March 9, 2008

Foldable ‘City Car’ Will Drive and Park Itself

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a revolutionary, ultramodern "City Car" that can drive and park itself. 

Once the car maneuvers itself to its destination, a press of a button causes the vehicle's computers to locate a parking spot behind other "City Cars", and then fold in half to be stacked in a method similar to the way shopping carts are stacked at grocery stores.

"We have reinvented urban mobility," Bill Mitchell, a professor in architecture and director of the project at an MIT think tank in Cambridge, told Reuters.

Although the new car has yet to be built, Mitchell and his team of about a dozen engineers and architects are confident their computer-generated work is on target to deliver a full-scale model this spring.  A miniature model is currently on display at a campus museum.

Mitchell and his team feel their "City Car" could provide an innovative solution to chronic traffic congestion, pollution and energy use since the golf cart-sized vehicle would run on a rechargeable battery.

The car's design shows the two-seater vehicle will be slightly smaller than Daimler Mercedes-Benz's Smart Car, and roughly half the size of a typical compact car. 

"It's a virtual computer on wheels," Franco Vairani, designer of the vehicle's foldable frame, told Reuters.  He predicts the frame will shrink the car to one-eighth of the space needed to park a typical car.   While parked, Vairani said the City Car would be recharged with a hook up to an electricity grid.

Hundreds could be stacked around a city and "you would just go and swipe your (credit) card and take the first one available and drive away," Vairani said.

"People wouldn't have to worry about where to park their cars in town and automobiles would take up less urban space, leaving more room for parks and walkways," he added.

Team engineer Peter Schmitt says the car would have independently powered robotic wheels and be controlled using a computerized drive-by-wire system with a button or joystick.

However, Christopher Borroni-Bird, director of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts at U.S. automaker General Motors Corp and a key consultant for the project, doesn't believe the new City Car is quite yet ready.

"What we have is a very intriguing concept," Borroni-Bird told Reuters in a telephone interview. "It is certainly a very promising idea, but I don't want to say it is ready for production ... there's still a lot of work yet to take it from concept to production."

Mitchell said he would like to have the car at a manufacturing stage sometime within the next three to four years.


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