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Is the Car Interior of the Future in This 1969 Mustang?

The CEO of semiconductor and technology supplier Cypress hopes his personal car inspires the entire industry.

Hassane El-Khoury has wanted a classic Ford Mustang ever since he first saw Bullitt at the age of 12. Now he has one. He found the car he calls Manticore as a moss-covered rustbucket in the Pacific Northwest, and as president and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor—which designs and supplies screens, touch-sensitive controls, and more for several automotive OEMs—he had the resources to craft it to his personal vision. A 785-hp supercharged Coyote V-8 lives under the hood, a six-speed manual transmission stirs the gears, and the cabin doesn’t have a single button, dial, or even an ignition slot. It’s a rolling testament to both internal combustion and computational wizardry, and El-Khoury hopes it can serve as an inspiration and wake-up call to the entire automotive industry.

We sat down with El-Khoury to learn more about the future tech that drives his vintage Ford. Here are the coolest details:

It Starts with a Fingerprint

“I am a big proponent of identification, not just authentication,” says El-Khoury. While some modern cars support multiple keys that store settings for each driver, that’s not good enough for him. Manticore requires multiple forms of identification to start, one of which is a fingerprint.

“If someone has Key 1, is it you?” El-Khoury explains. “The identity is with the key. I want the identity to be with me. I want the car to know it’s Hassane in the car. I want my temperature, my radio, my files, and I don’t want anyone else to have access, even if they have the key.” With a focus on actual identification, El-Khoury says, the possibilities expand. He envisions a time when we’ll be able to pull up to a gas pump and not need a credit card, because the car, having already identified its driver, will be able to provide authentication to the station.

Valets Are Going to Hate This Car

El-Khoury has programmed his car with the mother of all valet modes. “This is a 785-horsepower car. [Normally] if someone has the key, they have all 785. I don’t want that. I’m overprotective of my baby, and for a valet, 25 mph is sufficient. I can program all that. As a valet, you only get two engine starts. You need to park it and you need to bring it back. These are use cases that we can’t implement today, but technology opens up those use cases to really customize the user experience in the car. And it’s limitless.”

The Next Evolution: Smart Window Switches.

El-Khoury explains the Manticore’s touch-sensitive window switches. “I don’t have an up-down button, because I want to tell the window where to stop with one touch,” he explains. “Today you can only do it manually, or push once and it opens or closes fully. Well, what if I want to roll it halfway down? I push the middle, it rolls to the middle, and we’re done.”

And what about accidentally triggering the switch? Can’t happen. “You actually mimic a mechanical switch,” he explains. “You have to make the motion, up or down. There are actually two elements per sensor, so we have gesture detection. It has to be a gesture with the right timing.” Furthermore, the exact gesture can be programmed to the user’s preferences. “For these switches, I want to use my thumb, because that’s the most natural for me. That’s just my preference. It’s all tunable.”

The Phone Is the Stereo

“If you notice,” El-Khoury says, “the car doesn’t have a radio, doesn’t have infotainment, it doesn’t have any of that, because we use streaming media. It has a sound system, but it’s hidden. It’s a black box. Because I bring my infotainment with me; this phone is my infotainment. But I need the speakers to be local, because the speakers on the phone are not viable, especially as loud as this car is. So what do you do? You go to a black box. It’s irrelevant what the interface is. The phone is a great interface, I can change it, I carry it with me, I can customize it. I bring it in the car and [those customizations] are still there with me. What we call BYOD, Bring Your Own Device, is the future.

“How many cars have GPS navigation? But we use Waze or Google Maps [instead]. Why? Because they’re always accurate, always updated. Why the redundancy? It’s two different ecosystems, consumer and auto. Well, we need to bring these two together if we want to maximize our experience.”

Software Updates Need Not Happen All at Once

Like Tesla, El-Khoury’s Manticore can receive over-the-air software updates, but his car doesn’t require a constant connection. “We have two flash devices,” he explains. “You can get [the download] over a two-week period. You don’t have to sit in the garage while the thing is loading. It downloads a little bit [when the car is connected until] the image is full, then it does the swap. Versus, ‘Don’t move, stay in the garage, don’t lose the Wi-Fi connection.’ I don’t care. I want to go in and out. When there’s a connection, I download a little bit, and when it’s done, then [the system fully updates].”

Manticore Is El-Khoury’s Attempt to Shape the Future

“The reason I wanted to build this car is because traditional OEMs have self-created barriers,” he says. “One of my mentors a long time ago told me, you can sit in a room full of adults and say, ‘I’ll give you $5 million for the greatest idea,’ and nobody will come up with one. You go to a bunch of five-year-olds and say ‘I’ll give you candy for great ideas’ and you will get a ton. Why? Because they have no constraint. They’ll just give you ideas. We all say, ‘That’s not going to work, nobody would like it’—we sit here and self-filter. We have constraints. Well, I have no constraints. My perspective is, ‘Try it. Do it.’ What does it take to shake up an industry? It takes an event. This interior has to break the norm.”