I’m not particularly materialistic and hardly ever feel the need to have the latest and greatest gadget – be that a big expensive gadget like a car or a small one like a phone. And when I do invest in something, you can be sure that pragmatic practicality, robustness, economy and value for money are top of the list of considerations. So it is a rare occasion when I see an item, or the concept for one, and think – I really, really ‘Want One Of Those’.
With my current interest in the automotive industry and the gathering pace of innovation that currently surrounds it, I have researched and reviewed many different automotive ideas during the last 18 months or so. One that has stood out particularly is the increasing convergence of the car and motorcycle.
Now, as the first picture here shows, the idea of ‘car-like’ motorcycles and ‘motorcycle-like’ cars is certainly not a new one but with all the growing pressures on road space, parking space and energy provision and usage, there has been renewed interest in these concepts and a lot of innovation happening by incumbant manufacturers and new entrants.
Current developments of this concept that stand out are the Persu V3 (formerly Venture One), the French Lumeneo Smera (despite the unattractive name), the Swiss developed Monotracer and Nissan Land Glider. Alongside these pure ‘cartorcycle’ concepts sit the Piaggio MP3 innovations - which appear to be growing in popularity, as well as evolution of 2, 3 and 4 wheel ideas by other mainstream scooter and car manufacturers such as the BMW C1, Peugeot Hymotion and Renault Twizzy
click to enlarge view
What I think appeals to me about this concept is that every day, I do a 60 mile round-trip commute in a 2.0 litre diesel car. With the engine area, 4/5 seat cabin space and boot area this is about 8 times the physical space I actually use on a daily basis and, presumably, the energy needed to transport this physical space with just one occupant is considerably more than would be needed to transport a space at least 3 to 4 times smaller.
On my journey to and from work, I pass a large motorcycle dealership and just to rub salt into the wounds of my ever growing weekly fuel outlay, they have taken to parking several bikes in front of the showroom with big signs attached saying ‘100 MPG’. As other posts on this blog have described, I am a motorcycle enthusiast and was riding bikes for quite a few years before driving a car. Therefore, despite the potential cost savings of 2 wheels, I know very well what it’s like to ride a motorbike in all weathers and it isn’t something I’d choose to do these days. The day I was riding a heavy 550cc 4 stroke during a particularly cold winter and was half way down a country lane before realising it was one big sheet of black ice, is one that will live long in the memory. It’s at times like those when balancing precariously on two wheels does not seem like such a good idea, however much fun it can be at other times. Likewise, when at one time I wouldn’t pass up the idea of dressing in tight leather and looking like a PowerRanger – these days it doesn’t hold as much attraction and the idea of having to add time at the beginning and end of a working day to make sure I am suitably dressed for my commute is also not a desirable one.
So, having a vehicle that gives a similar road handling and ride experience to a motorcycle but offers all of the comforts of a modern car – and perhaps more – as well as one that saves on fuel costs and reduces CO2 emissions through hybrid or fully electric propulsion, looks like an attractive proposition.
However, as I held out for many years before adopting smartphone technology until it met a minimum standard of capability, I’ll likely hold out for a ‘cartorcycle’ until it also incorporates the following capabilities…
I’ve seen a number of concepts over the last year or so that illustrate the idea of ‘shapeshifting’ vehicles. Shapeshifting makes sense from a number of perspectives. In a city travel scenario, where road and parking space is at a premium, the idea that the physical footprint of the vehicle can be made smaller or the vehicle shape can be modified to enable more innovative stacking, racking and/or hanging parking ideas is appealing. This shapeshifting could also enable more than one unit to be connected together to provide the type of ‘modularity’ mentioned in the next point. It would also make the vehicle potentially easier to get in and out of by raising it into a position where you can virtually step into it to sit down.
The other major advantage of shapeshifting would be to increase the aerodynamic and road handling ability of the vehicle when travelling faster and over longer distances on the open road.
Of all of the automotive concepts I have researched so far, the idea of designing smaller transport units that can be connected together to create larger units to share power and potentially increase speed and range appears to be one of the least explored ideas. Maybe it’s because it is an immensely complex or impractical idea or perhaps it’s because we are still very locked into the idea of fossil fuel powered vehicles that are very self-contained and potentially explosive. It reminds me a bit of the designs of early powered transport where the first cars and train carriages looked just like their horse-drawn predecessors – without horses up front.
I’ve seen quite a few ideas where different aspects of a vehicle can be modularised. For example, passenger carrying capability swapped for luggage carrying and visa versa but very few ideas where single person units can be joined together as illustrated by this conceptual idea I started developing last year.
3. Renewable energy
As commented elsewhere on this blog, I believe our transport infrastructure offers tremendous potential opportunity for harvesting and trading energy in ‘smart’ ways. Therefore, my ideal ‘cartorcycle’ will capture energy through regenerative breaking as a minimum but I also favour the idea of it collecting solar energy continually, possibly using micro wind generation and, as and when connected to another modular unit, using one of its wheels as a generator.
4. Road Train Robotics
I must admit I still get a bit freaked out by my car’s cruise control and get even more freaked out when I’ve been driving long distances and can’t remember part of the journey. Presumably my brain has gone into its own ‘cruise control’ mode at those times but I can’t rule out the possibility that I’ve been sleeping with my eyes open – and that’s scary :( . Anyway, I’m sure it will take a lot of getting used to before you are comfortable enough to relax and do something else while your vehicle deals with all aspects of road control, however, thinking about the many hours I have wasted while commuting over the years, I would relish the chance to do something more productive on long car journeys, much in the same way I make valuable use of train travel to read and write-up thoughts and ideas.
5. Integration with other forms of transport
This is another area of conceptual thought that hasn’t yet generated many illustrations of how it might work. I have covered some possibilities on this around the B Concept introduced here which explored single person vehicles being integrated with a tram system. Another one I spotted recently was a compact, foldable electric bike that could be integrated with a bus. In this concept (pictured left) the idea of energy trading is explored again – this time transferring energy stored up in the bike into the bus as a way of paying for, or contributing to the cost of, your journey.
The SNAP concept shown right, illustrates a single person unit being integrated with a train. Ultimately, if minimal footprint personal transport units become a popular way to get around, I could quite imagine them being lifted over the traffic hotspots and deposited virtually anywhere in and around a city by some sort of versatile heavy lifting hybrid air vehicle like those currently being developed for the US military…
Finally… a call to action…
As stated in my last ‘Automotive Visions’ post, one of the most encouraging developments I spotted in the last year is Riversimple’s ‘open source’ philosophy and approach to exploring and pushing forward fundamental change in an industry under considerable and growing pressures from many directions.
In looking deeper into this ‘cartorcycle’ concept, it is clear that a lot of people share my enthusiasm for it and often echo the reasons I have given above as to why this is a good idea and has a lot of potential. However, the main similarity between the leading innovators in this space who I listed at the start of this post is that their progress is being hampered by having limited production capabilities. Therefore, they are hand building these vehicles to order at high unit costs which often then negates the perceived potential savings offered by such a concept.
The BMW shapeshifting X Bike concept
For the reasons given around the ‘B Concept’ and also explained well by Riversimple, I believe that automotive technology innovation needs to be opened up rather than locked into the proprietary patents of the established industry monoliths. In this way, the barriers to entry for new manufacturers and service providers will be lowered, standards for interoperability and integration more readily developed, agreed and implemented and production costs can be structured to encourage mass adoption. It is an approach I have experienced working well in the software industry over the last decade and one I believe has a lot of potential in other industries.
It may be idealistic and woefully optimistic to consider such an idea at this point in the automotive industry’s life-cycle but if there are any like-minded people out there who want to share ideas and knowledge to push forward the concepts described and illustrated above, I am very keen to participate and would also state that I am, without doubt, a potential customer for a ‘future cartorcycle’ – I just hope somebody, somewhere, can beat BMW to it and develop a mass market, open source solution…