By Mini Kumari
In the past 100 years the fundamental design of a car hasn’t changed much.
That could be set to change with the unveiling of a peculiar archetype that is more than just machine-on-wheels. These futuristic cars are capable of driving and parking themselves using sensors and maps with just a little help from the driver.
The first of its kind, this car could become a perfect future solution for dealing with urban congestion, pollution and resource utilisation; especially in the increasingly congested, densely populated cities in China and India.
This prototype is a self-driving car named EN-V (pronounced "envy" and short for "Electronic Networked Vehicle") which has been developed by Detroit-based General Motors and the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.
It is a two-seat electric vehicle that has been designed mainly to lessen concerns surrounding traffic congestion, parking availability, air quality and better life-affordability in tomorrow’s cities.
It is a concept car for the year 2030, when it is estimated that 60% of the world's 8 billion population will be city dwellers.
The EN-V sits on a flat slab – dubbed the skateboard – on which the car sits and slides as it moves and balances. It can detect its direction and angle of tilt using gyroscopic sensors as well as independently rotate the wheels forward or backward as needed for balance and propulsion.
The steering wheel has been replaced by a joystick, which looks more like a controller for a game console, to steer and throttle the vehicle and which can also spin to make the vehicle accelerate quickly.
EN-V is packed with GPS antennas and motion sensors, combining GPS with vehicle-to-vehicle communication and distance-sensing technologies. This allows the car to sense possible collisions and avoid them.
These communication features allow cars to link up wirelessly and follow each other like a linked train, with the option of being able to pull out of the line when required.
These features also allow for reduction of traffic congestion by automatically selecting the fastest route based on real-time traffic information. Not only this but its ability to communicate with other vehicles and the infrastructure could dramatically reduce the number of vehicle accidents; EN-V can “sense” what’s around it by using the vehicle-based sensor and camera systems, thus allowing the vehicle to react quickly to any obstacles or sudden changes in driving conditions.
For example, if a pedestrian steps out in front of the vehicle, EN-V will decelerate to a slower and safer speed and stop sooner than today’s vehicles.
The drivers and occupants can also communicate via wireless communication with friends or business associates while driving.
Although the cars can communicate with each other and drive themselves, drivers can take control if they choose for either safety reasons and or to get a sense of enjoyment from the vehicle.The driver doesn't even need to be in the car for it to move, perfect for a rainy day!
Once they have reached their destination they simply have to instructing the EN-V to self-drive to a vacant parking space. The EN-V can later return to collect the driver through a request sent via smart phone.
Build & Characteristics
The body and canopy of EN-V are constructed from carbon fibre, custom-tinted Lexan and acrylic; materials that are more commonly found in race cars, military airplanes and spacecraft because of their strength and lightweight characteristics.
The electric motors presented in both of its driving-mode wheels aide in movement, acceleration of the vehicle and also in breaking. Dynamic stabilisation technology empowers EN-V by giving it the unique ability to carry two passengers and light cargo with a footprint that’s about a third of a traditional vehicle. With incredible manoeuvrability, it has a true zero turning radius within its own operating envelope.
The motors are powered by lithium-ion batteries that produce zero emissions, thus reducing the car's carbon footprint. EN-V can travel at least 40 kilometres on a single charge and can be recharged from a conventional wall outlet using standard household power.
It can also improve the efficiency of the public electric infrastructure by communicating with the electric grid to determine the recharge hours based on overall usage.
EN-V has been designed for the speed and range of today’s urban drivers. With travel speed up to 25 miles at 25 mph on a single charge, it weighs less than 500 kilograms and is about 1.5 meters in length.
About half the size of current mini-electric cars, parking woes have already vanished for EN-Vs: according to GM, five or six of these can fit in one standard U.S.-size parking space.
EN-V’s compact size makes it ideal for use in densely populated cities thanks to its use of advanced safety and propulsion technologies. But good things come in small packages, as witnessed by EN-V’s innovative interior design, which provides maximum visibility to the world outside.
Before these efficient models can share the road with normal cars, a network of easily accessible charging stations would need to be put in place. GM would have to coordinate with governments to ensure the infrastructure and proper policies are in place, which, according to a GM rep, could take as long as 15 years.
The wireless network in which the vehicles communicate could be a reason for concern because of problematic hackers, who in theory, could access them and send cars off track. A lost wireless connection could cause the automated system to lose control of the car.
It may be driven in less area as compared to other cars; however it is too small to accommodate a family and lacks additional space for luggage.
The potential benefits of tiny car designs like these have become overpowering as the growth and development in Western and developing cities cause pollution and overcrowding.
In the future, when most of the amenities like schools and hospitals will be in proximity to residential areas, these cars will be a very handy mode of travel. But ultimately, when you consider ever increasing fuel prices and commute times into the equation, GM’s little yet powerful EN-V may very well be onto a winner.
|Related Links and Videos|
|EN-V Manufacture (Video)|
|Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation|