Smart Cities Group at MIT Media Lab Wins 2009 Buckminster Fuller Challenge

May 11, 2009 - 10:06:44 PM

Sustainable Personal Mobility: The CityCar, the RoboScooter, and Mobility-on-Demand Systems

Winning Team:

William J. Mitchell, Ryan Chin, Charles Guan, William Lark, Jr., Michael Chia-Liang Lin, Dimitris Papanikolaou, Arthur Petron, Raul-David "Retro" Poblano, Andres Sevtsuk

Excerpts from the winning entry:

"The gasoline-powered private automobile was one of the greatest inventions of all time. Over the last century, it has radically transformed our daily lives and the forms of our cities. However, it has become increasingly apparent that there are strict limits to scales at which automobile-based personal mobility systems can effectively and responsibly operate, and that we are fast approaching those limits. The proximity of limits shows up in the forms of rapidly growing negative externalities to automobile use – urban congestion, peripheral sprawl and inefficient land-use, excessive energy-use, petroleum dependence and the associated geopolitical/economic problems, local air and noise pollution, and carbon emissions contributing substantially to climate change.

In response to these problems, incremental improvements to automobile and road infrastructure technology are often worth pursuing. However, these technologies are very highly evolved and mature, so there is limited benefit to be derived from further evolution. An evolutionary path to improvement will not have a sufficient impact, within the necessary time frame, on the pressing problems of urban sustainability and global climate change. Instead, a radical reinvention of urban personal mobility systems is required."

"We have designed several new battery-electric vehicles – the CityCar, the RoboScooter, and the GreenWheel electric bicycle – that are utilized within mobility-on-demand systems. All of these vehicles are extremely lightweight, have small footprints, have no tailpipe emissions, and are extremely frugal in energy use. This is accomplished without compromising safety, comfort, convenience, or fun. Mobility-on-demand systems provide racks of these vehicles at closely spaced, convenient locations around an urban service area. Vehicles automatically recharge while they are in these racks. Users walk to the nearest rack, swipe a credit card, pick up a vehicle, drive it to a rack convenient to their destination, and drop it off. These are, in other words, ubiquitously distributed one-way rental systems. These systems are highly efficient in reducing urban congestion, energy use, and carbon emissions. They are synergistic with ubiquitous wireless networking and distributed intelligence, and with solar-friendly, wind-friendly, fuel-cell-friendly smart electrical grids. There are some attractive business models for their introduction, and the political and economic climate is increasingly propitious."

Learn More  about the winning entry

Go to the MIT Smart Cities Website