The Urban Origami Car

Photos: © TU Graz / FSI

If you commute to the city, you probably know this first hand: congested streets, no parking spaces, bad air and aggressive fellow sufferers. A diploma thesis at the FSI now appears to have the solution: a thoroughly thought-out, electrical city speedster which you can fold up. Actually it’s more than just a new vehicle concept. Helmut Brunner looked into the problem of the constantly increasing number of vehicles on the roads in his diploma thesis at the FSI –  a co-operation between Graz University of Technology and Magna. Traffic statistics demonstrate the problem. In Graz alone, more than 114,000 commuters get caught in traffics jams during the week every day. Additionally, commuters have increased by almost 18 percent in ten years. Time to act, thought the automotive engineer and transferred his ideas to paper – creating a sensation in the industry.

Third Weel on the Wagon

“Studies show that routes driven are usually under 30 kilometres,” explains the former diploma student. The most important requirements for his speedster were thus revealed almost immediately: space-saving parking, emission-free driving and room for three persons. The vehicle developer chose three wheels instead of the usual four and a modern electric propulsion. And the special highlight is: depending on need, the length of the roughly three-metre-long car can be reduced by a third. So without further ado, the vehicle could be parked laterally on a normal parking space, which raises the chances in the daily parking space lottery.

Challenging Mechatronics

“The concept is made possible by a compact drivetrain which is economically accommodated in a type of rear swinging fork,” continues Brunner. Furthermore, all the drive components are arranged right at the back, which is good for both the centre of gravity and the traction of the rear-wheel drive. What’s more, the mechatronics plays a crucial role for the new vehicle concept. As Mario Hirz, head of the research area Automotive Mechatronics at Graz University of Technology, confirms: “Due to the fact that there is only one wheel on the rear axle, the driving-dynamics control is a real challenge. The folding mechanism has to be quite sophisticated – so that the car even when folded up can be safely manoeuvred.”

Industrial Partner Sought

Although the urban car only exists as a “conceptual elaboration”, as it is called in the title of the thesis, “Nevertheless, the chances of a prototype as the next logical step are not bad,” says Brunner. The developer has already chosen aluminium as the material of the structural lightweight construction. The body panelling has been made of various plastics. The only thing missing is a courageous partner from industry who wants to bring the vehicle to the market.

Less is More (Driving Pleasure)

Other projects of the big producers show that the design  has its finger on the pulse of the time. “Smaller and lighter vehicles need less materials for their production and less infrastructure. Moreover, they need markedly less energy – in both operation and production,” claims Brunner. And if you have doubts about whether three wheels deliver the goods when it comes to agility, you only have to look at the traditional British manufacturer Morgan. From the transmission point of view, the three-wheeler is similarly equipped and is regarded by motor journalists as an unqualified success when it comes to driving pleasure. The bottom line is, keep at it and build!

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