Are Smart Cars the Intelligent Choice for Urban Transit?

By: | October 12th, 2013

Drive around any major city in Europe or North America and there’s a good chance you will spot a couple of smart cars on the road. The electric vehicles have been much more common over the last decade or so and, with that, the technology and engineering has grown hugely.

General Motors is taking this is a step further with its newest models of the Electric Networked Vehicles (ENV), specifically the Chevrolet EN-V. The EN-V is GM’s next step towards semi-autonomous cars (or cars that drive themselves). GM execs claim these cars will be possible by the end of the decade, paving the way for fully-autonomous vehicles.

Stephen J. Girsky, the vice president of GM, has spoken strongly in the past of the need for smarter cars for smarter cities, even going as far as to say that our cities will simply be “crowded, dirty, and resource-constrained”, if not so already.

GM works off three main principles for making its latest vehicles more intuitive – adaptive cruise control, side blind zone warning and automatic park assist. The EN-V uses these advanced technologies to make it a notable step forward.

The ‘car’, if we can even still call it that, is powered by electricity. And while its benefits are certainly plentiful, the majority of people are still driving petrol and diesel-powered cars that pump out swathes of harmful gas every day. So just what would it take to convince more people to squeeze into one of these micro vehicles?

As Alissa Walker over at Gizmodo goes on to explain, the EN-V and cars like it could usher in a new form of public transit, where you could check out a vehicle and drive it to your destination. It’s even possible you could pick up another person while on the go, claiming “taxis are no longer necessary”.

Perhaps an even better idea is to model the autonomous transit system on the city bike schemes that you see in New York (Citi Bike), London (Barclays Cycle Hire) and several other cities in Europe and North America. People can register with the city council or other  relevant authorities, pick up a car at various checkpoints around the city and return it to another checkpoint later that day.

Tiny electric cars such as this could, and with the right scheme behind them, make huge strides in city transportation, cleaner streets and, most importantly, reduced emissions. We just need to get the right authorities on board.

Jonathan Keane

Irish journalist writing on business, tech and engineering.

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