Robin Chase, Colleen Corcoran, and Casey Neistat redesign the automobile.
During one particular late-night editorial meeting, when all of us here at GOOD HQ probably had a few too many, we came up with the idea to send briefs detailing global problems to some of our most creative friends with one simple instruction: to design a solution to the problem in less than 30 minutes, a time frame that would make them think about the problem, but limit the extent to which it might overwhelm them. Call it "The Half-Baked Design Challenge." Some of the solutions are comical. Some are super thoughtful. Some, to be perfectly frank, are mildly disturbing. But all of them engage creatively with a problem in search of a solution, and we think that's a good thing. In this installment, we redesign the automobile.
Early automobile designers promised us freedom on the open road, but what we ended up with was multi-ton vehicles that kill more than a million people each year, lead to obesity, cause clinical road rage, and consume hundreds of hours of our lives as we sit in traffic or search for parking.
Then there are the problems caused by fuel. Automobiles, run on fossil fuels, are a leading cause of carbon emissions and climate change. Car exhaust is carcinogenic. Dense areas of vehicular traffic create clusters of asthma, especially among children. And while the emerging electric cars might contribute less to pollution and its health effects, they don’t eliminate a car’s carbon footprint. Current electric car batteries require significant energy to manufacture, and if you’re plugging your car into coal-powered electricity, you’re still contributing carbon emissions.
The economic harm cars render on individuals is significant too. The average American spends about two months a year paying for their car, while only driving it an hour or two a day. More than 90 percent of the time, it sits idle. For this, owners must build a garage or purchase a parking place—for an object so big it can usually fit four people, but too often transports only one.
Because its design requires heightened attention, a car cannot be operated safely after ingesting alcohol. Or while sleepy. Or while talking on a cell phone, texting, or tweeting.
After 100 years, the “horseless carriage” is due for a redesign. Will what comes next be an improved vehicle, or something else? For the first time in generations, young people are driving less than their parents did, and biking, walking, and taking public transit more.
And will cities need to change along with cars? The ubiquity of cars has shaped cities, as we’ve built wider streets and extended freeways that make it harder to walk and bike and know our neighbors. Much of urban design seems stuck in the vision presented at the 1930s “Futurama” exhibit sponsored by GM. The installation at the 1939 New York World’s Fair promised a utopia centered around cars and free-flowing traffic, but ended up inspiring much of the congestion it was trying to eliminate.
If the car has a sustainable future—free from fossil fuel, traffic, burdensome payments, exhaust, and over a million direct and countless indirect deaths each year—it has to be completely rethought.
Casey Neistat: Filmmaker
My car has four doors, five seats, six cylinders, seven speeds, and 12.4 cubic feet of storage space. But nine out of 10 times, the car is only transporting me: a single human being.
My half-baked solution to the ridiculousness that are cars is to create a small, safe, pod vehicle that is electrically powered and has a carbon footprint no bigger than a motorcycle.
There are roughly 30,000,000 scooters in Vietnam. They’re everywhere. The scooter is not perfect. People often die from scooter-related incidents. They’re loud, dependent on fossil fuels, and, most importantly, it’s nearly impos- sible to talk on your cell phone while riding on one. But a scooter is not without its virtues and those virtues are considerable when compared to the big, ridiculous, gas guzzling cars we use to transport ourselves from point A to B.
First, the scooter uses the minimum power source (engine size) to transport a human. Sure, you could pile a couple of pigs on the back but at 50cc’s it’s optimized to move its main cargo—a human being. My car, by comparison, has a 201 horsepower engine capable of carrying five people while towing a small boat. The power source of my pod vehicle should be directly correlated to its main cargo—one person.
Second, my car is 16 feet long and nearly 6 feet wide. I am 6 feet tall and 18 inches wide. Like a scooter, the solution to cars should be small—not much bigger than a human. Think of how many scooters could fit on a single lane of 5th Avenue in New York versus the amount of taxi cabs.
Third, this is where I get all George Jetson: The pod needs to be enclosed. One of the less romantic aspects of scooters in Vietnam is how all of the locals cover their faces to keep out exhaust and other shit in the air. An enclosed pod means no shit, no noise. The second most important feature of a car, after the engine and before the brakes, is the stereo. A scooter is too loud for a stereo, thus a quiet electric-powered pod would have great acoustics.
Then there’s safety. One reason cars keep getting bigger is that no one in a tiny car wants to drive on roads with huge tractor trailer trucks. It’s scary. Because so many pods can fit on a road, there should be two roads: pod roads and non-pod roads. Traffic problem solved. If there is a pod collision, the damage would be minimal.
So that’s my half-baked solution. Some other things that I couldn’t really figure into this thesis: I want to sleep in my pod while it drives me. I need a way to attach my bike to my pod. My pod should also have a place for my skateboard. And, ideally, the pod should be able to fly.
For more fully-baked ideas, check out our companion piece about the future of the automobile.
Illustrations by Kate Bingaman-Burt
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