William Lark, Jr. Thesis Defense

August 30, 2012


MIT Media Lab (E14-648), Silverman Skyline room


Growing populations, an increasing middle-class, and rapid urbanization are all escalating factors contributing to urban problems such as excessive energy use, road congestion, pollution due to carbon emissions, and inefficient personal transit. Considering that the average vehicle in a city weighs thousands of pounds, usually carries only one person per trip, and expends a significant amount of its gasoline simply searching for resources such as parking, it is clear that we need new efficient and intelligent modes of transportation.

This dissertation presents the design and development of an electric vehicle called the “CityCar” that confronts the aforementioned problems of urban mobility with a novel vehicle architecture. The assembly of the CityCar derives from a subset of “urban modular electric vehicle” (uMEV) components in which five core units are combined to create a variety of solutions for urban personal mobility. Drastically decreasing the granularity of the vehicle’s sub-components into larger interchangeable modules, the uMEV platform expands options for fleet customization while simultaneously addressing the complex rapport between automotive manufacturers and their suppliers through a responsibility shift among their respective sub-components.

Transforming its anatomy from complex mechanically dominant entities to electrically dominant modular components enables unique design features within the uMEV fleet. The CityCar for example exploits technologies such as a folding chassis to reduce its footprint by 40 percent and Robot Wheels that each are allotted between 72 to 120-degrees of rotation to together enable a seven-foot turning circle. Just over 1,000 pounds, its light-weight, zero-emitting electric platform, comprised of significantly fewer parts, curbs negative externalities that today’s automobiles create in city environments. Additionally, the vehicle platform developed from the assembly of several core units empowers a consortium of suppliers to self-coordinate through a unique modular business model. Lastly, the CityCar specific uMEV confronts problems within urban transit by providing a nimble folding mobility solution tailored specifically to crowded cities. Benefits, such as a 5:1 parking density and its reduced maintenance demands, are especially reinforced in the context of shared personal transportation services like Mobility-on-Demand.

Host/Chair: Kent Larson


Hiroshi Ishii, Christopher E. Borroni-Bird

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