Cars and cities don’t mix together very well. Most cities were built without the horseless carriage in mind and even the ones that tend to become overwhelmed by cars after a certain point. BMW Group and Local Motors’ “BMW Urban Driving Experience Challenge” hopes to redress the balance with car concepts that “do good” based on technology predicted to be available in 2025. The winners of the second phase of the competition have been announced, made up of the 10 finalists responsible for the best concepts of premium-class motor cars designed for “Doing Good” in an urban environment.
For the challenge, 30,000 designers, engineers, fabricators and enthusiasts participated with the aim of designing a “socially responsible machine that contributes to our global well-being.” The idea is not just to be green or sustainable, but to connect the driver to the community. BMW executives reviewed the entries, BMW Management selected the top ten concepts and Local Motors voted on the ten entries for the final ranking.
The US$7,500 in prize money and a trip to Munich to meet the Managing Director of BMW Group Research and Technology, Dr. Christoph Grote, went to BMW Light My Way. The concept poses the question of why waste money and energy on street lamps when there are so many parked cars?
The BMW Light My Way concept envisions doing away with three-quarters of the lamp posts in town and replacing them with cars equipped with proximity sensors. When a car detects someone approaching, it switches on sideways-shining lamps to light the way and turns them off again after the vehicles or pedestrians are gone. Even the lamp posts would get into the act because they’re programmed to switch off when a BMW Light My Way car parks next to them. Granted, it is energy saving, but it might not be wise to park your car for long periods in a heavy traffic area or you may come back to a dead battery.
Connectivity for cars is a hot topic at the moment and the BMW Connected Park concept brings that networking to parked cars. Just as systems are being developed that allow moving vehicles can pass information to one another, the Connect Park concept sees cars at the curb working together.
The rather dramatic concept presentation shows cars using their on-board cameras to help a mother locate her lost child, projecting arrows on windscreens to reunite them and using a mildly creepy cartoon bunny to reassure the child until Mummy arrives. More mundane duties include filling in blind spots for moving vehicles, identifying stolen cars and helping drivers find parking spaces.
BMW Connected Park collected a prize of US$2,500.
The Lifeboat concept is a bit of a head scratcher. The idea of using a hybrid vehicle with Wi-Fi capabilities as a means of supplying emergency power and communications in the event of a disaster is very good, but the designer is a bit behind the curve. Turning a hybrid into an emergency generator is already a common idea, as are ad hoc wireless networks. The sentiment is laudable, but the execution is a bit like someone touting a revolutionary new newspaper that you can also wrap fish in.
The Lifeboat won US$1,500.
Equipping a BMW with nanotechnology body panels so that it becomes a solar panel/water purifier, as in the Energy Harvesting-2025 concept, seems like a neat idea for helping deprived communities. Just by putting your BMW out in the open you can help people by generating electricity that you can sell back to the grid for credits, which you can donate to worthy causes. Meanwhile, your car is also collecting and purifying rainwater. It sound great in theory, but we’d like to see someone run the numbers on how much surplus electricity and water the surface area of a BMW can actually produce.
We’re surprised that the BMW SRP concept ended up in 5th place because it focuses on one simple problem and uses vehicle connectivity to come up with a solution. A lot of parking space is wasted because motorists park too close to each other or too far apart. In the BMW SRP system, autonomous cars uses sensors and communicate with one another to identify non-communicating cars or pedestrians and then work out a way to shuffle themselves in the space available to free up more parking. The cars can even shift out of the way when someone is parallel parking and let approaching motorists know where open spaces are.
The BMW Intelligent Drive concept is basically a smartphone app with wheels. Not only does it keep track of your appointments and handle your phone calls, it can also sense when you've had too much to drink and act as your designated driver. Whether it will stop off for drive through on the way home is unclear.
The EURP concept is a bit like the Lifeboat above, except that it’s more thought out and original. Even an inoperative car is a valuable resource in an emergency and the EURP builds on this idea. BMW owners volunteer their cars for EURP, which means that if it’s disabled during a disaster it unlocks so that survivors can use it for power, shelter communications and other relief functions. The car is also designed with removable parts, so either the owner or other survivors can take advantage of them. Owners can also allow their cars to be remotely commandeered by the authorities for use as emergency vehicles. In return for these emergency services, owners get free repairs, discounts on new BMW purchases and (hopefully) their car back.
The Beamer concept is a bit oversold as turning your BMW into a superhero, but it’s a pretty practical idea. You put really good suspension on a BMW, so it can go over potholes without damage to the car or discomfort to the passengers. That doesn’t sound very concepty, but the Beamer uses the new suspension to collect data on the pothole and send it to the authorities so they can repair it. In return, the driver gets reward points toward the purchase of things like lattes or cinema tickets.
The BMW I-Care concept is for urban parents who don’t want to give up their urban lifestyle. Some of the ideas are pretty common stuff, such as augmented windscreens that announce child-friendly venues, while others are ambitious, such as packages to outfit cars with changing tables and nursing seats. However, the option of letting strangers whom you've only met through a social network use said changing table seems a bit of a non-starter, given what happens to unlocked cars in urban environments.
Finally, there is the BMW Driver’s Social Network. This concept revolves around the already accepted idea of car connectivity that allows vehicles equipped with sensors to send road condition and traffic updates to one another. The innovation here is that the BMW Driver’s Social Network also allows drivers to add comments to the updates. Hopefully some very sophisticated voice recognition technology is involved or this may end up being a car with a very sophisticated version of driving while texting built in.
Places 4th through 10th collected prizes of US$500.
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