By on March 11, 2008

bitcar_citystack2.jpgThe Register reports that MIT scientists have unveiled a new, "stacking vehicle" concept which will "reinvent urban mobility." The concept is based on stacks of small vehicles which fold up to stack together into small racks which would be located near subway stations or bus stops. The vehicles would be powered by "wheel robots:" tiny, self-contained, digitally controlled reconfigurable electric motors in each wheel. In theory, the system provides all-wheel power and steering, easy navigation of urban areas and best of all, sideways parking. The vehicles would charge while folded on their racks; the user would "simply take the first fully charged vehicle from the front of the stack." The concept's website states that "The City car is NOT a replacement for personal vehicles, taxis, buses, or trucks; it is a NEW vehicle type that promotes a socially responsible and more effective means of urban mobility." That doesn't conform to automotive safety standards. Never mind. Team leader architecture professor Bill Mitchell say he'd like to see the system in production in three to four years. Team member Christopher Borroni-Bird is a little more skeptical. "What we have is a very intriguing concept. It is certainly a very promising idea," GM's Director of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts said. "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." This from the people who champion E85, the Volt and two-mode hybrids.

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16 Comments on “Stacking Vehicles to “Reinvent Urban Mobility.” Or not....”

  • avatar

    I have a book of New Yorker cartoons, and even cartoons from the 1920s and 1930s show cranes lifting cars on top of each other, onto building setbacks, etc. as tongue-in-cheek ‘solutions’ to the parking crisis. Another old cartoon shows cars with triangular sections, some pointed up, others down, so they can squeeze tighter together in city traffic.

  • avatar

    So in an imperfect world where city cars are NOT replacements for our personal vehicles, we’ll have city cars fighting for parking space alongside normal cars.

  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    You know, I’m all for higher edumacation and MIT is a very good school, but these are not the people we should be looking to for transportation solutions. This is a non-starter on so many levels.

  • avatar

    Didn’t Nissan show a concept car like this in Geneva? Mind you, it wasn’t designed, I don’t think, to stack up, but it could park sideways.

  • avatar

    The problem here is one of accountability – we are simply not very good with things we don’t own. (It took the former Soviet Union 70 years to figure that one out, so don’t expect that the concept is immediately grasped.)

    Which means that “the user would simply take the first car in line” depends upon some pretty strict enforcing of “leave it as you found it.”

    And if you’ve ever worked with sprucing up rentals after a few days of use you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    This is even a problem in car-sharing setups, and requires some careful monitoring of users, but when that’s in place it will work.

    Is that feasible in the above setup? Probably not.

    I’ve seen a similar simulation with near-transport pods, that can be attached to transportation rods (think that you’re driving a car that turns into space you occupy on a “train”) — these cover medium distances; and you can even attach your pod to a larger intercity, inter-regional rod.

    Very cool concept, actually, that allows you to maintain your “personal space” and “storage” requirements – while letting you have freedom of movement where you need it.

    Think combining the best of the car and the train, with the potential speed while you’re resting of the latter for long hauls.

  • avatar

    This is pie-in-the-sky stuff that I’d expect from a high schooler. In fact, many acne-fighting youths are rightly indignant at having ‘their’ idea stolen and credited to a hoity-toity ivy league school, where one would normally expect real solutions to come from.

  • avatar

    Whew, I’m glad technology like this is becoming feasible. I was scared I might eventually have to walk.

  • avatar

    If I find one loose in the parking lot and return it to the rack, do I get a quarter?

  • avatar

    If it’s charging in station, it really shouldn’t be a “stack.” It should be a queue — First-In-Last-Out and not First-In-First-Out. If it’s FIFO, the bottom of the stack will sit and trickle charge while the top of the stack won’t have be charged to capacity.

  • avatar


    MIT is not in the Ivy League.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    This is what happens when an architecture professor leads a transportation concept team.

  • avatar


    I don’t think “stack” was being used in the programming sense. At least I hope not.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Let’s look at whether the concept of automated, short-term rental works in other contexts.

    In Paris, France you can rent a bicycle from thousands that can be found waiting for you in the streets. You register by mobile phone, and call an automated hotline when you want to use a bike. Unlocking and locking works by remote control, and damage to the bikes is within calculable limits.

    I haven’t tried the Paris system but a similar, somewhat less sophisticated bike-rental operation has been running in my home town for about four years, and I love it.

    We also have automated car-sharing which works pretty good, all things considered.

    For the above cases, well-planned IT is the foundation.

    The main problem with driving in large cities is parking, but also that most cars are too darn big and too safe for the required speeds. I think the MIT approach has excellent potential to supplement mass transit. Let’s not be luddites.

  • avatar

    So what happens to the system when the next little pod in line smells like someone used it as a public bathroom?

    If they have a little robot that cleans them, ok. Otherwise, back to the lab, Doc.

  • avatar

    Why not license more pedicabs?

  • avatar

    Wasn’t the Segway suppose to do this? I certainly remember the “reinvent urban mobility” hype.

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