Design for Mobility

While there are a tremendous amount of new mobility ideas being introduced each month now, allowing us to reimagine how people will travel in the future, there is less focus on reinventing how we will actually create this future.

I recently met with a top electric vehicle engineer, and after discussing a number of topics, we began to talk about the future of co-creation and 3D printing. It didn’t take long for me to realize he was having a hard time understanding how this future might actually work.

While there are a tremendous amount of new mobility ideas being introduced each month now, allowing us to reimagine how people will travel in the future, there is less focus on reinventing how we will actually create this future.

For this engineer, or any mobility innovator, it’s important to understand the future of mobility will be multimodal, and the coming ecosystem will be more vehicle diverse. Our current automobile “monoculture” has mainly had consumers using one type of vehicle for most all trips they make and has so since the Model T became available to the masses. But new mobility services (and apps), will make intermodal changes easier than we can imagine today. And this will allow for more efficient, right-sized mobility systems.

I pointed to the explosion of shared e-scooters in major cities, and how micromobility is taking hold. I mentioned the numerous new autonomous vehicle shuttle companies that are developing new types of lower-speed, local mobility solutions. It seems to me we are moving into a new mobility world with two classes of mobility: one for city or regional freeway-capable (conventional sized) vehicles, and a new large array of local mobility vehicles to travel about in a city’s downtown, around neighborhoods, large campuses, or other dense environments.

While many of you are designers, those of you who aren’t should like that generally vehicle design takes place inside a locked and secure design studio, where designers, engineers, and modelers work together on a new vehicle design. While these staffs are highly talented, they operate in a manner done before the Internet reached the world, and thus with a process that limits involvement from a multitude of outside collaborators.

I mentioned to this engineer my recent experience working at Local Motors, which focuses on co-creation and 3D printing. None of Local Motors’ autonomous shuttle competitors are leveraging these new vehicle design possibilities. Navya, Easy Mile, Transdev, and others are developing shuttles in the same old way; creating a generic mass-produced shuttle design for all markets.

Unfortunately, while Local Motors has been developing a compelling new vehicle development platform, they have failed to effectively demonstrate their new model, as they have shown only one design, that looks mass-produced. Yes, they have crowdsourced their shuttle design, but they have not shown other custom versions designed specifically for key market applications. There have been opportunities for Local Motors to create a custom shuttle. For example, they had a major hospital campus seeking a way to move five or more patients in wheelchairs between two of their hospitals, 1.5 miles apart. And a major Canadian casino sought a unique shuttle design that allowed their customers to know the shuttle picking them up belonged to the casino. The casino operator didn’t just want special paint and graphics, but a special design of the shuttle. But the company unfortunately didn’t pursue these opportunities.

Some engineers don’t realize that new local mobility vehicles don’t have to meet FMVSS standards, that their safety comes from low-speed travel, not complex body safety design. Future local vehicle designs, whether for personal or group mobility, can have designs based on the contexts where they are used. They may not even look much like vehicles; but rather like roving “places,” small mobile urban modules offering new commercial, office, and living solutions.

I admitted to the engineer that crowdsourcing (or co-creating) new vehicle designs is still in the very early days. In fact, I can’t point to one amazing co-creation project. And while I see the public at large becoming a part of this process in the future by providing ideas, just bringing a wider array of professionals (such as vehicle designers together with architects) will deliver amazing future vehicle designs on its own.

One exciting co-creation platform we did discuss is Neighborland (neighborland.com). The online platform for the public to co-create city improvements is yielding 20,000 participants on some projects. This is very much the way of the future IMO.

While it’s harder for me to imagine the public co-creating freeway-capable vehicles, it is clear the future of mobility is not only about new modes and travel behaviors, but about a revolution in vehicle/product development. And the growing number of applications for lower speed, local vehicle types is ripe to employ this all-new “inclusive” vehicle design/development process.