Report From the Art Center Summit

Find out what’s new and what’s to come in sustainable mobility.



Here are just a few highlights from last week’s Art Center College of Design’s Systems, Cities & Sustainable Mobility Summit:

First the $100 laptop, next the $2500 car?
Called the Tata Nano, the 4-door hatchback is developed for the Indian market, where it will cost 100,000 rupees. Here the car, which was discussed Thursday morning, was teased on Wednesday with a short live sketch about a reporter on location to cover protests against the Nano. She runs into a Mr. Patel, who can’t wait to get his hands on the affordable car; he doesn’t care that it has no windshield wipers, no airbags, and a 2-cylinder, 35 horsepower engine that only gets up to 65 mph. And the possible environmental costs? “My scooter and my brother’s ox have more carbon emissions,” says Mr. Patel.

DIY streets
Martin Tillman of Steer Davies Gleave, an international transportation consultancy, gave an overview of presentation methods that he uses in a session titled “Visualizing Urban Transport Planning.” One of the best of these is a website called Walk2Go that allows users to design their own commercial streets and to view streets designed by others.

Pitching For the Future
Five-minute pitches given by inventors and new businesses who have theoretically honed their pitch skills in countless venture capital meetings. If you have a few million to invest, consider some of these:


treadwell.jpgThe aptly-named Art Center student Peter Treadway, who also made a showing at last year’s summit, started off the session by zooming around the hall on his invention, the Treadway. He calls it a “wearable transportation system”, developed for use in urban settings; with a battery power source that straps on like a toolbelt and sneakers that attach to a hockey-puck sized wheel, it looks like a lot of fun to operate. Treadway is currently developing a sleeker version that he likens to wearing short cowboy boots – if those boots mated with an erector set.



aptera.jpgNext came a representative from Aptera, an Idealab company whose prototype car, the Aptera Type One, a futuristic three-wheeled pod car that looks like the vehicular cousin of the iPod, has been drawing admirers throughout the summit. Designed by Jason Hill, it was developed by a team trying to cut fuel consumption – some of that is lost to things like tire friction and oil drag in gears, but most of it goes to aerodynamic losses, which they say use up half of the world’s energy for transportation. Here they’ve managed to drop the drag coefficient by an order of magnitude, creating a vehicle that uses half the energy of GM’s EV1 at 55 mph and gets up to a whopping 300 miles per gallon, or 150 miles off of a single charge of its10kw battery pack. It goes into production at the end of the year.



santabarbrabike.JPGAndrea White started the nonprofit Bike Station twelve years ago, but is now ready to take it to a for profit business. Bike Station “helps plan, design and build and operate intermodal centers”, basically attractive transportation concierge centers, that offer services like bike repairs and rental, secure 24/7 bike parking, electric vehicle sharing, and route information. Their goal is to mix different transit systems, by, for example, encouraging people to take their bikes on public transportation, or showing people the best routes for getting around the city.


Next to the experimental vehicles on display in the meeting hall were posters and models from a 13-week Art Center class sponsored by Johnson Controls where the goal was to develop a small footprint vehicle that was both sustainable and somehow “life-enhancing.” Student Nathan Wills presented the four vehicles that came out of the class. A model for the Youth Market had gaming consoles and flexible seating which was also seen in the Luxury Commuter vehicle. The Taxi model was the most interesting, an open structure taxi with predetermined stops that would run autonomously, the Emerging Market was the most practical, envisioned as a second home for migrant workers, the car has an expandable rooftop and the single driver’s seat extends to become a full-length bed.


roboscooter.jpgThe audience seemed to respond favorably to the Robo Scooter (look under mobility, then scooter with ITRI and Sanyang Motors), developed by the MIT Media Lab. Set to be produced in 2009, the lightweight (60 kg), appealing, aluminum-frame scooter looks like a mini version of one of the Transformers. The silent, low impact vehicles will have a single-screen information display and GPS navigation, wheel robot technology (that sounds very impressive – but I couldn’t completely grasp the concept in this 5 minute presentation). Though a private ownership model will be available, it is meant to be a shared use vehicle. It folds with a pivot in the middle to minimize space used for parking in congested urban areas and recharges on special scooter racks that the developers envision being located outside of convenience stores. It’s a system based on the Velov bike share program that has been successful in Lyon; city governments in Milan and Florence are interested.


rubberside.jpgOn the other end of the spectrum is Lindsay Smith’s Rubber Sidewalks Inc. Smith came up with the idea when she learned that a street of mature ficus trees in her neighborhood were about to be hacked down because their roots were breaking up the concrete sidewalks. Upset at the loss of the urban forest, Smith came across a City of Santa Monica official experimenting with rubber sidewalks. Inspired, she developed this alternative to concrete, an interlocking, modular, recycled rubber sidewalk paving system, which can be temporarily remove for tree root trimming. It has been installed in DC, Baltimore, New York, Seattle, Oakland, and San Francisco.

For more information on the Art Center College of Design’s commitment to sustainable mobility, read’s Q&A with Stewart Reed, chairman of the school’s transportation design department.

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