A team of German software developers and designers, along with electronics and construction engineers, has developed an innovative design for a new type of electric smart “micro car.” Now in its second-phase, the prototype is able to convert from “traditional driving” to driving sideways in just seconds, with each wheel powered by its own motor. The two-seater also can shrink from eight feet to less than five feet in length by shifting its rear axle to the front and slides on a set of rails and raising the interior upwards — all the while remaining comfortable for the occupant.
ITEM — Innovative Technologies Electromobility — is a sub-project of the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS) “New Mobility in Rural Areas” project. Under ITEM, the DFKI Robotics Innovation Center is designing and implementing the vehicle as a technology demonstrator for “(electro)mobility of the future.” Project partners include H²O e-mobile GmbH and Fraunhofer IFAM.
The prototype has a top speed of 40 miles-per-hour, and can travel 30 to 44 miles on a single four-hour battery charge. A foldable docking interface fits into the body of the car for charging. When not charging the vehicle, it can be used to connect range extenders and passenger or cargo modules.
Apart from a changeable morphology, the vehicle also allows autonomous actions, such as automatic parking and automatic docking at charging stations. RoadTrains can be set up by docking the vehicles to each other, thus improving the range of all drivers. Sensors in and on the vehicle offer complete navigation systems including intelligent route planning, which takes into account the destination, state of charge of the battery and traffic, among other factors.
“It is able to reduce its own size by about 80 centimeters, 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,” Timo Birnschein, project manager for the vehicle explained to CNN.
Based on the first EO smart connecting car, and following in the footsteps of NASA, the new “EO Smart Connecting Car 2” will demonstrate features with the potential to make driving in the future much more comfortable, stress-free and relaxed, including:
- Flexible Morphology: The vehicle will be able to change its morphology dependent on the current traffic situation. For fast rides it will stretch, for easy parking it will minimize its length.
- Improved Maneuverability and Easy Parking: Equipped with four wheel-hub engines, the vehicle will be able to turn its wheels by 90 degrees and turn on the spot, driving diagonally or sideways. These abilities are very useful for driving and parking in congested areas.
- Energy-Efficient Roadtrains: Multiple vehicles will be able to form a road train. Through a new docking interface, they will be connected mechanically and electrically. Sharing electric power between vehicles as well as a reduced wind resistance, will increase the range of each individual vehicle.
- Flexibility through Modularity: A number of modules such as passenger-, transport- and range-extension modules, will make use of the vehicle very flexible. The new docking interface will ensure an easy and comfortable interaction of the modules.
- Autonomy and Intelligent Vehicle Control: The vehicle will be equipped with advanced vehicle autonomy, allowing it to perform autonomous parking and docking.
“New Mobility in Rural Areas” is an ongoing project within the Pilot-Region for Electromobility Bremen/Oldenburg. The coordinator of this cooperative project is the Fraunhofer-Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Bremen. The team plans to introduce a street-legal version of the car in the future.