Open Source Auto Project Challenges Industry
Meghan Brown posted on October 06, 2015 |
In-development electric car questions current business practices and the logic of city mobility.

A new electric city car is being developed - one that aims to challenge the existing global automotive industry’s business practices, fossil fuel use and so-called “old mechanics.”

The prototype is in development at Lund University in Sweden, currently scheduled for late 2017. 

Called Uniti, the vehicle is planned as a 15kW electric city car designed for high performance in an urban environment. According to their website, the vehicle’s range is currently estimated for 150km at normal city driving use. 

This may sound a bit old-hat, but there are two aspects to the Uniti team’s project that make it a bit different from many other electric vehicle projects.

Reinventing More Than the Wheel

First is that, instead of starting with the standard, accepted configuration of cars and designing from there, the team states they have instead opted to start fresh – to redesign the idea of a car, from the very beginning and from the inside out.

The team is seeking to determine the most efficient vehicle configuration, production methods and materials to produce affordable, sustainable electric vehicles.

They are aiming for the Uniti to be more sustainable in terms of energy sources, as well as throughout the product lifecycle, than current models of gas and electric vehicles. 

As an example, they intend to include biomaterials such as hemp and flax fibre during production, which are intended to work toward sustainable manufacturing processes.

Concept sketch of Uniti interior. (Photo courtesy of Uniti.)

Concept sketch of Uniti interior. (Photo courtesy of Uniti.)

So far, the design is envisioned as a two-seater vehicle, with one seat behind the other and a spacious “sci-fi” feeling to the overall design. 

However, though the team describes the Uniti as a futuristic balance of advanced technology and human-centric design, the look may be new but the idea is not.  

Front and back tandem seat cars have been seen in the past, notably in vehicles such as the German Messerschmitt Kabinenroller KR200, designed and built circa 1955.  At the time, these vehicles were intended to be an affordable, efficient vehicle for the post-war era. 

Messerschmitt Kabinenroller. (Photo by Stefan Kühn.)

Messerschmitt Kabinenroller. (Photo by Stefan Kühn.)

This design for unique, affordable transportation seems, at least in part, to have influenced the direction of Uniti’s team.

“It is time for a more futuristic and less destructive driving experience,” says Uniti co-founder Lewis Horne, arguing that current design norms are outdated and excessively “plastic.”

Open, Patent-Free Development

The second interesting aspect to Uniti’s project involves their development process. The team has stated that the design and development process will be open and patent-free from the beginning. 

They hope that this will encourage additional entrants into the electric vehicle market and encourage an industry shift toward an open and human-centric automotive future.

These are lofty goals for Uniti. Whether they succeed in their project remains to be seen, but their attempt alone introduces some interesting considerations.

Are these the early steps toward a future based on open source, crowd-sourced design and manufacturing?

The Uniti team believes it is a serious contender for a much-needed disruption in the automotive industry. Will it succeed in bringing about the paradigm shift it seems to hope for?

For more information on the Uniti electric car project, visit their website.

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