As cities continue to grow at a dizzying rate, commuters are constantly battling ever-increasing congestion on the roads and a lack of parking, just to get to work.
But now a team of German engineers have come up with an ingenious solution — a “flexible” electric vehicle capable of shrinking, driving sideways (think like a crab) and turning on a dime.
The EO Smart Connecting Car 2 is an innovative design from DFKI Robotics Innovation Center, based in Bremen, Germany, where a team of software developers and designers, as well as electronics and construction engineers, have been refining the smart micro car project for the last three years.
First announced in 2012, the team have moved onto their second iteration of the vehicle. It drives like a traditional car but because each wheel is powered by its own motor, it also has the capability of driving sideways, allowing it to slide into tight spaces in urban areas where parking is limited, explains Timo Birnschein, project manager for the vehicle.
“The whole process — the transition between normal driving and driving sideways — takes about four seconds.”
Shrink and drive
The prototype has a top speed of 65 km/h (or 40mph) and can travel 50 to 70 kilometers (30 to 44 miles) on a single four-hour full charge of the battery. But it’s the two-seater’s ability to shrink to around 1.5 meters in length that has the team excited about its uses in future cities, says Birnschien.
“It is able to reduce it’s own size by about 80cm, which makes it almost as small as a bike in length. And with this kind of feature you can go into very tiny parking spaces. You are still able to turn on the spot, you are still able to drive sideways and you are still able to connect to charging stations, for example.”
EO2 smart car
Looking like part “Transformer” and part DeLorean out of “Back to the Future,” the car reduces its size by partly folding itself. It shifts the rear axle to the front and slides on a set of rails which raises the interior upwards, while still remaining comfortable for the passenger.
Touted as a “micro car for a megacity,” the team are working hard to make their vehicle roadworthy and envision it as a communal public resource, similar to existing urban car-sharing schemes. The idea is that when you need a car, you could head to your nearest docking station and select the vehicle that’s charged enough to drive the distance you need. It would then detach itself and you would be on your way.
“[It] is very comparable feature-wise to the first prototype. The second version is much more reliable and almost road-legal. It’s not really, but it’s almost there and we are trying to bring this car to the road — but it’s a big hassle to be honest because we have so many new technologies in the car that the technical advisory guys are skeptical.”
The team have invited several manufacturers to test drive the vehicle, with positive response, but the enthusiasm ends there. He said:
“The problem is for most car manufacturers, they are not really interested if they didn’t invent it themselves. They may buy from Bosch or Siemens or whatever, technology parts like ESP and other things, but not complete systems.”
But his team remain undeterred as they continue working on autonomous features like auto pilot and self parking. Meanwhile Birnschein likens the situation to the rise in smartphones over the last decade — from non-existence to oversaturation.
“It will be the same with computer power and autonomy. In the next 10 years we will most likely see autonomous cars from big car manufacturers — Mercedes S class will have autonomous functions within three or four years. Some of other manufacturers like GM announced they will have semi-autonomous cars by 2020. And many other car manufacturers are already working on this type of technology."
And he adds.
“They are driving all the time on the autobahn with autonomous vehicles. I believe it will be coming — it will be there within the next decade.”
Electric Mobility with Brains – Smart E-Car Adjusts Shape to Match Traffic
The EO2 car that is extremely flexible, can change shapes, and adjusts to the current traffic conditions – that is the EO2 smart connecting car, developed by engineers of the Robotics Innovation Center at DFKI Bremen. It is the car that in the not too distant future will drive itself. This prototype is part of the “New Mobility in Rural Areas” project which is investigating the innovative technologies of electromobility.
Flexible chassis enables connection to “road trains”
A changing morphology is quite unique: The driver's compartment of the EO smart connecting car is raised when the chassis is telescoped. This is also possible while driving. In the process, the car “grows” from approx. 1.6 to 2.1 meters in height and “shrinks” about half a meter to a length of less than two meters. The space savings is designed to facilitate a mechanical connection to other e-cars in a kind of chain, a so called “road train.” The contracted form makes the road trains shorter and easier to maneuver. This means greater economy of scale when transporting objects over the same route. Data and energy are transmitted to the other vehicles and the “train” is uniformly controlled, which saves fuel and improves the range. Optional components such as loading ramps and luggage racks can be attached without any problems.
Wheels that turn 90 degrees Spatially distributed drives let the EO smart connecting car flexibly navigate narrow spaces such as those encountered in the inner cities or parking garages. Specially designed axles allow each of the four wheels to turn 90 degrees – great for sideways parking into a tight spot. Obstacles are easy to negotiate with this lightweight (700 kg) vehicle, which can turn on a dime, move diagonally, or raise each wheel separately. The top speed is currently about 55 km/h.
Autonomous parking, docking, and charging
The development aim is to achieve a car that drives autonomously. This includes, for example, automatic parking and docking to the charging stations. Sensors in and on the car can receive traffic information and communicate with other users on the road. The development philosophy is similar to that used for robots: The e-car is equipped with the appropriate sensors and computing capacity needed to gather precise information about its surroundings and to enable it to navigate successfully. In consideration of the current traffic situation, the remaining battery capacity, and an optimized energy consumption, routes are calculated – and traffic jams are avoided.
DFKI (RIC) Research Team