow Springs race track and on the surrounding streets, the freshly redesigned Mercedes AMG E63 S 4MATIC Wagon delivered unrelenting power and precise control while hauling around a bodacious backside. For some reason most Americans don’t like wagons, especially fast ones, so we spent a year with this 577hp performer to share the virtues of a fast wagon and impressions of this model in particular.

Skeye Nano Drone

At just four centimeters by four centimeters, the SKEYE Nano Drone from Netherlands-based gadget-maker TRNDlabs is presently the smallest consumer quadcopter on the market. Appearing like a prop out of a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids/Star Wars mashup, the SKEYE’s design takes cues from its larger brethren—including the HD camera-toting micro ZANO that recently caught the attention of amateur pilots and fledgling surveillance techs at CES.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R, Jesada Technik Museum, 2016 Volvo XC90, Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept, and Mercedes AMG E63 Wagon images by Cool Hunting, all other images courtesy of respective brands