Thursday, March 25, 2010

A network of miniature cars?

General Motors has teamed up with SAIC of China to produce three models of a rather odd-looking electric vehicle. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The EN-V - or Electric Networked-Vehicle - is a new two-seater concept vehicle that offers an autonomous mode which uses GPS and vehicle-to-vehicle communications along with distance-sensors and cameras to duck and weave its way through traffic using the quickest route.

The GM EN-V is an upright two-wheeled electric vehicle that has been developed by General Motors and its Chinese joint venture partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.

The core idea of the vehicle is personal mobility with a small footprint - both literally and environmentally.

The EN-V is a zero-emissions vehicle (provided it's recharged using 'green' energy), and the city runabout is designed to be plugged in to a regular powerpoint overnight, with a range of only about 40km.

The EN-V also operates like a social networking website, allowing occupants to communicate wirelessly with friends or business associates while on the road.

It's tiny, too. The EN-V is only 1.5-metres (just under 5 feet) long, and weighs just 500kg (about 1,100 pounds) - by comparison the Smart ForTwo ... is 2.7-metres (just under 9 feet) long, and weighs in at 750kg (about 1,650 pounds). If the numbers don't seem to add up, that's because of the EN-V's extra weight, which comes from the bank of lithium-ion batteries that are used to power the twin 3kW (about 4 horsepower) electric motors.

Three models of the EN-V have been produced - the red and racy looking Jiao (pride in English), the grey stealthy looking Miao (magic) and the bright and cheerful blue Xiao (laugh).

. . .

EN-V has been designed to ease the mind's of commuters when it comes to traffic congestion, parking availability, air quality and affordability, and GM says the EN-V is "the vehicle for tomorrow's cities".

The car - if you'd call it that - is based on the platform of the Segway (two-wheeled balance-based personal transporter). Under that funky looking shell hides two wheels, and two occupants can fit side by side in the cabin, which is undeniably futuristic in its design.

GM says the EN-V should shift the way people think about vehicles.

"The EN-V concept represents a major breakthrough in the research that GM has been doing to bring vehicle autonomy to life," says Alan Taub, global vice-president of research and development for GM.

"The building blocks that enable the autonomous capabilities found on the EN-V concept such as lane departure warning, blind zone detection and adaptive cruise control are being used in some GM vehicles on the road today," he says.

Despite launching in Shanghai, the EN-V will not only be for Chinese cities - GM, SAIC and Segway have developed it for mega-cities around the world.

Estimates suggest that 60 per cent of global population will live in cities by 2030. The EN-V could well come in handy, then.

There's more at the link. Here's a video of the announcement of the vehicles.

I'm intrigued by the concept . . . but what happens to a car balancing on two wheels if it gets into an accident? Surely it'll topple, and cause additional injuries to its occupants? I suppose GM and SAIC have thought about that, and built in safety features to compensate, but it's still a concern for me.



reflectoscope said...

The first time one of these gets hit by something bigger than a Prius, the dream is over.

I like the idea of more efficient transportation, but as long as these things need to share the road with three ton SUVs driven by dubiously competent drivers then they are pretty impractical.

If they can be used away from main roads (perhaps in something like London's downtown?) then they could be a pretty slick way of getting someone from A to B at better traffic densities than conventional automobiles.


Noons said...

Can't wait to see the first chain accident in the motorways, involving three hundred of these and one prime mover.
Looooove natural selection...

Bob said...

Why am I picturing the spacecraft in WALL-E? And all of those seats zooming around inside? That's all I can think of as I see this thing.

Anonymous said...

From Joe in PNG

How do you keep one cool in the summer? A/C is a huge drain on engine power. And that little bubble shape is terrific for becoming a sweat box when the sun is out.

And then, how do you keep it warm in the winter? Most cars use waste heat from the engine coolant... but this really does not have one. At least not one that's easy to get heat from. And again, using electricty to power heat coils is a huge drain on the batterys.

A neat idea, but in the end, it won't work.

Anonymous said...

Where do you put your groceries? And how well does it handle in the 30 mph winds we have around here? I'll pass for now, thanks.

James said...

no matter the weakness of the concept, I'd beg for these over mass transit trains

Anonymous said...

Steering? Or do you just lean one way or the other?

B Woodman

PeterT said...

I bet it will be built for mini people.... I can just see trying to stuff my 6'6" frame into one of those.... and it looks like I'd probably bash my head at least once every 1/2 dozen attempts to exit it.

The idea is cool though. I suspect it would need it's own infrastructure, something bigger than a sidewalk, but less than typical roads/highways.


Anonymous said...

"The first time one of these gets hit by something bigger than a Prius, the dream is over."

Hmmm. I wonder if they said the same thing when the motorcycle was invented?