By 2050, urban populations worldwide will have risen by 2.5 billion, according to the United Nations. But “infrastructure expansion is not keeping pace with population growth, resulting in enormous traffic problems,” said Peter Gutzmer, Deputy CEO and CTO at the Schaeffler Group, at the 2017 CES. “Intermodal traffic in areas where space is at a premium and the ability to change smoothly from one means of transport to another will be highly significant,” he noted, adding that these areas “will require the smallest possible traffic footprint with the maximum mobility."
This disquieting prospect has Schaeffler engineers—best known for their clutch, stop-start, 48-V, roller bearing and other technologies—pondering new vehicle designs that could help meet the challenge, particularly for vehicles that occupy "the space between pedestrians and small cars,” Gutzmer said. The first result is the Bio-Hybrid, a compact urban vehicle prototype that is intended to operate on bicycle paths and downsized roadways that are expected to proliferate in newly-built cities in China, Korea and Arabia, and in renovated existing cities in Europe and America.
The four-wheel, pedal-electric-powered mini-vehicle is intended to be a capable single-passenger runabout for congested urban areas. Bio-Hybrid, which has a retractable roof to provide some protection from the elements, occupies minimal space with a length just over 2 m (6.6 ft) and a width of 85 cm (33 in)—sufficiently narrow for use on most cycle paths.
The vehicle's electric drivetrain is adapted from an e-bike, Gutzmer explained, so the driver does not have to rely entirely on pedal power to get around town. The e-motor recaptures braking energy and stores the power in the battery, which provides a range of 50 to 100 km (31 to 62 mi). When the battery runs low, it can be removed and recharged from any socket, he noted. The prototype also features an integrated mobile phone capability.
The car's lightweight metal space frame and plastic panel structure can take various forms, including a three-wheel variant that resembles an auto rickshaw. It can also be retrofitted with a child seat or a compartment for carrying luggage or packages. Future versions may also incorporate an electric kickboard scooter that is designed for the so-called ‘last mile’ to make it easier for people to make use of public transport and car sharing, Gutzmer noted.
The Bio-Hybrid is intended as a directional program and an inspiration for Schaeffler engineers when considering new forms of mobility,” Gutzmer said. However, he expects to see its use in pilot projects within five years.