Stackable smart robotic cars

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working for several years with the famous architect Frank Gehry on a concept of smart, pollution-free and stackable cars that you could pick at a subway station or in an airport.

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working for several years with the famous architect Frank Gehry on a concept of smart cars which will be built by General Motors. And these future robotic cars will be pollution-free and easily customized according to the Guardian. But the most interesting aspect of the project is that engineers have really come with a new concept: stackable cars that you could pick at a subway station or in an airport. Of course, these cars will not be sold before several years.

Here is the first paragraph of the Guardian article.

It is not every day that a concept car re-writes the rules of more than 100 years of motoring. In development for four years by a team of architects and engineers led by William Mitchell, former head of the school of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as part of his Smart Cities research group, a new MIT car is borne of a complete rethink of people's relationship with their cars in the ever-expanding cities of the future.

Below is an illustration of an early concept of this smart city car (Credit: MIT's Smart Cities research group). For more information about this specific concept car, here is how it was described by the Boston Globe Magazine in February 2005.

Smart Cities' concept car

One of the major objectives in designing these cars was safety with a goal of zero passenger deaths. Beyond seatbelts and airbags, the passenger seats have been conceived "as gentle robots that know how to hold you safely and comfortably under any conditions that may be encountered."

In fact, these smart cars have been built around five concepts: electrically powered, independently controllable robotic wheels; an exoskeleton that connects the wheels and supports the passenger cabin; the replacement of traditional steering column and dashboard arrangements by a drive-by-wire concept; a lightweight, technologically advanced passenger compartment suspended safely within the exoskeleton; and safety as mentioned above.

Below is another version of this concept car with its robotic wheels (Credit: MIT's Smart Cities research group). You'll find more details on this flyer, "Smart City Cars in the 21st Century" (PDF format, 2 pages, 91 KB).

Smart Cities' prototype car

But let's look now at the revolutionary aspect of this project: stackable cars.

The MIT team started from scratch to come up with their own concept: a stackable, shareable, electric, two-passenger car. "Imagine a shopping cart -- a vehicle that can stack -- you can take the first vehicle out of a stack and off you go," says Mr Chin [, an architect and engineer at MIT's media lab.] "These stacks would be placed throughout the city. A good place would be outside a subway station or a bus line or an airport, places where there's a convergence of transportation lines and people."

Here is another illustration showing the concept of these stackable cars (Credit: Franco Vairani, MIT's Smart Cities research group). You'll find a larger version of this image on the poster announcing a design workshop about this concept car which was held in September 2005.

Smart Cities' stackable cars

If you're interested in these future cars, you should read another document from the MIT Media Lab, "Concept Car with GM and Frank O. Gehry" (PDF format, 32 pages, 1.51 MB).

Sources: Alok Jha, The Guardian, December 29, 2005; and various web sites

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