Beyond the Car: Envisioning a New "Sustainable Mobility Vehicle"

This past weekend Toronto's Institute Without Boundaries was bursting at the seams, abuzz with students, experts and advisors working on MOVE: The Sustainable Transportation Charrette with ten teams working to "develop proposals with the intent of creating a blueprint for a more sustainable transportation system that will position our region for success." It will be part of MOVE, the Transportation Expo, opening at Evergreen Brickworks In Toronto in May. I was asked to be an advisor to the team looking beyond the car. The mandate:

Imagine a new sustainable mobility vehicle and a new future for the automobile-manufacturing sector beyond the car.

As an advisor, I was only there for a few hours, while all of the participants were there for three full days and probably a few nights. What I saw was extraordinary, a vision of the future for the car that might actually work, building on many of the ideas that we have discussed on TreeHugger. Much of their time was spent on business plans and timelines to 2040, but I am going to look at the fun stuff at the end of that timeline, 28 years from now. Some of the ideas shown here are not from the charrette, but my own interpretations and expansions based on material shown in TreeHugger.

I will confess that I came to the meeting as a skeptic, seeing the car as unnecessary if there is enough density to support a decent transit system, and seeing the bike as the answer to the "last mile problem", best described by Cliff Kuang in GOOD:

It isn't the mere lack of trains and subways that keep people in their cars. It's what urban planners call the first- and last-mile problem. You know it, intuitively. Let's say you'd like to commute on public transit. But if you live in a suburb-and ever since 2000, over half of Americans do-it's unlikely that you live close enough to a station to walk. The same problem arises once you get to your destination: You probably don't work anywhere near the closest bus or train station. So even if public transit is available, commuters often stay in their cars because the alternative-the hassle of driving, then riding, then getting to your final destination-is inconvenient, if not totally impossible.

Public Transit doesn't do well in low density, and can't cope with the fact that businesses are no longer all downtown or in industrial areas, but are diffused all through the greater metropolitan areas now. For many people it just doesn't work, even if you live in a dense downtown, because you may well work in a low density suburb. But the car that you need to get there is just sitting at either end, taking up space and costing you money. So

In 2040, the car will be shared.

Since a shared car takes between 10 and 15 cars off the road, this solves the problem of parking and much of the problem of congestion. It won't need a parking spot either.

In 2040, the car will be a lot lighter and smaller.

It will be a lot more like an Isetta was 50 years ago than a car is today; reducing weight is key to extending range. But it will also be stronger; Team expert Will Harney, Director of Engineering and Development at Magna International, said it will be "like an Isetta that can run into a bridge abutment at full speed."

In 2040, the car won't run on fossil fuels.

battery swappingInstitute Without Boundaries/via

It will probably be electric, and between the lighter weight and better batteries will probably run 300 kilometers on a charge. Batteries will be swappable or they will charge really fast, like an ultracap.

In 2040, the car will be completely autonomous.

But way more autonomous than the Google car, that is just the start.

This is what really changes everything. The car will drive itself, and be part of a communications mesh so that it knows where every other car is. It no longer needs air bags and crumple zones, because it doesn't crash.

how it worksInstitute Without Boundaries/via

In the morning you will call for your car; it might clip onto your house so that you can enter it directly without going outside, like people love in suburbia now. You will tell it how to configure your seat, and then off you go.

comfy seatingins/via

It won't have seats facing forward like a car does now, because you don't have to look forward; it will be reconfigurable to any shape you want.

martiniInstitute Without Boundaries/via

You can sleep in it, or have a drink, since you're not driving.

It won't have to stop at traffic lights and stop signs; because it knows where every other car and pedestrian is, perhaps using a system like the Libelium we showed earlier. Cars will just move through each other's streams.

train hookupInstitute Without Boundaries/via

It won't be used for long distance travel, but will hook on to faster, more efficient modes of transport.

car designInstitute Without Boundaries/via

It will all come apart really easily to convert for other uses, to clip together to serve larger groups of people.

This is just a snapshot of what they were thinking on Sunday evening; The final results of the charrette won't be seen until this Sunday and the real conclusion won't be seen until May. But it is the start of a powerful vision, a city with almost no parking, a tenth the number of vehicles, no crashes and crushed cyclists.

Beyond the Car: Envisioning a New "Sustainable Mobility Vehicle"
it's not a car, it is a robot that takes you where you need to go.

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