LAS VEGAS – It’s difficult to believe, but not every world-changing idea here at CES is mind-numbingly complex and costs billions to scale up.
German auto supplier Schaeffler Group unveils an elegant and inexpensive solution to one of the biggest problems facing urban mobility.
If you’ve ever been stuck in gridlock in a major downtown center and realized you could get to your destination faster by walking, or riding a bike, you know the problem. Mobility providers call it “the last mile” because it’s the last mile you travel to get to work or home that is a torturous crawl through urban gridlock.
Many automakers and mobility suppliers offer solutions such as bicycle rentals or electric scooters. Those are answers for young, healthy millennials, but they are not a desirable or even safe solution for the aging demographics of most of the world’s major cities.
And bikes and scooters have other problems as well. They’re no good in bad weather and people tend to just lay them down anywhere when they are finished.
At CES, Schaeffler shows off a clever, simple answer for this conundrum: a bio-hybrid.
There are many kinds of hybrid powertrains: mild hybrids that offer small electric-power assist to internal-combustion engines, parallel hybrids that work in concert with the engine to power the wheels and serial hybrids that use an engine to generate electricity that powers electric motors to drive the wheels.
In Schaeffler’s design, human pedal power takes the place of the gasoline engine. In other words, its bio-hybrid is a 4-wheel bicycle with electric assist. But unlike a bicycle or scooter, it won’t fall over, and it’s covered to protect you from the elements. Plus, it’s far more dignified for older folks than those scooter things.
Schaeffler is taking the concept so seriously it formed Bio-Hybrid GmbH, a company belonging to the Schaeffler Group. It’s showing off pre-production bio-hybrids at CES and calls them a new, modern form of personal urban mobility.
There are two versions for cargo and passengers, and they share the same modular platform. Due to its four wheels, the concept offers exceptional driving stability, the company says.
Because it has a roof and windshield, the vehicle is more practical, yet it is hardly wider than a normal bicycle and can be operated on bicycle paths.
In addition, the bio-hybrid only requires a third of the parking space of a small car and can be operated in most countries without a license and vehicle registration, Schaeffler says. The electric traction motor assists the operator up to a speed of 16 mph (25 km/h).
The passenger version offers a new form of personal and design-oriented urban mobility, company officials say. It comfortably seats two people, one behind the another. The Cargo version provides a variable solution for zero-emissions hauling of goods.
Another vehicle being showcased in Las Vegas is sort of a miniature pickup truck. The modular body allows the bio-hybrid to serve as a refrigeration vehicle, coffee shop or locked stowage compartment, Schaeffler says.
Smartphones and smartwatches are integrated into the concept, so in the future, it will be possible to control extended functions and smart features via a dedicated app that will make life easier for the operator, company officials say.
“Our vision is to launch the iPhone in the field of pedelecs on the market,” says Tim Hosenfeldt, senior vice president-Technology Strategy and Innovation at Schaeffler. Pedelecs are a special category of electrified bicycles that are classified in many countries as bicycles, rather than motorized mopeds. A market launch is planned for 2020.
Schaeffler also is previewing several other electrification technologies:
A new drive-by-wire system for autonomous vehicles. Called the Schaeffler Mover, it’s from Schaeffler Paravan GmbH & Co. KG. It offers a flexible, zero-emissions platform for diverse vehicle concepts.
The 4ePerformance Concept Vehicle. Based on proven Schaeffler Formula E race technology, this fully electric vehicle is propelled by four Formula E motors delivering a total output of 880 kW (1,200 hp).
Sustainable mobility for the city of the future. The company will present a range of complementary electric solutions that make the internal-combustion engine fit for sustainable, customer-focused mobility for the city of the future.