The Ultimate Compact Car: MIT CityCar Project Could Change the Way City-Dwellers Get Around

Posted by Jake Safane

Car sharing has caught fire over the last few years, with Zipcar being the paradigm. But this relatively new concept is already on the verge of a revolution, thanks to an invention spawned from MIT’s Media Lab.

Dubbed CityCar, the new two-passenger vehicle is smaller than a Fiat, fully electric, and has no engine. Instead of having to parallel park, you can park a CityCar by pulling in to face the curb; a folding mechanism then compacts the front and back ends of the car.

As a result of this innovative design, three CityCars can fit in one traditional parking spot.

“It’s not necessarily a new idea, but the way we’re going about it is novel we think,” said Nicholas Pennycooke, a lead Research Assistant for the project and graduate student at MIT. “What we thought was—what about having an ecosystem of mobility?”

CityCar began approximately ten years ago as the brainchild of MIT professor William Mitchell and was part of a larger project called Smart Cities. Smart Cities attempts to improve the overall efficiency of urban areas (Mr. Mitchell has since passed away and the group now operates under the Changing Places project).

As Pennycooke noted, there has been substantial population growth in cities to the point that over 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. This creates a whole host of logistical problems such as pollution and congestion. The Smart Cities team, composed of Mitchell and a group of approximately five MIT graduate students, decided that transportation was a major problem for cities.

“The project really started talking about… trying to figure out ways how cities could be designed to be more responsive to its inhabitants,” said Pennycooke.

In addition to the innovations in the car itself—everything from sensors that help reduce accidents to a personal identification system that remembers individual presets such as a user’s seat alignment—CityCar is also working on developing the infrastructure to support the vehicle. The group wants the cars to be based on a one-way car-sharing model, meaning that a user can pick up a car in one location and drop it off at another. Such a model would create the opportunity to have less cars and more efficient parking systems. Within these parking systems, there could be automatic charging stations so that the cars are ready for the next users.

As a result of several years of work and building a half-scale prototype, the CityCar team was able to have its idea picked up by Denokinn, a Spanish innovation company. Now under the banner of Hiriko, there should be a fully functional prototype based on CityCar by the end of 2011, which means that the vehicles could hit the public sector in as little as four years.

So while people may think that the next great vehicle innovation is a mystery, it seems that the future could already be present at the MIT Media Lab.


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Posted by Jake Safane on Oct 27 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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