Friday, November 02, 2007

Flexcar on a new level

Based on the Flexcar "shared-use" concept, these little guys provide maximum maneuverability, ecological consideration, and innovation.

Carbon-Free, Stackable Rental Car from MIT
How does it work?

The MIT group sees the vehicles as the linchpin in a strategy that aims to mitigate pollution with electric power, expand limited public space by folding and stacking vehicles like shopping carts, and alleviate congestion by letting people rent and return the vehicles to racks located near transportation hubs, such as train stations, airports, and bus depots.

I love it! Sign me up for sure...

What makes this whole thing even better is the innovation behind it. This is not just a little electric vehicle that looks different and can fit into small spaces. The propulsion on these adorable little car-lets is nothing short of revolutionary (though not a totally new concept). I'll let the article explain:
At the heart of these vehicles is an omnidirectional robot wheel that the team has developed. The wheel encases an electric-drive motor, as well as suspension, steering, and braking systems. With no engine or mechanical parts between the wheels and the driver's controls, the system offers great flexibility in design. The driver can, in fact, fold the car up (see below image). Six to eight folded and stacked City Cars can fit into one conventional parking space. General Motors sponsored the development of the car.

In-wheel propulsion components
This is the only way out, folks. Saving the world through design and innovation. This idea can revolutionize the way we move ourselves and give public transportation a whole new name. The motivation to get rid of/significantly lower the use of your car is made higher by offering something you don't have. Can you fit your car in a third of a parking spot (while staying intact)? Can your car drive sideways (without using your parking brake at 100 mph)? Is your car purpose-built for a city (an Excursion is not, FYI)?

Those guys at MIT are smarty-pants.


Anonymous said...

so so smart! i love the idea of community cars, and this seems so viable. but it better be easy to detail. can you imagine never knowing what kind of residue you might find when making a trip to the grocery store? it would be a safe assumption that the cars would end up in a similar condition as, say, metro busses, but i would venture that they may end up in worse condition, with spilled french fries or iced latte (the interiors could be fashioned after the Honda Element, which I've heard can be hosed out when dirtied). with the convenience and anonymity of returning them as you would a grocery cart, even if they were scheduled for regular cleanings, soiled cars could go for a very long time without attention. you would hope that people would take care with the cars, but not only would these cars appeal to the environemntally and morally conscious, but also to people who simply can't afford a car of their own, and who may not have the greater good particuarly in mind.

it may seem trivial (i'm no cleanliness nazi) but i could forsee it becoming a real stumbling block. then again, i'm sure the people who were clever enough to create such a design can come up with equally creative solutions. what do you think?


Josh C said...

Well, the cleanliness would be dealt with by the fact that each trip is registered to a particular user; it's not anonymous (otherwise they might start disappearing). If you get in the car one day and see it trashed, you probably report it in some way and the offender is fined, warned, or something like that. You're also ignoring the community effect that these things will generate. More people will want to keep them clean, simply because the system relies on it. Also, even busses have a cleaning crew... likely these would as well.

Your Honda Element comment is great... when I went to buy one several years back, I asked "can these really be hosed out?" and the dealer said "I'm supposed to say no."

Anonymous said...

funny about the Element.

yes, i was guessing that people would be issued personal cards, which would be inserted into kiosks, much as money/credit cards are put into those luggage cart dispensers at the airport, and that it would track who drives which car.

but what if i accidently trash the car, and report that it was the previous user? i'm just postulating that just as public parks are littered in (even when trash cans are provided) and graffitied, people may lose sight of their personal duties as citizens, particularly as these cars become more standard in the future.

i wonder, what if i puke in the car, or ding it, and am honest and deliver it to the official cleaning/repair facility, or what have you. do i get charged?

also, would you pay per mile? and should there be a time limit on car borrowage? i would think, yes, but how would it be reinforced? they're electric, right, so i suppose the life of a charge could dictate the amount of time one could use it, having it recharged upon return.

i would also assume that to be a "member," the initial fees to get this program up and running would be exorbitant. plus you'd have to have special rental car insurance, huh. the flagship kiosk should be in new york, where cabbing it is a way of life. boy will the cabbies suffer.

it's way cool, but super complicated.

i think i remember reading about a bike-borrowing situation like this (in europe?? i could totally be making this up). i wonder how that turned out.


Anonymous said...

ooh wouldn't this be a great application for apartment complexes and condos? obviously, i'm jazzed about this since this is the third time i posted about it. i'm sure the guys at MIT can figure it all out on their own, though.


Josh C said...

"but what if i accidently trash the car, and report that it was the previous user?" You would probably have to report it at the beginning of your trip to avoid that.

"what if i puke in the car" I think we should address why you feel compelled to trash these little vehicles off-line :)

"also, would you pay per mile? and should there be a time limit on car borrowage?" Probably time share I would think... check out and see how they do it.

"the initial fees to get this program up and running would be exorbitant" Fees for the user or the company? The company would likely eat the start-up costs assuming its later success. You definitely don't want to deter people using it. Think XM... they didn't make all their users pay a portion of the millions that it cost to launch satellites initially. They went way into debt and, thankfully for them, it paid off!