Striving to expand its reach into mobility—beyond its traditional building-cars-and-selling-them business—Ford started an ongoing discussion with its employees, named Cult of Disruption, looking for interesting new solutions to the problem of moving people around. In this, its second year, Ford issued a Last Mile Mobility Challenge. Workers were tasked to dream up alternatives to walking that could get people from a train, bus, or parked car to their destinations. Among the 633 proposals that came in, Ford chose these three: an autonomous electric wheelchair that can stow itself (a legitimately good idea), an electric tricycle that can also be used as a golf-bag carrier or a shopping companion (has potential), and what’s basically a Roomba with a face that you stand on and ride, or a Segway without the handle (okay?).
Let’s start with the most practical idea, the eChair. If you’ve ever been in a wheelchair or accompanied someone who uses one, you know that the world is not very accommodating. This is particularly true if the wheelchair user is alone and needs to use a car. The process of transferring out of the chair into the driver’s seat, then stowing the chair and perhaps crutches or a walker, can become a major hassle. The eChair pretty much eliminates all that fumbling around. Once a person is seated inside the vehicle, he or she can use a smartphone app or controls built into the car’s infotainment unit to tell the chair to drive itself to the trunk and automatically store itself. Three engineers from Ford’s Belgium proving grounds came up with eChair. It’s actually shocking something this logical hasn’t been invented already. It could make a lot of people’s lives much easier.
Another finalist is the TriCiti, which is literally just a folding electric tricycle that can also be used as a golf-bag cart or a shopping companion or to transport heavy items. The TriCiti, dreamed up by three vehicle-architecture employees from Ford of Europe, has a 19-mile range and a 12-mph top speed. This is not a bad idea, if you can imagine it could be built at low enough cost to make it something more than a toy for the Sharper Image catalog.
And then there’s the Carr-E, a combination of a Roomba knockoff and those things people incorrectly call hoverboards that you ride from your car to your office, or Taco Bell, or wherever a car won’t fit and walking is too boring. This project came from the mind of Ford systems engineer Kilian Vas, and it tucks away nicely in that convenient space that used to hold the spare tire that carmakers don’t give you anymore. According to Vas, Carr-E could help people park farther out from crowded city centers and avoid messy midtown traffic jams. Like the eChair, there’s smartphone connectivity; like the TriCiti, it can also be used as a little robotic butler to transport your things, staying close by following an electronic transmitter you carry with you.
Will these ever get made? Ford revealed no production plans, but if it was our money, we’d invest in the eChair.