Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are planning to knock up a full-scale model of their "City Car" - an experimental vehicle which "folds" itself in half and snuggles up to other City Cars in the manner of supermarket trollies. Artist's impression of MIT folding car in a supermarket trolley stack The MIT …
zOMG it's the RoTM!
The moment I saw that photograph, I *knew* I had seen this before; finally, I managed to remember where:
Yes, that's right. What we thought was a harmless retro video game, an 80s classic of nostalgic garden-insectoid-based shoot-em-up, turns out in fact to have been a chilling vision of a future world destroyed by folding cars, which have cumulatively "snuggled" up (boy, does this put a chilling cast on /that/ word) until the combined power of their CPUs becomes self-aware and they set out on their mission to destroy civilisation by lurking at zebra crossings before suddenly pouncing on the very old, very young, the sick, weak or vulnerable. We must stop this monstrosity NOW, before it's too late, and the last surviving humans are forced to jump into ... er.... giant snake-head-shaped laser cannons to .. um.... try and take out the deadly cars by shooting at cunningly placed bags of DDT.... um.... while dodging spiders and fleas ... errrr ... AH! ... Which obviously is a reference to the scale of the devastation and how the lizard-controlled foldy-cars will leave nothing larger than a small insect alive.
Fear the future!
For those too lazy to think this through
1. As just *two* people have pointed out, we have at least two examples of services that are *similar* and operate economically: bicycles rented by swiping a card (Velib in Paris and several other cities, London soon I'm sure), and cars rented by the hour (ZipCar in Boston and New York, some other firm I've just started seeing in London). So it's not yours and you don't get to keep it, and so no issues with getting your car out of the stack.
2. The "it doesn't work for me so therefore it's rubbish" brigade -- so it doesn't work for you, your wife and your ten kids. First, do you live in the city? (which is the only place these would ever work and MIT knows it). Second, how many other families do you know with ten kids? (how representative is *your* problem of the population as a whole) It's like suggesting that Pokemon is immature and doesn't appeal to adults. No kidding?
3. Crash tests -- I've actually *seen* the prototype of this at MediaLab and one of the first things I asked was: "How does this work in a crash with a SUV?" They gave me a long spiel about the various ways they've tested in in simulations and how they expect it to perform in crashes. The US safety quango would never allow it on the road without passing a whole battery of tests anyway. Am I 100% convinced? No, but I also know that my odds are pretty rubbish in *any* kind of car in a crash with one of those Cadillac monstrosities.
4. Flights of rhetorical fancy -- of *course* there is this over-the-top element, it's a friggin' press release. No one tries to get media coverage by saying: "We've got this idea that we think might work kind of well for that part of the urban population that doesn't have children and only needs a car to get around a few times a week. And the prototype is kind of cool [Aside: it *does* actually flip up and all that] and we'd like you to cover it because maybe it will get people thinking about alternatives to the traditional automobile." Phew. Yes, you stopped reading half-way through the qualifications. So if you're a remotely smart person (and MIT people may not always be grounded in the physical world but they certainly aren't stupid) you sell this as a "revolution".
If you crap up the car, the next driver's going to report you. Yeah, this will piss off StopthePropaganda, live with it. The car knows who last drove it (or at least whose stolen credit card was used). Get a few "trashed the car" reports on your record, your rates will go up, cars that aren't known to already be trashed will refuse your business, your credit rating will drop, stray dogs will disrespect you.
If you're shopping, you'll "put a hold" on the car you're using, park it in a normal spot, leave it locked. You'll pay for the privilege, but the cost will be reasonable.
You don't have to park it in a charger every time you stop. If it's near capacity, you might be able to do things like: park it at home, drive to work the next day, with no charge for having kept it overnight. The "charge" comes in the fact that someone else might have driven it off overnight, you might have to walk to the nearest charging/parking station.
You could also install a home charging station (if the car design is right, this is called an "extension cord"). The car pays you a bit for this service. The payback offsets its cost of not being used by anyone else for the night. Someone can still come by and take it, but they'll end up paying for the charging service you were providing. That is, by offering it an overnight charge you get first dibs on it in the morning.
If too many of them end up in one place, they'll go into discount mode. Drive away from here for free! Just drop it off in one of these 5 general areas which are currently short of cars. Or drive it anywhere else and pay half the normal rate.
Contrariwise, you want to drive into a congested area? That'll cost extra.
It takes a while for a system like this to become really effective. Most don't, but some day, one will become universally effective. Kind of like how there were competing types of electrical service until, eventually, a single type won out in each country.
And the rest
What about licences and insurance?
Just fancy golf carts, the tech is old, the idea is old.
What about licences and insurance?
The System already knows if you have these things. Maybe you'll have to insert a readable driver's license and a readable insurance card, or maybe privacy will have been overridden to the point where just by having talked with your credit card, the car knows everything The Internet knows about you.
And hey, if you don't have insurance I'm sure they can sell you an on-the-spot policy that costs 40x as much as normal driver's insurance... Can't do that with the license. Yet. Eventually the cars will be autonomous and you'll have to pay extra to be permitted to operate the controls yourself, which is the only time you'll actually need a driver's license...
BTW remember that credit cards, driver's license cards etc. are just physical representations of various database entries. Eventually (and this has nothing to do with pools of cars, per se) you'll just wave at things and they'll know who you are, who you have credit with and how much, what insurance coverage you have, whether you're allowed to drive, what discounts you're entitled to, whether you have a reputation for crapping up cars, etc.
Quite right re the motorbikes. I ride a motorbike myself, a little Yamaha XT225 "chicken chaser" which is small, light, economical on the fuel, very manoeuvrable around town, easy to park and can even manage a little over the open road speed limit should I want to take a ride out of town. For that bike, I require a motorcycle licence. My flatmate has a little moped which is even lighter and more economical and all you need is a car licence to ride it.
I commute to and from work on my chook chaser, fair weather or foul, and shamelessly (but carefully) lane-split between scores of cars - most leaving the same approximate location in the 'burbs, most heading for the CBD and most have only the driver in them. So we have scores of people inefficiently shifting a ton or more of metal between the burbs and the CBD in order to move one relatively small human.
Sadly, Hamilton has only three free motorcycle parks in or near the CBD and if you ride into town most nights the one close to all the clubs and pubs is invariably being used by some immigrant taxi driver as an unofficial taxi stand to get drunk fares. Regrettably, the law does not allow us to punch the park-stealing shit in the face and the Shitty Council does not enforce the "Motorcycles Only" restriction. Park your car or bike in a marked taxi stand for thirty seconds and you'll get a parking fine and be beaten up by half a dozen taxi drivers.
Pan our POV south to our fair capital, Wellington, and you find not only a reliable electric rail system (called "the Unit") from the outlying townships into Wellington Central but an electric tram network through Wellington and every 4th or 5th parking slot in the CBD is given over to free motorcycle parking - rigorously enforced.
And those bike parks are *used*! Dozens of bikes standing side by side denoting dozens of people who elected not to bring an unnecessary ton+ of metal into town.
The Unit and the trams are also used. They also have longer-range buses between the burbs and the CBD that enjoy a good trade. Wellington is not as crowded as London or New York or even Sydney, but its crowded enough that people actually look for solutions for transport and the council is forward thinking enough to supply the infrastructure - public transport, motorcycle parking and reserved "express" lanes.
Even as far out of Wellington as Plimmerton there are lanes reserved for buses, taxis, cars containing more than 2 people and motorcycles. All the arrogant greedy pricks travelling alone in a car have to crawl along in the slow lane while the public transport, car poolers and bikes flow past them - and good fucking job, too.
Seriously. You don't need a ton of sedan or 2.5 tons of SUV to move merely one person 6km from the 'burbs to the CBD.
OK, we bikers are not stupid, we do understand that car drivers are pansies who can't stand getting their wittle clothes wet when it rains but, for fuck's sake, there are buses available and it doesn't take much to organise a car pool with your neighbours - they can't ALL be frothing maniacal axe-murderers.
Little city cars like the ones in the article could be of some use in some locations if the system was set up properly but not everywhere would be suited to such a system.
A system like Wellington has where there are incentives to car pool, use public transport or ride a bike is far more portable and scaleable - they could even do it here in Hamiltscum if the Council members pulled their heads out of their arses.
Most towns have multiple lanes on major roads - usually all packed with cars crawling along and their single occupants getting infuriated with all the traffic and not realising they're part of the problem. Those who have elected to car pool or are taking the car because they have three kids to get to school/kindy/day-care on the way are stuck in the same mess. The real bikes are lane-splitting with varying degrees of care, the mopeds are in the bicycle lanes and the buses are caught in the middle of the mess.
That's how it is in Hamilscum, anyway, YMMV.
It wouldn't be difficult to nominate one lane for public transport, car poolers and bikes and leave the remaining lane(s) for the selfish pricks to fight over.
Turn every 4th or 5th roadside carparking slot into free motorcycle parking (of course, our thieving council would have to put up the prices on the remaining metered parks as they wouldn't be able to handle losing the revenue from the reassigned parking slots) and you're well on the way to less congestion, improved traffic flow and lower pollution as people rush to car pool, use the bus or get a moped.
That could be done to pretty much any moderate to enormous city anywhere in the world. No need for any fancy "revolutionising" through implementing shopping-trolley cars and the necessary infrastructure, just a bit of reorganisation of the existing infrastructure - lanes and parking slots.
Instruct your parking wardens and police to enforce the parking/lane usage mercilessly and it'd be a nice little earner for the first few months - until people learned to obey the rules for the sake of their wallets. The fines should pay for the new signage and road markings within a couple of weeks...
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