When Mercedes revealed the Vision Urbanetic, the world got another glimpse into the future of automotive travel.
THE STRANDS OF FATE
Some of these visions are significantly more drastic than others, which prompts us to question which of them is more likely to become a reality.
As if from a time travelling phone box, we are seeing the strands of time stretching out in front of us - each of them unique, and dependant upon which manufacturers ideas and products emerge the strongest.
But unlike Bill and Ted, we lack the ability to flit between these futures so easily in order to fix any mistakes we make – increasing the pressure on making the correct choice.
The ‘simple’ way forward is to merely replace the current combustion powered automobile with an electric version; as self-drive technology becomes more advanced, the amount of driving we do ourselves will gradually decline to almost zero.
Self-drive technology will increase the efficiency of our roads and reduce accidents; making for more pleasant journeys that take less time to complete, particularly over long distances.
Combine this efficiency with the time saved no longer manually driving, it would make for a significant increase in free time for the average person – or increased working hours depending on your level of cynicism.
Petrol stations will be switched to charging stations and become far less common - possibly phasing out almost completely.
There may be the need for them in some isolated areas, but with at home charging, increased range, and plans to incorporate charging stations in street lights and parking spaces, it’s unlikely they will be necessary in anywhere but the most remote locations.
A more drastic future involves car ownership no longer being the commonly accepted method of personal transportation. Ride sharing instead takes its place, with cheap and convenient conveyance to your chosen destination readily and quickly available.
Electric cars are currently more expensive to manufacture than combustion powered ones, but how much more expensive they will be is subject to debate and depends largely on just how capable the consensus dictates we make them.
With no-one having to drive, these cars will evolve into rooms - extensions of our homes or offices that we simply spend time in, rather than a commute or journey.
This points towards increasing levels of comfort; with technology being needed to maintain this transition between spaces but coming at a cost. This makes it a distinct possibility that these types of vehicles could be beyond the means of most people, with the alternative becoming to share a vehicle instead.
As yet no one can be sure - the technologies are still in development, with final costs far from definable.
THE MIDDLE GROUND
Mercedes’ Vision Urbanetic is an interesting concept that seems able to operate in either of those futures. It’s demonstrated operating as a shuttle, implying use for only short trips connecting to other forms of transportation, and then when not in use can be used to deliver goods instead.
It could simply replace certain classes of vehicle or enable a drastic change in how we move from one place to another. Its versatility makes it equally comfortable at providing a form of semi-public transport we’ve seen before in the EZ-GO Taxi , but on a slightly larger scale.
This method of transportation could replace car ownership in conjunction with the vastly increased delivery capabilities the system would provide.
By removing the need to transport anything beyond what can be carried, by using a service that does so for a minimal cost and door to door service, it might encourage people to view ride sharing as the acceptable means of personal transportation.
Whatever future we end up in, modular vehicle design makes a lot of sense from an efficiency perspective. The vast majority of vehicles stand unused for the majority of their life span, and Vision Urbanetic offers a solution to the problem of ever rising vehicle numbers by making better use of them.
Additional pod designs are already being worked on and it’ll be interesting to see what other roles the designers can dream up for the technology, and how they can further reduce the numbers of vehicles if necessary.