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MIT Offers City Car for the Masses 290

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the popeil-pocket-car dept.
MIT's stackable electric car, a project to improve urban transportation will make its debut this week in Milan. "The City Car, a design project under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is envisioned as a two-seater electric vehicle powered by lithium-ion batteries. It would weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds and could collapse, then stack like a shopping cart with six to eight fitting into a typical parking space. It isn't just a car, but is designed as a system of shared cars with kiosks at locations around a city or small community."
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MIT Offers City Car for the Masses

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  • by ackthpt (218170) *

    "The City Car, a design project under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is envisioned as a two-seater electric vehicle powered by lithium-ion batteries. It would weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds and could collapse, then stack like a shopping cart with six to eight fitting into a typical parking space. It isn't just a car, but is designed as a system of shared cars with kiosks at locations around a city or small community."

    So every 18 months they'll come out with a newer model, which folds into half the space and cost less. At the end of 12 years it will be a skateboard. Got news for them, Santa Cruz is already there.

    • Python.. (Score:3, Funny)

      by eniac42 (1144799)
      Look, I came here for an argument! Oh, sorry, wrong story..
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Penguinisto (415985)

      So every 18 months they'll come out with a newer model, which folds into half the space and cost less. At the end of 12 years it will be a skateboard. Got news for them, Santa Cruz is already there.

      Okay... think "Minneapolis", "January", "6:00 am", and "10 mile commute". Now do that on a skateboard.

      Also, Moore's Law isn't exactly translatable to something that most people shop for based on cupholder numbers, y'know? ;)

      ('course, if this was all written in jest, then, err, my bad...)

      /P

  • by xPsi (851544) * on Monday November 05, 2007 @06:49PM (#21247553)

    then stack like a shopping cart with six to eight fitting into a typical parking space
    Since that's how they park in Milan anyway, the transition should be pretty painless.
    • by baxissimo (135512)
      The summary says 6-8 in a typical parking space but concept images in the article make it look more like 2-3 would fit in the typical spot. Unless Milan has some very atypical "typical parking spaces".
      • by hitmark (640295)
        i would guess that the cabin can fold in so that it does not take up much space when not occupied.

        same deal with shopping carts where the reason they stack is that they have a door in the back that allows much of the space to overlap.
    • Painful result. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JonathanR (852748)
      The transition of parking methods might be painless, but what this technology will do is increase the number of cars on the road. As the cars have to be 'unstacked' to be driven, they will take up the same amount of room (width x following distance) on the road as an ordinary Fiat Punto or similar. So, dumping more cars in the centre of Milan will not be painless in the long term.
  • by rlwhite (219604) <rogerwh AT gmail DOT com> on Monday November 05, 2007 @06:51PM (#21247589)
    ...a car that collapses like a shopping cart when I'm rear-ended.
    • Nah ... it will just explode when the battery cell is punctured.
    • by DigitalReverend (901909) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:06PM (#21247825)
      If you look at the pictures that accompany TFA, it would see "collapse" like a shopping car isn't quite what they mean but rather configure to take up a smaller footprint. From the looks of it it appears the rear wheel assembly ride along tracks along the bottom of the passenger compartment. When you park the vehicle and put it into compact mode, the rear wheels probably lock, and the front wheels push back towards the rear wheels causing the passenger compartment to rotate and slide along the track until the front wheels are near touching the rear wheels. I would bet in operational mode, that even if hit from behind with enough force to release whatever locking mechanism they have for the rear bumper assembly that the rear of the vehicle would slide harmlessly under the passenger compartment absorbing most of the energy.

      Anyway this is how it appears to me from the pictures. I am not an engineer nor physicist, but it seems to me that this might actually have potential for conventional vehicles as well. If the rear bumper and wheels were able to slide harmlessly under the passenger area it could actually save lives.
    • by camperdave (969942) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:18PM (#21247973) Journal
      ...a car that collapses like a shopping cart when I'm rear-ended.

      ... or a car with one wheel that skitters and wobbles on its own accord.
  • by spatley (191233) <spatley@yahoo.com> on Monday November 05, 2007 @06:52PM (#21247591) Homepage
    from the top of this page:
    "but is designed as a system of shared cars with kiosks..."
    nobody owns individual cars, you subscribe to the service and grab a car from a kiosk wherever you need one.
    • from the top of this page: "but is designed as a system of shared cars with kiosks..." nobody owns individual cars, you subscribe to the service and grab a car from a kiosk wherever you need one.

      What happens when the all end up at the same place in town on a Friday night

      • Don't worry, you'll still have yours parked in front of your mom's basement.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Propaganda13 (312548)
        You end up with the same problem with renting from Uhaul. Well, we were supposed to have a truck returned, but it hasn't shown up yet. You can wait several hours and hope or drive crosstown where we have one.

        I do not see the City Car working in the US. Maybe Japan or Europe. The City Car is a people mover. Zip Car is a different idea that is working (not without complaints) in the US. There are 20 vehicles to choose from. Besides fun cars like convertibles, minis, and BMW, there are a larger vehicles (xB, E
  • When I was a kid I envisioned something similar except the cars would fly. I wasn't alone. What happened? Well, I also envisioned hooking up with a babe like Annette Funacello, and that didn't happen either ...
    • Well, I also envisioned hooking up with a babe like Annette Funacello, and that didn't happen either ...

      How old are you? I feel old just for knowing who Annette Funacello is.

  • Up Close (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cthulu_mt (1124113)
    I got to see alot of the models and sketches for this at the Media Lab last January. I look forward to the final product. It could do alot to change urban traffic patterns and pollution in city centers.

    Also they have more Lego's than God at the Media Lab...that is orgasmic.
    • by Colin Smith (2679)
      It has the worst aspects of the car and train combined.

      1: You still get stuck in traffic.
      2: You still have to drive it.
      3: You have to travel to a kiosk or station to pick one up.

      Actually, I can't think of any advantages over a normal car, other than it being electric, which we can do now anyway. Going to suggest some?

       
      • Re:Up Close (Score:5, Insightful)

        by daveo0331 (469843) on Monday November 05, 2007 @09:39PM (#21249539) Homepage Journal
        1. You have access to a car anytime you want/need it, without the hassle and expense of owning a car. Could save a lot of money if you live close enough to work to walk or bike and only occasionally need a car.

        2. Unlike trains, the "stations" could be at every corner, since all that would be needed is a few square feet and a card reader. Also, unlike trains, a station at every corner doesn't mean you have to stop at every corner all the way to your destination.

        3. No unexpected huge repair bills -- maintenance and repairs are just part of the fee.

        4. More space in your garage, since you don't have to own a car.

        5. Parking is easy to find -- just go to a kiosk.

        6. You don't have to pay for parking. Imagine driving one of these to the airport.

        7. Drive into town, go out drinking, cab it back home without having to go back to retrieve your car the next day.

        8. Any given car is in use a higher percentage of the time, so if everyone (or a large fraction of everyone) did this, we wouldn't have to devote nearly as much land to parking lots.

        9. Need exercise? Walk to the grocery store, buy a cart full of groceries, drive back home. This also reduces gas usage/environmental impact by 50% compared to driving both ways.

        10. Drive to work on a rainy morning. When the weather clears in the afternoon, walk back home.

        11. If you get a flat tire, just call maintenance, then grab another car and keep going.
  • we require 10' foot high SUVs modeled on military vehicles that can run over a compact car and not even feel it. the inside must be 500 square feet, of which there will be only one occupant. oh, and the vehicle must get 2 miles to the gallon

    i don't understand what the point of this green environmental stuff is, just send more soldiers to iraq. problem solved
    • Basically I agree with you except on the required fuel efficiency: ideally such vehicles should get at least 40 gallons per mile.
    • If you haven't yet, I definitely recomment that you watch this movie: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triplets_of_belleville [wikipedia.org] There is only one spoken line in the movie (in French), and it just comes from the radio (so no language barrier to this film). I have a feeling you'll get a kick out of the way "Belleville" (a parody of New York) is portrayed in the film. Everyone is really fat, wearing shirts that say I 3 BIG, everyone drives monstrous SUV's, the status of liberty is depicted as obese and holding a
  • No Thanks.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by robkill (259732) on Monday November 05, 2007 @06:59PM (#21247703)
    From the article:

    City Car users would be required to swipe their credit card as a form of deposit. The cars could also be tracked using GPS. To protect privacy, the GPS info could then be deleted once the car is safely returned to a kiosk.
    Law enforcement would fight tooth and nail to keep the GPS data from being deleted. The legitimate use would be to track someone who stole a vehicle (using a stolen credit card, probably), or used it as a getaway car for some other crime. Once stored, it's too tempting to use for other purposes. Of course this is essentially already the case with rental cars.
    • by fm6 (162816)
      Now I know what happened to Roberto Gonzales: he went to your town and got himself appointed chief of police. Most low enforcers are more realistic about how much people value their privacy.
  • by ODiV (51631) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:01PM (#21247717)
    How long until there's grafiti everywhere, the seats are slashed, and the cars are rendered unusable by the public?

    Not that this isn't a great idea. It's just depressing that people will purposefuly ruin things like this.

    (Okay, so not exactly "Tragedy of the Commons")
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:16PM (#21247939) Homepage Journal

      How long until there's grafiti everywhere, the seats are slashed, and the cars are rendered unusable by the public?

      Depends on where you live. Here in Melbourne, Australia the ticket machines on train stations have about fourteen different anti-vandalisation features. At Incheon, South Korea where I was working last week the ticket machines are little computers with no attempt at protection. They are cleaner, too.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ackthpt (218170) *

        Depends on where you live. Here in Melbourne, Australia the ticket machines on train stations have about fourteen different anti-vandalisation features. At Incheon, South Korea where I was working last week the ticket machines are little computers with no attempt at protection. They are cleaner, too.

        This is something one notices when one travels. Different care accorded the 'commons'. Some people take a certain civic pride that their city is clean and free of vandalism. Others believe it is someone else's problem to look after everything.

  • So, the cars would be used as "a system of shared cars with kiosks at locations around a city" and the TFA says the program would be like a "bike-share program". In other words, it sounds like a lot like the "Yellow Bike" program. Anyone remember that? Place a bunch of bikes out where anyone could take them, believing they would return them when done. Yeah, that worked out exactly as well as you would expect: a colossal failure where the bikes were quickly stolen and sold for drug money. [blogspot.com] Guess what? Communi
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by calebt3 (1098475)
      If one is charged for every day that they keep the car, they would return it pretty quickly. They are not giving the cars away. They are being rented out.
    • Of course, all of that was addressed in the article. They wouldn't be free (as buses aren't free), they would require a credit card which would act as both payment and deposit. Furthermore, they would have GPS tracking systems and would get their power from a shared grid, which would render them useless off the grid.
    • This is so simple. In order to drive, a valid credit card and driver's license is required, even if driving the car is free. Don't return it and the cops will be at your door.
      • How would you ensure that the credit card and driver's licence belong to the driver?

        I still see theft as a potentially big problem for these cars. Abuse/vandalism even moreso.
        • by ianare (1132971)
          There could simply be a guy at the 'car station' to swipe them, then give you a ticket to actually open the car.
          • Another approach for the cleanliness and vandalism issue would be to make the whole thing out of super hard plastic or something (no comfy seats, sorry; bring your own cushion) and have a pressure washer at the return end. Then at least we keep it automated.

            Still not sure how to keep the automation and prevent use by stolen CC/identification. Maybe the kiosk could tie in with the CC companies' online verification systems that are already in place?
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Firethorn (177587)
              The easiest method I can think of would be to require an initial sign up - that would give CC companies time to make sure the subscription is good and the person legit. Maybe snail mail him an activation code to his registered address.

              Then simply reverify the card/driver's license on rental.

              You don't have to prevent all theft - just enough that you can still make a profit. Given that you'd probably put a number of anti-theft and tracking measures in, and the items wouldn't exactly be 'open market' items,
    • FlexCar (Score:5, Informative)

      by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:18PM (#21247975)
      Tone the cynicism down. Shared car companies already exist. [flexcar.com] It works pretty well and they make a profit.
      • by Blakey Rat (99501)
        FlexCar here in Seattle is laying-off quite a few staff. Are you sure they're making a profit?
        • The news that they're going to have to include car rental taxes may be raising the price too much for the concept.
        • I hadn't read about any layoffs. They just merged with ZipCar, which shows growth. As sibling post pointed out, the decision to require rental taxes may affect profitability. Either way, the cars are always in good shape, not a disaster and carelessness and vandalism.
    • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:21PM (#21248013) Journal
      Well, just because it doesn't work in America, doesn't mean it's failure in other countries. I remember when I was in Sweden, they had a truly amazing bike share program. Basically, at a bunch of depots throughout a city, there will be a bunch of bikes you can grab to get where you're going. And it's not a bunch of crappy bikes either, they're very stylish, customized, have intricate patterns, mods, you name it. The way it works is you just go up to one you like, break it's connector (you can use a rock or whatever) and ride wherever you need to go, and just drop it at the nearest depot when you're done.

      The locals are also very concerned for your safety. Whenever I rode off in one, people would run after me, yelling frantically about something. I ignored them of course, because my Swedish is pretty weak.

      So really, it just depends on the culture.
    • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:24PM (#21248061) Journal

      Guess what? Communism doesn't work. See also: The Tragedy of the Commons.
      Public libraries are the same. Let people borrow books? Yeah right, they're just going to steal them and not return them. These library things are never going to catch on. People would rather own books so that they can have them sitting on the shelf even after they're finished reading them.

      And what's this I hear about a company called Zipcar offering hourly car rentals in cities all over the US? Ha! It'll never catch on. I'll bet those commies will find their shared cars being full of graffiti and ripped seats and radios ripped out for drug money.

      • by cdrguru (88047)
        Well, maybe. I don't think people are all that attached to owning (and maintaining) a car.

        Unfortunately, in the US you have two aspects that are absolutely in conflict with this goal. The first is the "drive by" factor. You pick up a car and are almost immediately stopped by the police. Lots of angry cops with guns. You didn't notice the brass casings on the floor of the car before you took it.

        The second is, ... well, let's call it the "spooge factor" where the previous occupant of the car (and their p
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        Guess what? Communism doesn't work. See also: The Tragedy of the Commons.

        Public libraries are the same. Let people borrow books? Yeah right, they're just going to steal them and not return them. These library things are never going to catch on. People would rather own books so that they can have them sitting on the shelf even after they're finished reading them.

        A fact about libraries that you are either a) unacquainted with from not having visited and actual library, or b) deliberately ignore because it

    • Yeah, that worked out exactly as well as you would expect: a colossal failure where the bikes were quickly stolen and sold for drug money. Guess what? Communism doesn't work. See also: The Tragedy of the Commons.

      This is the result of scarcity. If there is an abundance of bicycles that anyone can use, the monetary value of the bike based on its scarcity is zero. The value of the bike in terms of its actual usefulness to get you from one place to the other remains, having absolutely nothing to do with the number of bikes in existence. If you only put 100 free bikes on the streets in a major city, that's only a tiny fraction of the total number of bikes, so the impact on the monetary value of a given bike is nil. The

    • by m2943 (1140797)
      Guess what? Communism doesn't work. See also: The Tragedy of the Commons.

      You are misinterpreting what that means. The "Tragedy of the Commons" doesn't say that privatization solves everything, it is simply an observation about utilization of common resources, regardless of why they are common. The primary policy consequence of the "Tragedy of the Commons" is, if anything, that things that are by their very nature "common" (air, water, public health, etc.) need more government regulation to ensure fair uti
    • I was speaking to a friend the other day who recently visited Japan. According to him, theft is almost non-existent where he went. It's because of the lack of an underclass. Another meagre possession is simply not worth the shame of taking stuff off the street. I guess it depends on where you go in the world as to whether these free services will work.

      Perhaps the answer is to actually work hard to eliminate the underclass, rather than just pay lip-service while bolstering the rich.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MrPippers (576652)

      Yes, the yellow bikes program is a failure. Theft is rampant. I witnessed it in Atlanta with Decatur yellow bikes [dybikes.org]. It doesn't mean that every public transportation rental system will be a failure. We can learn from our mistakes. One needs only look to the successful Velib' [wikipedia.org] bike rentals recently rolled out in Paris.

      Under the Velib' system, anyone renting a bike must use a bank card which will lock 150 Euros in their account, as insurance on the bike. If it is stolen, and you report it to the police, the pe

  • by Komi (89040) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:04PM (#21247793) Homepage
    Does this guy [news.com] look like he's peeing on the car?
    • by Jartan (219704)

      Does this guy look like he's peeing on the car?


      Do you really want to touch that door handle? Well, do you punk?
    • by ianare (1132971)
      Actually on closer inspection of the guy's reflection it looks like he's rubbing the car while having his hand in his front pocket.
      I'll leave it up to you to figure that one out.
  • Complexity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mechsoph (716782) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:05PM (#21247803)

    Let's create a vehicle twice as complex as anything out there. Oh, and while we're at it, let's change the whole social structure of car ownership. Now, if this actually goes anywhere, super and good for them, but how many of these radical concept cars do we hear about once and never again?

    Personally, I think simplicity is an important feature in machines; it means they cost less to make and cost less to fix. A beautiful example of this is in the form of some motorcyles, [wikipedia.org] elegant minimalism. If you would add a cabin [wikipedia.org] to one of these for foul weather, it should achieve 90% [jwz.org] of what the technical side of this project hopes.

  • I remember watching a movie [imdb.com] in which there are small and white public cars available to the public in a parallel universe. It is a pretty shitty made for TV movie though.
  • by Bryansix (761547) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:08PM (#21247843) Homepage
    The problem with this is when you have to return the same car. The car is now in a stack. If you could grab any car at any time then it would work.

    Anyways, there is a much more elegant soltution to the "Last Mile Problem" in the form of Personal Rapid Transit [wikipedia.org]. These scholars should devote their energy to the study and advancement of this system.
    • These scholars should devote their energy to the study and advancement of this system.

      Indeed. Their solution also doesn't solve the traffic congestion problem. Their system is on normal roads and therefore you have to drive it which means you can't do anything else for the 1.5 hours you're spending in the traffic each morning and evening. Christ, their solution doesn't even solve the problem they say it solves... "with kiosks at locations around a city or small community." Which means you still have to go to a kiosk to pick one up, which is just another name for a stop or station.

      "said Fran

    • Is walking.

      Seriously.

      The fact that the idea is unattractive comes from the fact that development in most cities is not planned in a way that makes it feasible. I don't necessarily mean literally walking for a mile, I mean putting things people want into cities with sufficient density that most of the time you can walk from one place you want to be to another place.

      Manhattan was designed this way by accident; New York was founded at the tip of a narrow island, and island that had good bedrock for anchoring
  • I read about plans for a stackable "modular car system" uncannily similar to this MIT City Car proposal -- back in the 1970's!

    Damn, I feel old.... :-/
  • Overkill solution (Score:5, Informative)

    by ElGanzoLoco (642888) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:20PM (#21248001) Homepage
    The article presents this car as a complement to public transportation (I quote TFA):

    "The problem with mass transit is it kind of takes you to where you want to go and at the approximate time you want to get there, but not exactly. Sometimes you have to walk up to a mile from the last train or subway stop," said Franco Vairani, a Ph.D. candidate at MIT's school of architecture.
    OK, now, I understand the appeal of light-weight, stackable, "community" cars in some cases (such as sprawling suburban environments) but seriously - in most cities there are simpler, more effective means to do that "last mile". Bicycles come to mind as a pretty simple, cheap, and reliable solution. The Paris municipality recently introduced a close-to-free (29 euros per year, first 30 minutes free, then price increases each half-hour so prevent you from keeping the bike all day long) community rent-a-bike service called Vélib [paris.fr], which consists of over 10,000 bikes located in hundreds of stations scattered around the city. It works well now that the first glitches have been ironed out. A mile on a bike takes about 10 minutes, is good for you, consumes no energy, and is manageable in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

    Also, any decent public transportation system should have much less than a mile between two metro/bus/tramway stations - leaving the maximum walking distance to half a mile. That is the case of many European cities.

    On a related note, the ever-awesome Dutchs invented the Bike Dispenser [bikedispenser.com], which I have yet to see in real life but which looks absolutely wicked. In my opinion this looks much more manageable than 1,200-pounds electric stackable cars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Colin Smith (2679)
      DB in Berlin has bikes all over the place. That works well too. You see one, phone them, they give you a code to unlock it and you ride where you want to go.

      http://www.callabike-interaktiv.de/kundenbuchung/ [callabike-interaktiv.de]

      We have a similar system in Glasgow in Scotland which I have just experienced whereby you lock up your bike to something solid and some little fucker comes along and chisels your lock off and takes your bike.
    • is it kind of takes you to where you want to go and at the approximate time you want to get there, but not exactly.

      There are parking problems and traffic jams. Last time I drove to the airport along the 101 it took me at least 30 minutes longer than I expected. When I got there it took me a while to find parking- a long distance from where I wanted to be. Independent transport is not as reliable as some would make out.

    • Bikes have no cargo capacity, which means they're no good for getting groceries or hauling laundry. Bikes have no foul weather capacity, so you're back to square one during the winter half of the year, or when it's raining. Bikes have no distance capacity, or hill climbing power (granted, this is the cyclist rather than the cycle), so this is going to be a problem in most North American urban sprawl environments. What's the point of walking half a mile to a bike dispenser just to bike for half a mile to
    • The problem with public transportation is that poor people use it. This system would be more expensive -- probably wildly so -- and thus would mean that you could get where you want to get without owning a car, and without seeing (or sitting next to) poor people.

      This system is a great idea. It will move people around who contribute money to campaigns, and have political clout, compared to real mass transit, and can be paid for with the same money we currently put into mass transit. Then the rich people w
  • by momfreeek (720443) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:26PM (#21248085)
    This seems like the natural progression of a couple of existing ideas: http://www.smart.com/ [smart.com] Smart cars are popular in uk (I don't know about elsewhere). Small, efficient and comfortable. Yeah, everyone thought they looked stupid at first but they are immensely practical. http://www.streetcar.co.uk/ [streetcar.co.uk] A similar hire a car by the hour type scheme with no human interaction. This has been running for a few years in uk and appears to be growing steadily.
  • How does this service change when the cars become completely autonomous? Would there even be a need to park them?
  • by Loke the Dog (1054294) on Monday November 05, 2007 @07:39PM (#21248229)
    "The problem with mass transit is it kind of takes you to where you want to go and at the approximate time you want to get there, but not exactly. Sometimes you have to walk up to a mile from the last train or subway stop,"

    Yep, that's a big problem. Walking up to a mile? Unthinkable! I'd get all sweaty and stuff.

    Seriously, it's funny how fast food is always blamed for increasing obesity in the western world. I'd say we Europeans on average eat about as much fast food as Americans, but we also travel by train and bus a lot more. But riding the bus just isn't as hip as doing Atkins...
    • Yep, that's a big problem. Walking up to a mile? Unthinkable! I'd get all sweaty and stuff.
      and
      But riding the bus just isn't as hip as doing Atkins...

      I know you're halfway joking, and I do get what your saying and agree, just not completely. The problem is that Americans are expected to not show up to work all sweaty, and are expected to have reliable transportation, which always means owning and using a car. Very few employers have showers and changing rooms, if you are indeed bicycling in to work. And afte
  • by moosesocks (264553) on Monday November 05, 2007 @08:03PM (#21248545) Homepage
    Although I do commend MIT on their efforts, I can't help but think that this is another vastly impractical academic pipedream (a la those who predicted the Segway would change the world. It's a masterpiece of engineering, but let's be realistic here...).

    On the other hand, tiny cars are nothing new. They don't even need to be electric... if you're getting 100MPG with a petrol engine (and in a city car at that), the expense of making the vehicle fully electric seems rather silly. You'd probably also do more damage to the environment by manufacturing the batteries as well...

    Like the Segway, the MIT concept looks expensive. Impractically so. You're not going to see these things adopted at all unless they're considerably cheaper than a motorbike. In fact, if you lowered the price down to about what a plain old bicycle costs, you'd be even better.

    Such a vehicle actually exists. The Peel P50 [wikipedia.org] made in 1962 sold for about £200, gets 100mpg, and was (and still is) street legal in the UK.

    The guys from Top Gear did a hilarious review [youtube.com] of the car last week, and proved that you could indeed drive it TO work (in the elevator, down the corridor, and to your desk). It's even got a handle on the back to pick it up with.

    Yeah, it's hideously impractical, but then again, so is MIT's proposal.

    Still, it's nice to dream.
  • by CrAlt (3208)
    So what happens when you hit someone in one of these things? Or run in to another car?

    Who's insurance gets to pay for damages?

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Monday November 05, 2007 @08:06PM (#21248595) Homepage
    One thing this category of solution doesn't address is that people use their cars for transportation and temporary storage of...stuff. Boring stuff like an extra coat and an umbrella, work-related files or equipment, books, food/drink, maps, groceries, not to mention children.

    Rented vehicles of any kind, or small vehicles meant to only carry people and not much else reduce the abilty to carry stuff around. Riding a bike while carrying a briefcase can be a challenge, let alone hauling a network switch or linux server from train to bus, bus to rented folding car, rented folding car to bike, bike to building. The plain fact about public or shared transit is that storage or transfer of even the most trivial item throughout the day becomes a nightmare.

    It's easy to treat this as an irrelevant issue but it's a vital part of everyday life and urban planners need to stop ignoring it if they want to find solutions that people can actually live with.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rabiddeity (941737)
      For small personal items? Get a backpack. When I ride a motorcycle, I accept the fact that I have to ride light. I can't carry lots of stuff around with me, but at the very least I can still strap on a backpack with a map, tire gauge, pen, notepad, collapsing umbrella (about 30cm long), a book or two, and rain gear. And I still have room for a few small things, and a net I can use to tie things onto the back. I could probably fit a briefcase in there if I got creative. I have a grocery store within wa
  • GM Built a similar modular electric car a while ago. The entire battery + drive train was in a thin rectangular brick upon which different "mission modules". So you could have a crossover shell, a sport shell, a pickup shell, and swap them in and out. Of course, the economics of the car were so prohibitive that dealers laughed at it, but it points the way to future technologies.

    Such a thing would obviously radically redefine cars.
  • Shared cars? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by reboot246 (623534)
    Can you imagine the smell? It would have to be worse than any plane or bus smell.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday November 05, 2007 @08:53PM (#21249101) Homepage Journal
    I'd love MIT to demo a car like that which rides on NYC subway rails, rolls out of buffers (stocked by trend analysis) on demand, is routed point to point the best route, links up with other cars through their common pathways for increased mutual efficiency, and overall acts like a timeshared private car with autopilot.

    In short, convert circuit-switched subways to packet switched rail networks. With better supply fit to actual demand, better energy and routing efficiency strategies, better redundancy, and less room for crooks to hide in unobserved.

    The NYC subway switching and signaling systems were last really overhauled in 1937, and still retain major incompatibilities between what was once 3 independent, competing subway companies (and their different tracks/routes/stations). The whole thing should be renovated for the 21st Century, including the update to packet-switching as modern as was the circuit-switching back in the early 20th Century when it transformed New York life into unprecedented convenience, safety and efficiency.

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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