microMAX Concept Car Turns Commuting into Urban High-Tech Swarm

The unveiling of futuristic concept cars is partly what makes major international auto shows so much fun. These outlandish vehicles ask the public to re-imagine the core idea of what a vehicle is supposed to do—and the essential relationship between car and driver. The Rinspeed microMAX, which will be displayed at this month’s Geneva Motor Show, is as provocative as anything I’ve seen in the past few years.

First of all, its creators—a long list of A-list automobile and technology manufacturers—partly took their inspiration from “The Swarm,” the 2004 German science fiction novel by Frank Schätzing. One of the main plot lines of the novel focuses on deranged whales, sharks, jellyfish and crabs forming a swarm of sea life that attack the human race. The makers of the microMAX vehicle have a more benevolent idea in mind—for vehicles in urban settings to work as a swarm to solve our collective congestion and environmental problems. The vehicle is all-electric and therefore emits no pollution.

A host of high-tech innovations, from ultra-lightweight materials to a pure electric drivetrain, are cool (and are found in other concept vehicles). But it’s the swarm-connectivity concept that I find the most intriguing. Relying on a data cloud platform from Harman, the premium audio and entertainment company, the vehicle utilizes real-time navigation connected to all other similar vehicles to form a smart traffic swarm.

Swiss car visionary Frank M. Rinderknecht, the vehicle’s designer, said, “It combines the benefits of personal transportation with those of taxis, car-sharing services and carpool concepts as well as those offered by public transit.” The microMAX uses UMTS and LTE data networks.

Think of it as an all-electric slow-moving—max speed of 25 miles per hour—revolving carpool in a rush-hour setting, with one driver-owner at the helm, but passengers getting on and off as needed to cover their own legs of a trip. A Harman app provides full view into routes, destinations, traveling speeds and occupancy of all vehicles in the swarm. The system calculates potential ride opportunities in real time and even determines transfer options. Cyclists can have their bicycles piggyback along. (A compatible electric bike has already been developed and is being marketed by bicycle manufacturer Grace.)

The interior of the vehicle is relatively spacious and airy, and provides a central 19-inch HD touchscreen. Passengers—who are asked to stand or lean, instead of siting—get their own built-in tablet with high-speed wireless Internet. Now, you’re starting to like the idea, right? If so, then get this: the microMAX also has a built-in espresso machine.

The dimensions of the microMAX are odd: it’s seven feet, four inches tall, but no longer than a Mini Cooper. As strange and goofy as this vehicle might seem, the world’s congested cities are crying out for novel ways to tackle the problem of congestion and pollution—so who knows?

A.T. Kearney, the management consulting firm involved with the project, said series production could be ready in less than 30 months, and due to its modest electric drivetrain, the price could be as low as about $7,000 and $14,000. That does sound like science fiction.

Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy eBay Green Driving.

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