MIT’s Smart Cities research group is out to change the way we think about cars (and the way we move around in urban areas). The group, headed by William J. Mitchell, author of books including Placing Words: Symbols, Space, and the City and Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, has put many of the ideas in these books to work in the world. They have designed a car which could transform vehicle technology. Smart Cities will deliver their concept (with style input from architect Frank Gehry) for the car to General Motors, who will produce a prototype in early 2006.
Mitchell and the Smart Cities group are hoping the MIT concept car will help minimize some of the problems that go along with driving in cities—parking, traffic, and pollution. Science writer Alok Jha recently spoke with Ryan Chin, an architect and engineer working with Mitchell on this project, about the project for an article in The Guardian:
"We have to think of city cars as not just small-footprint vehicles that can squeeze into tight spaces but ones that can work in unison and also be almost like a parasite that leeches on to mass-transit systems," says Mr Chin. While Smart changed the way people think about parking and size, the MIT engineers felt that, as it had not been widely adopted and congestion and pollution problems had got no better, its success had been limited.
So 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. "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."