If we are to consider what our children might use, we must look for systems and technologies that are more energy efficient, quicker, more flexible, more recyclable, more available to the general population and more entertaining/amusing than anything available to day.

Building our Children's Cars

Kim Gyr

Building our Children's Cars While We Still Have the Energy to Build Anything!
If we are to consider what our children might use, we must look for systems and technologies that are more energy efficient, quicker, more flexible, more recyclable, more available to the general population and more entertaining/amusing than anything available to day.
Building our Children's Cars
While We Still Have the Energy to Build Anything!
by Kim Gyr

  • "People in the UK make more use of cars than any other European country despite having below average car ownership. The UK has the most extensive traffic congestion in Europe but public transport fares are more expensive than in other European countries, with the exception of Denmark and Sweden. (Transport 2000)"
  • "A quarter of all car trips in 1999/2001 were less than 2 miles in length, ideal for walking or cycling. Cars were used for 18 per cent of trips under 1 mile and for 61 per cent of trips of between 1 and 2 miles. Walking and cycling have both declined significantly over the past 20 years. The distance people walk on average has fallen by about one-third and distance cycled by about 14 per cent. (Transport 2000)"
  • "Greater car use is increasing carbon emissions [Independent Transport Commission, an independent think tank]. This is exacerbated by the catalytic converters now used on cars to curb emissions of gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile hydrocarbons - they convert these harmful gases into 'less harmful' carbon dioxide, water and nitrogen. The Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment maintains that road transport carbon emissions will reduce slightly from 31Mt (megatonnes) in 2000 to 29Mt in 2010 and 24-31.4Mt in 2020, due to the take-up of greener cars. This compares with the government's Climate Change Programme forecasts of 37Mt in 2010 and 42Mt in 2020. Even if the ABCE is correct, however, vehicle emissions will exceed by a long way the targets needed to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentrations worldwide."
  • Expectations of clean-energy motor transport are over-optimistic. For example, hydrogen power requires other sources of energy to produce the hydrogen. (OPT Journal, April 2002: Verdict on the Hydrogen Experiment.)

We have already been given a golden window of opportunity to build durable, sustainable infrastructures for the well-being of those who follow us, but time is running out! The manna of easily extractable fossil fuels that has sustained and empowered us, to greatly increase global population among other things, will be exhausted at some point; whether in the weeks, the years or the decades to come is either a closely guarded secret, is un- or partially known or is a combination of the three. And remember, the fossil fuels that we will have exhausted in the last 200 years probably took by some estimates 100,000 years and by others 500 million years to create!

Given that we are an "intelligent" species, I wonder whether it is worth our while to encourage everyone to begin to imagine how we might live without any petroleum, gas including that from Russia as the Ukrainians and Europeans may soon find out, and coal. I believe that it is safe to say that within 200 more years we will have none of the above, and 200 years is only 10 generations away, or only twice the number of generations that we know personally within our families, a whisper in time, a cat's breath!

So, a future without any fossil fuels…hmmm! If we can use the remainder to create grids of linear cities, perhaps 10 miles on a side, sinuous, multicoloured, multi-formed, individually clad and decorated that provide for all the high speed, medium speed, low speed and walking pace transportation that we could ever want without that great pollution and energy consumption of air travel, with universal access to personal food cultivating/raising plots within walking distance, then perhaps future generations, the future of our own genes, will have a chance to breathe easily, and feel not only secure but happy too!

So mass transport, whether in conjunction with new city architectures or within the scheme of today's infrastructure, is one of the key elements for the "cars" that our children will inevitably use. I personally own a small diesel, bought for its minimal impact on the environment 2 years ago. But, for the last year I have relied entirely either on mass transport or my bicycle, both of which bring significant personal benefits that fly in the face of trends that worry doctors concerned about the health effects of modern life - obesity, the isolation of those living alone, decreases in strength and stamina due to more sedentary lifestyles, and general cheerfulness.

When we look at the conditions outlined in the first two paragraphs, we may be tempted to look hard for exotic solutions but, to be honest, the best intermediate and long-term solutions are just in front of our noses. My own experience, tested in extreme conditions to the point that I feel highly confident in recommending its benefits is the following.

My heart stopped for 10 minutes following a car accident in Kenya in 1980, just as I was arriving as an immigrant to Britain, leaving me without the reflexes that I had learnt in childhood for everything involving not only physical coordination but all our learnt responses, including the capacity to make short-term memories. Imagine being unable to walk, speak or remember on your arrival in a new country. Unfortunately, the world itself may be at that point, not in its arrival in a new place, but in its arrival in a new and very much resource poorer millennium!

Energy gives us not only the ability to walk/travel far beyond the limits imposed by our two feet, but also the abilities to construct the vehicles to transport ourselves around the world, whether physically or by using the highly efficient electronics of modern communications technologies! So already, if we are to consider what our children might use, we must look for systems and technologies that are more energy efficient, quicker, more flexible, more recyclable, more available to the general population and more entertaining/amusing than anything available to day, a very tall order until we consider that what we have at the moment is already a quantum leap over shoe leather, horse and carriage!

The car of tomorrow, if cars there be, must be accident free, considering the annual carnage on our roads and the millions of spoiled, wasted lives that we currently blithely tolerate, between clenched teeth for some. It must consume but a small fraction of the energy that remains in the bank for tomorrow's children and their jobs. It must be both shared and tinily parkable. It must recuperate as much of its inertia as possible when its computer asks it to reduce speed, through a multitude of approaches to power control and regenerative braking. It will have efficient, low-friction all-wheel drive that doubles as all-wheel Anti-Skid Braking (ABS). And, it must be both fun and economical to drive on roads that themselves present new standards in passive and active safety.

Having been a professor at one of the world's best university-level design schools, I am aware of some of the efforts in these areas currently being made by the world's car manufacturers - but they are not enough to avoid even half of all the negative consequences of the end of petroleum, nor have they ever been enough to keep all, every one of us, safe on the roads!

Again, this may look like too tall an order, until we consider that none of us is killed by our computers, which contain shocking levels of electricity, none of us is suffocated by a telephone call, which may reach all the way around the planet, and all of us can be soothed, entertained and stimulated by exposure to nature as we tele-work. So, the preferred car of the future must be to avoid one altogether, replacing it using new and breaking technologies that arrive with each new day, which also goes a long way to guaranteeing continuity of employment in cutting-edge industries!

If we were to find a way to cut the weight of a car in half, we would also find that the fuel used would decline correspondingly. According to New Zealand's Consumer Online, "Every 25 kg of weight increases fuel consumption by one percent." Do we need the heavy cars of today, especially knowing that our days of cheap fossil fuels will soon be over? If the average car weight is, "say 1,500kg. and the average person weight, say 75kg. the person inside accounts for about 5% of the total mass moved. In other words, less than 1% of the energy content of the petrol that you pour into your car actually contributes to moving you…always assuming that you are not on the M25 and are therefore actually moving, at least occasionally." (www.brass.cf.ac.uk/uploads/Petrol_Rant.pdf).

Why not make a concerted effort to bring vehicle weight down to, let's say 250 kg, the weight of an electric vehicle that is currently road-legal in the UK. Already, manufacturers can produce a "Twike" for 2 people side by side, described as "the world's most efficient motorized vehicle", see above on left (or a "City El" for 1 on the right) which can give you a range of 40-80 km at a cost of the equivalent of 300+ miles from the energy stored in one gallon of gasoline, converted to electricity and with a maximum speed of 85 km/h - 52 mph. Should then, the world's car manufacturers not be able to match the cleverness of these small companies to deliver many such vehicles to ease us into the coming fuel shortages? The generations that follow ours are already demanding that they do!

The car shown here is my own design. It uses a gas turbine/ flywheel hybrid motor that can provide both 4 wheel drive and 4 wheel ABS. It has a pointed and angled rigid passenger cell, in green, that causes colliding cars to glance off each other in the case of a head-on collision and where the colliding car "wedges" the car that it collides with up off the ground when it collides from the side or from the back in side and rear impacts, pressing their occupants across the whole of their backs, thighs and heads into their seats without needing seatbelts or airbags. Gas turbines can burn any liquid or gaseous fuels, and probably even coal dust. The body is a lightweight composite and alloy structure, with a target weight of 750 kilograms that carries 4-5 passengers. And, like the MIT Smart City Cars, this design will be nestable to be stored in the minimum of space. I hope that you will leave these paragraphs, determined to design something even better, and more sustainable while we still have the resources and time!


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