Electric vehicle concepts hint at a three-wheeled future

A showcase of vehicle prototypes at Stanford University's Center for Automotive Research helps us see into the future of urban mobility. Think trikes.

Convincing a nation so steeped in its car culture to think differently about the way we drive is a test of both patience and persistence. But the 2012 Vehicle Concept Showcase at Stanford University's Center for Automotive Research yesterday offered some interesting arguments about how our future personal transportation will better suit our needs.

One feature that may take some adjustment for many drivers is wheel configuration. Only two of the eight vehicle concepts rolled out at the showcase had the tried and true four-wheel configuration -- most were three-wheelers. As the makers of Switch Vehicles pointed out, dropping a wheel has its advantages. You only hit a pothole once. And the trikes are legal in the HOV lane -- a commuter's dream.

Every single prototype shown was all-electric. That may induce range-anxiety for some, but as attendees heard many times over during the Stanford event -- most trips are only five miles or less. If drivers are able to step out of their comfort zone, these vehicles are perfectly fine for the majority of their driving tasks.

Interestingly, each vehicle concept seemed to play to certain personality types. Stanford's PanaEve resembles a captain's chair straight out of the Starship Enterprise -- a design feature intended to make it easier for older drivers to get in and out.

Borrowing heavily from another sci-fi classic, Lit Motors' two-wheeled C-1, a fully enclosed motorcycle, is sure to delight "Tron" fans. A prototype presented at Stanford can't be tipped thanks to stabilizing gyroscopes. Founder Daniel Kim showed me a video on his laptop at the event. In it, the C-1 is tethered to his car (the car and C-1 are perpendicular). Kim hits the gas in his car, the C-1 moves sideways, but doesn't hit the ground as you might expect.

Sway Motorsports is out to woo motorcyle enthusiasts, too. Their Sway has three wheels and reminds me of a citified ATV. The pitch? Lean into turns all you like, you won't tip the Sway.

Local Motion's vehicle is for the social networkers out there. The company is focused not so much on the vehicle itself, as it is the software that accompanies it. Designed with campuses in mind, Local Motion's app allows you to find a free seat on a vehicle heading to your destination of choice, perhaps a meeting in a building two miles away.

Similarly, KleenSpeed Technologies isn't concerned about cars, but more about battery performance. It boasts a 40kWh battery that helped a KleenSpeed racing car place 4th in the 2011 Refuel race.

Switch Vehicles cater to the DIY set. These vehicles are sold as kits and designed to be easy enough to build that you could not only make your own, you might be inclined to make others for your community.

Arcimoto's 6th generation SRK is another three-wheel offering. The company hopes to enter a limited production run in the near future.

The kicker at the showcase was Xenith, a futuristic vision that truly embodies clean tech with six square-meters of solar panels. Xenith was developed by Stanford students and competed in the 2011 World Solar Challenge.

If this event was any indication, regardless of your age or lifestyle, whether you're a college student or have a family of four, there will likely be a cleaner, more efficient way to get about town in the years ahead.

About the author

    Sumi Das has been covering technology since the original dot-com boom. She was hired by cable network TechTV in 1998 to produce and host a half-hour program devoted to new and future technologies. Prior to CNET, Sumi served as a Washington DC-based correspondent, covering breaking news for CNN. She reported live from New Orleans and contributed to CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which earned the network a Peabody Award. She also files in-depth tech stories for BBC News which are seen by a primarily international audience.

     

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