Most people, these days, live in automobile cities. Cars are essential for getting around; they mediate the experience of the city; they occupy huge amounts of real estate; they make a lot of noise and they clutter up the streets. Yet architects and urban designers mostly take them as given, and are content to design streets and public spaces around whatever the world’s few remaining automobile manufacturers happen to provide. Here we challenge and reverse this well-worn assumption. We design the car to suit a new vision of the city, not the city to suit the arbitrary specifications of the car.
The technologies that make this possible are those of miniaturized electronics, digital communications, inexpensive distributed computation, and advanced control software. They enable us to get rid of most of the junk that currently encumbers automobiles – engines, power trains, dashboards, and steering wheels. They allow us to define a fundamentally new, radically restructured architecture for the automobile.
One illustration of this vital reorganization is our reinvention of the wheel. We place a small but powerful electric motor, suspension, steering, and brake system in each wheel. Each wheel operates autonomously and intelligently and the motion of the wheels is controlled and coordinated by sophisticated software. Concentrating mechanical functions in the wheel provides extraordinary freedom to rethink car body materials. Our design iterations invoke these new technological and material arrangements for adapting cars to cities. We are tired of cities that force people to move around in rigid, clanking, cumbersome, often dangerous metal capsules – cars, trains, elevators, escalators, and all the rest. We propose cities that are softer, gentler, and more sensual. We propose cities in which crude power, noise, and pollution give way to graceful finesse.
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