Munich, Germany - As BMW moves into its second century, its research and innovations think-tank is looking at ways to position the company in a world of increasingly crowded cities, where private ownership of vehicles, especially four-wheeled ones, is likely to be the exception rather than the norm.
City planners the world over are finding out that there just isn’t space to build more lanes for more cars on urban roads, and efforts to move commuters onto bicycles, e-cycles and electric scooters create more problems than they solve because cars keep knocking them down.
So BMW is encouraging its technology offices around the world to think outside the (tin) box and envision mobility solutions way outside established conventions - and now the futuristi at its Shanghai studio, in collaboration with a team from Tongji University in Shanghai, have combined a number of existing technologies (one of them older than BMW itself) to create a possible solution for future individual mobility that could be built right now.
It’s called the Vision E³ Way: the three E’s stand for ‘elevated’, ‘electric’ and ‘efficient’, and that defines the project. The starting point was the need to get two-wheelers off the roads - and the solution lay in the elevated light railways that were a feature of many Western cities at the turn of the 20th century, notably Chicago’s iconic “El”, the now-disused elevated lines in New York and, more recently, the Docklands Light Railway in London.
They proposed erecting a system of elevated, covered roadways specifically for zero-emission electrically powered two-wheelers, above the existing city streets, using modular sections very similar to the pedestrian airbridges often used between tall buildings, which would be economical and quick to build - thus creating extra lanes literally out of thin air while at the same time preventing collisions with cars.
These elevated roadways would provide a fast, direct link between key traffic hubs, making them the perfect alternative for commuters travelling up to 15km. And at each hub, a system of ramps and sluices would connect the elevated roadway to the streets, underground railways such as the Gautrain and even directly into dedicated parking levels in shopping malls.
Traffic flow would be permanently optimised by automated video surveillance systems and artificial intelligence - and because the vehicles using them are all zero-emission, they could be enclosed for use in all weathers, using treated ‘grey’ water for climate control and washing the road surface at night.
For people who don’t own a two-wheeler approved for use on the E³ system, a bike-sharing service like the Paris Vélib' would see racks of e-cycles at traffic hubs, available at the swipe of a smart card, which could be re-racked at the hub closest to your destination for use by the next customer.
BMW project director for special projects and mobility concepts Dr Rainer Daude says the Vision E³ Way is just one possible solution to the question "What will move us in the future?" - that it uses existing technology is a bonus. BMW, he says, will continue to the future of personal transport at a premium level.
"But the meaning of the term 'premium' will also change in future,” he said. “Attributes such as 'straightforward', 'convenient', 'efficient', 'safe' and 'emission-free' will become as important, if not more so, than performance and luxury.
“That means we have to learn to make better use of travel time to cover distances in less time, with the highest possible level of safety, convenience and efficiency."