FISITA stands for the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés D’ingénieurs des Techniques de L’Automobile. To make it easier, think of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) on a global scale. Dr. Chris Borroni-Bird, vice president for Strategic Development at Qualcomm has posted a proposal on the FISITA website that calls for a new mobility model for Africa.
The idea is predicated on the fact that much of Africa has little or no formal transportation infrastructure. Therefore, conventional vehicles meant to travel on conventional roads are not suitable for transportation in many parts of Africa. Borroni-Bird proposes that a solar-powered low-speed electric vehicle would be ideal for use in Africa’s poorest communities. Its basic architecture would provide a frame, an electric motor, brakes, and a steering mechanism. Everything else could be constructed inexpensively using materials available locally.
Such a vehicle could enable the growth of commerce at the most basic level. The solar-powered EVs could provide transportation to collect wood from the forest or water from a well. The time saved by not having to do these daily chores on foot would enable the manufacture of local goods that could then become part of a micro-economy. It might also create time that could be used for education and community-building activities.
A low-speed, lightweight vehicle could travel easily between adjacent villages. That could facilitate access to fertilizer to grow crops and a connection to markets to sell goods. It would also expand healthcare opportunities. When not being used for transportation, the vehicle could be used to power water pumps, grind grain, or charge cellphones.
The idea is similar to what Philips is doing with its new line of solar-powered lights designed specifically for rural communities in Africa that do not have access to conventional electrical grids. The lights provide a source of illumination that makes educational and commercial activities possible after sunset for the first time in many parts of the continent.
For many who are not familiar with Africa, it is easy to assume that the vehicles and infrastructure we are accustomed to in the developed world can just be imported to Africa and be useful. We fail to recognize how rudimentary life in much of that continent can be.
What Dr. Borroni-Bird does is simplify the notion of what transportation means for residents of Africa and reduce it to its component parts. It is a classic example of “less is more” thinking. It recognizes that everything we think of as normal in our world is not necessarily what people in other parts of the world need in theirs.