Segway to Heaven? / Part II

Here we continue.

In the first part of the series, it was about portable micro mobility: for example, Hoverboards or segways. Now it is about the next size up, but not quite a car. Modern vehicles which are covered yet lighter than cars. It is not quite the Mr. Bean Mini which is steered from an armchair strapped to the roof. Or the foot-powered Flintstones family car.

Always state-of-the-art.

Micro-mobility is not a 21st century invention; it has a long tradition. As far back as the 1930s, ideas for the smallest vehicles were being developed which, like the dare-devil monowheel, were not exactly suitable for mass market. In post-war times, resources were limited, but the demand for affordable mobility was greater than ever before. Three mini cars became the symbol of the boom times. Firstly, there was the record-breaking Messerschmitt-Kabinenroller. Then came the BMW Isetta, a zany eye-catcher with front entry. It proved to be a financial success and a blessing for everyone who needed to get by on limited means. The scooter company Piaggio was responsible for the third legendary car: we are talking about the mini van Ape. These days, it's only favored by pizza makers and old town couriers. It's not unusual to see baristas with coffee machines mounted on top driving through the narrow lanes of Rome and Naples to bring the much-loved coffee direct to people's doors. But with growing prosperity, the desire for bigger cars also grew. The smallest cars once again became a niche product. That is until the mega-cities emerged at the turn of the 21st century.

A ninja for the modern age.

All large metropolises in the world suffer from smog and street noise, traffic-ridden streets and not enough parking. It would seem that micro-mobility could have the answer – albeit in a modern form. Electronic and nimble, the narrow vehicles steel through the tightest of lanes, fit in the smallest spaces and can be recharged anywhere in no time at all: a genuine ninja next to the sedate cars.

With a turning circle of just three meters, the electric three-wheeler iRoad by Toyota wends its way through the traffic of Tokyo. Closer to home, the Renault Twizy is a looker which incidentally also allows you to drift with ease. Whole brands have now specialized in the smallest of cars, such as the French manufacturer Aixam or Ligier. The competition is also alive and kicking. Around the world, startups are developing their own unique versions of city mobility for the future.

Fascinating crowd-funded studies are being presented by Uniti, and zippy three-wheelers by Elio, Twike or Sam are to be admired. The most unusual idea is surely the two-wheeler by Lit Motors. In contrast to its competitors, it is gyroscopically stabilized to that it cannot fall over even when it receives a forceful push or jerk. The inventors of Local Motors are working on a ready-to-drive prototype out of a 3D printer.

Think Big, Build Small.

What are the advantages of this new generation of vehicles? In addition to minimal procurement costs and environmentally friendly drives, improved weatherproofing also keeps you in a better mood even when the forecast is bad. Besides, these light vehicles can already be used from 16 years of age. Just one fly in the ointment: for the younger target market, a statutory speed limitation of 45 km/h applies. At full power, these cars achieve up to 90 km/h. With the help of intelligent sensors which automatically keep their distance and break in an emergency, it's possible that laws will change in future. This would make micro-mobility car-sharing an even more attractive option. And even if it doesn't, with open sides, the slipstream is really noticeable. This makes everything feel much faster already. Anyone who has ridden a bicycle at 50 km/h knows what this feels like. Ultimately, autonomous driving technology could make the under-18 group much more mobile.

The startup company Auro is developing its own vision of autonomous driving, firstly away from the unpredictability of the road. A small shuttle is planned for driving school children or students around the campus, airline passengers to another terminal or employees around a company site. In the countryside in particular, these ideas open up new prospects for old or disabled people. The complaint that the smaller a car, the shorter its range only applies to a certain extent. The average journey distance in Germany is around twelve kilometers. For this, even the smallest electric car in the world, the re-launched Peel P50, with a maximum range of 25 kilometers, would suffice. Journeys are usually shorter in the city.

Courage to have fun.

The bustling roadways in China and India show that micro-mobility is often the most sensible option on congested roads. While cars and lorries are at a standstill, countless two and three-wheelers sneak through the gaps. Particularly virtuous drivers even edge their cars to one side. It's hard to believe, but there are cars for which enjoyment is all about falling over. Let us introduce the Reliant Robin. Designed and built in the 1970s, since Mr. Bean it has been a lovingly cared for object of hate. Whether for stunts, tumultuous races or football games or the unfathomable space-shuttle conversion – the Brits are completely mad about the little car on three wheels.

What does the future hold for micro-mobility? However, away from the small island, a thing or two could be learned from the Anglo-Saxon enthusiasm. The streets of Asia teach deft manners of driving. Modern electric runabouts are clean and nippy. But, the image of the modern city can only be shaped a second time in its history by these agile vehicles using creativity and fun.

Authors: Christian Geiss und Leo Burkhardt