How will we travel in the 2030′s? That was the question posed by General Motors today in London as they bring their Shanghai Expo much closer to home – to London, where a presentation by Dr. Christopher Borroni-Bird and Sergio Loureiro da Silva explores their vision of the future in terms of design, technology, engineering accommodating and enhancing everyday life in the 2030′s.
Dr. Christopher Borroni-Bird
Borroni-Bird is a smart chap. He earned his Ph.D in Surface Science at University of Liverpool and completed it at Cambridge and joined General Motors in 2000 as Director of Design and Technology Fusion and now holds an equally cool title in Director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts and is charged with the rather lofty task of GM’s “Reinvention of the Automobile” program.
Part of this vision involves having a car network which is not only petroleum and emissions free, but is also accident free, on roads that are congestion free. This vision will be enabled by a new DNA for vehicles which will be based on electrification and connectivity .
Here in Ireland, we might complain about the traffic from time to time, but we really don’t know much about really bad congestion. In Bangkok, traffic police are ritually trained to be able to deliver babies, because congestion can be so bad, that there are often children born in traffic jams. There will be more than 1.2 billion cars on the earth in 30 years from now and in just 20 years from now, 60 per cent o f the world’s population will live in urban areas. By 2030, China’s estimated urban population will reach 1 billion and no prizes for guessing which country is one of the fastest-growing in terms of car ownership. And across the world, it is developing cities which are also the most densely populated.
The thing is that the cars that we use in cities, according to Borroni-Bird are over-engineered for the job they do and we could get by with a much smaller, much cleaner and ultimately much more clever solution. And this has culminated in the EN-V Concept, which is being showcased at the World Expo in Shanghai, a city which could well do with it being launched next week. “The car is over-engineered for urban use. If you are a person who spends most of your time in the city, and driving in a city, it does create some side-effects which are not very good from a city perspective, like congestion and parking, energy consumption, air pollution and traffic safety. What we thinking about in the future is, a small vehicle that is easy to park, will be energy efficient and very affordable, that is clean and has the ability to communicate with other vehicles using wireless technology, not dissimilar to wifi, which could allow vehicles to be clean and address the energy issue, but also address traffic management and safety, between vehicles and pedestrians.”
The result is the EN-V, which can best be described as a Segway with a roof. (This is a joint effort with GM and Segway). The vehicle is powered by a small electric motor, with a pretty small battery stack that will neither break the bank nor take up the sort of room that is currently filling much of the floor-plan of a Mitsubishi iMiev or Nissan LEAF. The EN-V is a two-seater with a footprint that is about a third of a traditional vehicle.
It can spin and turn on its axis, thus making it easier to use in a city and perhaps best of all, you won’t even have to do anything when you get into it, aside from perhaps chat to your friends via video link, update your Facebook or watch a film.
You won’t need to find a parking space for it either, a maddening task in an urban environment, which according to GM’s figures, wastes 30 per cent of driver’s fuel in megacities, because this car will wander off and find its own spot, before coming back to you when required. Think KITT in Knight Rider, with Michael Knight summoning his car via his Casio and you get the picture. Cars won’t use fuel because they are electric, won’t crash into each other because they communicate with each other and won’t run over people because they have more sensors than the Louvre in Paris. And because the EN-V features dynamic stabilization technology, it balances on two wheels and therefore has a smaller footprint. Yes, it is a difficult technology to make, no it doesn’t have suspension so a pothole or speed bump would be like krptonite to Superman and the space in the seats mean it isn’t for the fat, but the EN-V represents the visions of some pretty smart folks.
A family could have two of these in their household, having them traveling in convoy – or Platooning – on a family day out and because they drive themselves to their assigned destination, they can be driven by the older driver or by disabled drivers. Sure enough,there is little for the occupant to do, but then the greatest danger in a car is usually the eejit steering it anyway.
Obviously this all might take a while and it does pose a lot of questions. For a start, surely all of this will only work if every other car is also wireless and smart. Plus, where do you put your shopping? Where do you put your kids?
So what do you think? What will you be driving in 2030? Pretty much the same thing we are now or will you jump in your EN-V, read the paper and get taken to work, stress, pollution and accident free?