Three to a space: the folding car

Jun 25, 2012 By Jim Motavalli, Mother Nature Network (mnn.com)

If you're of a certain age - or just watch a lot of Hulu or Nick at Nite - you probably remember the folding (and flying) car from "The Jetsons."

The forthcoming Hiriko Fold doesn't fly, but it does fold.

To make this work, regular controls had to be replaced with drive-by-wire, and the accelerator, steering wheel and brake are gone in favor of an aerospace-type yoke that (as in a Segway), is moved forward to move the vehicle forward, and back for reversing. Left and right are for steering.

Just like in the Jetsons' car (and the 1950s BMW Isetta), the driver climbs out through the glass canopy. It's strictly for the urban driver, with top speed of about 31 mph, and range of 75 miles on quick-recharge (15 minutes) lithium-ion batteries. Electric motors are at the car's four wheels. It can be registered as a quadricycle or motorcycle in some markets.

are urban vehicles whose short range are well-suited for city driving. But cities don't have many split-level homes with garages - people live in tight quarters in apartments. So where's the charging going to happen? and, to a lesser extent, pay lots, offer some kind of solution, but not everybody can afford those choices.

If you could get cars more tightly packed - three to a space, for instance - then city charge farms could work better. I've seen the concept of autonomous-driving cars dropping off their passengers, then boarding an elevator to be put away in a high rise until needed again. That works - but only if the tech does. Having the cars fold up for storage makes it work better. "A systematic solution to major societal changes," said Jose Manual Barroso, the president of the European Commission, at the time of the unveiling. You couldn't say as much for the fascinating concept at right, a folding car that looks cool but would never make it on the road.

The Fold, as it's known, has its genesis in a MIT Media Lab project sponsored by GM. Writes Steve Ashley for the BBC, "The discussion led to the concept of a small EV that could be folded and stacked in line, and shared by multiple users in urban environments in Asia, North America and Europe."

The Hiriko Driving Mobility Group, based in the Basque region of Spain, visited the MIT lab in 2009, and leveraged some Spanish government funding to produce what became the Hiriko Fold. According to Kent Larson, director of the Media Lab's Changing Places Group, everything is a tight fit. "It's designed more like an iPhone than a tower computer," he told Ashley.

The Fold is going into production in Europe next year, priced around $16,400. Trucks and convertibles are envisioned.

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User comments : 19

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Eikka
3.3 / 5 (4) Jun 25, 2012
The lenghts you have to go to force an idea to work.

Apparently, to make electric cars work, you have to change the entire concept of cars into four-wheel foldable mopeds that are stored in communal charging lockers. It's the traditional "good idea" that would make sense if the world was different - so the world must be made different.

If it's that hard, just get a taxi, or think of an alternative powertrain that actually works for your intended target group.

SoylentGrin
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2012
How can you have a headline like "Folding Car!" and not have pics? Sheesh...
Vendicar_Decarian
2.5 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2012
Excellent. Cars should be electrically powered small plasic clad boxes that run on 3 or 4 wheels, 1 up so that the front profile has the minimum dimensions possible to reduce drag, and make it possible for roads that are 1.5 times as wide as a 2 lane road today to manage 4 lanes of traffic.

"Apparently, to make electric cars work, you have to change the entire concept of cars into four-wheel foldable mopeds" - Eikka

Those who worship the automobile are suffering from some kind of mental defect, like those who worship cows or, lamp posts or rubber gloves.
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2012
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 26, 2012
Those who worship the automobile are suffering from some kind of mental defect.


Nice strawman. There's nothing wrong with foldable mopeds, except that they are less versatile than proper cars.

The main problem is the idea that we should make something like that happen. In order to make it happen, the society must be different: there must be no other alternative than to use communally shared foldable electric moped-cars, because otherwise people would choose something better.

It excludes the possibility that small cars running on, let's say synthetic methanol would be available and preferred by people because a) you don't have to charge one every night b) you can drive faster and farther, and most importantly: c) you don't have to share it - it's yours.

If you have ever lived in a city where there's a public bicycle program, you'd know that over time people just neglect them, because they don't belong to anybody really. The bikes end up lost or broken, or vandalized.
88HUX88
not rated yet Jun 26, 2012
But if it's not yours then you could choose a folding moped or folding car at different times,depending on the use, as you say there must be no other alternative because human nature will want to use a personal thing as a status symbol. Those who worship the automobile are indoctrinated at all levels by the society we live in. It is a significant shift to think of personal transport as just that - and not a personality extension or lifestyle choice. A first step is to tax car users and hypothecate that money for spending on public transport. When financial innevitability has caused the vast majority to switch to a public transport network, based on hubs, then is the time to introduce such cars for short journeys, it would be a step up rather than a step down from what we have now. But as always people will vote with their wallets.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2012
human nature will want to use a personal thing as a status symbol.

But not everythig you own is something you see as a status symbol. It's more a problem of the values a society holds than of the individual what constitutes a status symbol and what doesn't.

Apparently, to make electric cars work, you have to change the entire concept of cars into four-wheel foldable mopeds that are stored in communal charging lockers.

Electric cars do give us options to (re)explore the concepts of mobility as they don't have to carry a lot of the workaround junk with them that is needed for combustion engines. 'Folding' is only one of the possibilities here. I think it's worthwhile to have a good, hard look at what other advantages (besides eco-friendliness) EVs can potentially offer. Owning a small car in a city where parking space is at a premium has taught me the immense value of such things.
88HUX88
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
"But not everythig you own is something you see as a status symbol. It's more a problem of the values a society holds than of the individual what constitutes a status symbol and what doesn't."

So other people pick my status symbols, I hadn't considered that.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jun 28, 2012
So other people pick my status symbols, I hadn't considered that.

Yes. Other people define what status IS. You don't (and can't) accord yourself status (unless you suffer from delusions of grandeur).

If you buy something no one cares about (say, a cubic kilometer of deep space) then that won't be a status symbol. It may be personally valuable to you (you may get a warm, fuzzy feeling out of kowing that it's yours) - but as long as it doesn't seem valuable to anyone else it's no good as a status symbol.

If, at some point, people take transportation for granted, and public transport systems are the method of choice (private transport being cumbersome, expensive, impractical, etc. ) then cars just won't cut it as a status symbol anymore (much like washing machines/refrigerators/telephones did 100 years ago but don't do so now).
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
Electric cars do give us options to (re)explore the concepts of mobility as they don't have to carry a lot of the workaround junk with them that is needed for combustion engines.


A moped engine basically fits between your legs. It's much smaller and lighter than the batteries for the electric vehicle that is proposed, even a four stroke one so you don't have to smell like gasoline all the time. Think about it.

It is a significant shift to think of personal transport as just that - and not a personality extension or lifestyle choice. A first step is to tax car users and hypothecate that money for spending on public transport.


In other words, artifically reduce people's mobility and options until there are none left. Then you can give them foldable electric mopeds like throwing a dog a bone.

The problem here is, that people like you see other people as the problem, and think that you got the right idea about what should be. That is how dictators and tyrants are made.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
A moped engine basically fits between your legs.

An electric engine for such a size vehicel fits inside the hub of a wheel (and batteries can come in basically any shape). This may not be the optimal position but it gives you entirely new possibilities for arranging your seating/standing/lying position.

even a four stroke one so you don't have to smell like gasoline all the time. Think about it.

Thought about it. But if I ever ride a motorcycle again it'll be an alectric one (for ecological reasons). 'Smell' has never been a selling point (positive or negative) for me.

Eikka
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
if, at some point, people take transportation for granted, and public transport systems are the method of choice (private transport being cumbersome, expensive, impractical, etc. ) then cars just won't cut it as a status symbol anymore


Even if you turn that around to better reflect reality where the public transport is cumbersome and impractical, cars still aren't a status symbol because everyone has one, or has access to one. Even the pretentious hippies who say they don't want to own a car, yet are always bumming you for a ride when the busses don't go.

Better cars, bigger cars, more wasteful cars are a status symbol - but not cars in general.

In a society where public transportation is the only option, other things become the status symbol, such as affording to live near the transportation hubs while the lower classes are forced to move further out because the property prices automatically go up near the transportation hubs.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
In other words, artifically reduce people's mobility and options until there are none left.

People do commute by train, subway and bus to work because it's preferrable to hunting for parking spaces and standing in traffic jams/gridlocks. It's a matter of context. What people want and what people need are often two different things. Do I want a car that can go 500km on one tank of fuel? Sure. It's nice to have the option to do so. But objectively: when was the last time I went that far in one day with my car? A decade ago. So do I NEED this capability? Not really. For me personal transport systems (or medium range EVs) make a lot of sense. I just want to get from A to B. Cheap? Ubiquitus? Not imposing on others (e.g. by polluting their air)? Count me in. I don't need a car as status symbol.

Again this is a matter of context (what country you live in, how close things are, what types of other transport are available and at what price, how convenient they are...)
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
Better cars, bigger cars, more wasteful cars

In a society where public transportation is the only option, other things become the status symbol

Sure. People will, probably for a long time to come, define their status buy what they have (a gun, a ferrari, a yacht, ... ) rather than by what they are.
Buying status symbols is way easier than actually BEING something (a decent human being, a valuable contributor to society, ... stuff that isn't really seen as bring 'worth' anything today because all a person is 'worth' is only ever counted in monetary units. And if you ever pass on some money in favor of one of the above you're automatically branded a social loser).

Humanity will have to grow up some before that changes.
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
An electric engine for such a size vehicel fits inside the hub of a wheel (and batteries can come in basically any shape). This may not be the optimal position but it gives you entirely new possibilities for arranging your seating/standing/lying position.


The placement and size of the engine is basically a non-issue in terms of creative vehicle design. You also have the option of a fuel cell instead of battery operation, or a microturbine with mechanical or electrical transmission. It's not a dichotomy of pistons vs. batteries.

Interestingly enough, the Germans developed an in-wheel combustion engine in the 30's for more streamlined motorcycles.
Pic: http://strangeveh...ola1.jpg

But if I ever ride a motorcycle again it'll be an alectric one (for ecological reasons).


And if ecological reasons were lifted, by having cheap synthetic fuels available, would you still restrict yourself to electric drive? Would you restrict others?
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
Do I want a car that can go 500km on one tank of fuel? Sure. It's nice to have the option to do so. But objectively: when was the last time I went that far in one day with my car? A decade ago. So do I NEED this capability?


You have a rather myopic view of what it means to be able to drive 500 km on a tank of fuel.

It means that you can go for weeks without refueling, and never having to worry about running out of fuel because there's always more than enough so you don't even have to think about it. We are so accustomed of cars just going that we aren't even sure what we're supposed to do if it just stops in the middle of traffic. What do you do? Leave it there? Walk home?

Try replacing your fuel tank with a 1 gallon jug, or simply drive on empty all the time, and see how stressing and frustrating it feels when you miss your highway exit, or have unplanned business outside of your normal route and you don't know if you can quite make it.
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
Humanity will have to grow up some before that changes.


If by growing up you mean abandoning petty status rivalry, then I'm all for it. But if by growing up you mean social planning because you want to apply a specific solution on the people, then I'd still remind of the inevitable consequences.

It's not just a status symbol issue that forcing public transportation increases property value near the transportation hubs, and decreases it elsewhere, because goods and people need to move. You can't make public transportation available everywhere all the time without making it as inefficient as private cars.

Labor has to meet work, products and services have to meet consumers, so automatically you segregate the society into the mobiles and the immobiles. To solve that problem then, you have to dive deeper into social planning and meddle with property prices and who lives where, which then leads to other economic issues as you try to micromanage the society.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
But if by growing up you mean social planning because you want to apply a specific solution on the people

Not at all. Change (at least lasting change) only comes about when people want that change. Not when it is imposed.
But I don't think presenting the facts (i.e. making people aware of the consequences of their actions) or providing alternatives is the same thing as 'social manipualtion'.

public transportation increases property value near the transportation hubs,

That depends if transportation hubs exist at all. Picture something like those self driving cars BMW and Google are experimenting with. If you can order one whenever you needit to show up atyour front door - wher exactly will be the advantage of 'living near a hub'? Especially if these cars don't need to return to central locations (other than for maintenance) but can just stop at recharge stations strewn about the landscape.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 28, 2012
You can't make public transportation available everywhere all the time without making it as inefficient as private cars.

I disagree. It's a lot more inefficient to have everyone driving an SUV or pickup truck every day - just because they actualy need its full capabilities once or twice a year (or even once or twice a week) instead of having the option of getting a personal transport vehicle. So what if it's not 'yours' for the duration?

so automatically you segregate the society into the mobiles and the immobiles

Strawman. Even people who do not have a car today aren't 'immobile' by any means. And there's really no reason why all public transport vehicles have to be the same size. If you need something larger order something larger. Use the size you NEED TODAY instead of the size that is large enough to fulfill any potential need that you might have at any one time in the next decade. That's just overkill.

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