The HIRIKO project, originally the CityCar from Massachussets Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Media Lab, introduced its revolutionary prototype to Durao Barroso, President of the European Commission on January 24th. The unveiling in Brussels is a symbolic first step toward production. “Hiriko” sounds Japanese, but it’s a Basque word for “urban,” which is pretty cool, especially since it’s a Basque investment group (Denokinn) that partnered with MIT to bring the diminutive EV to production. You just don’t hear about the Basque region in the news all that often Stateside.
The Hiriko is not simply a neat new EV; it’s meant to be a package for social innovation: creating jobs, improving urban transportation, and reducing pollution. Jesus Echave, chairman of HIRIKO-AFYPAIDA, says “HIRIKO is not just an industrial and technological project at the highest level. It also provides solutions in terms of employment, urban mobility, business cooperation and attention to disadvantageous groups.” If it seems like a lot will depend on HIRIKO, it makes sense, because the thrust of the project originally was “less a vehicle than a system and set of ideas that could be applied to many kinds of vehicles, including scooters.”
President Barroso outlined the Hiriko’s purpose and benefits in his speech Tuesday:
“Firstly, it is a successful example of how to give a new lease of life to traditional industrial sectors by contributing to address major modern societal challenges, in that specific case, urban mobility and pollution.
Secondly, it is a great combination of new business types of cooperation and employment opportunities with a strong social dimension.
Thirdly, it is an excellent illustration of the finest use that can be made of European social funds. Indeed Hiriko was initiated thanks to a European social fund project aiming at stimulating job creation in a disadvantaged area.”
So what is this HIRIKO car all about, technically ?
1. The two-seater with four-wheel drive is 100% electric and electronic; no mechanical controls here. It is powered with a lithium-ion battery pack (Haters take heed: the aim is to work with a smart electric grid that uses clean, renewable energy sources)
2. The electric cars fold up and fit together like wee shopping carts- stack away! And great for parking, taking up 1/3 the space of a conventional vehicle.
3. 60 mile range; perfect for urban driving
4. Pod-like design is super cute!
5. Driver and passenger enters through windshield, which swings upward- fuuuuuture!
6. Equipped with a “state of the art information system for permanent communication in an intelligent city environment,” meaning, your smart phone will find it.
7. It will function like a bike sharing program, which will alert users whenever one is available
8. Powered by 4 in-wheel electric motors with independent regenerative braking systems, steering, and suspensions- all digitally controlled. The car will be able to spin on its own axis, making maneuvering into tight parking spaces easy
Looks like success, doesn’t it?
Part of the reason the automobile has remained so popular is the independence it grants the driver. I detest bus system delays, and I don’t carpool because I don’t like to depend on others. The HIRIKO project maintains individual freedom but addresses the problem of each person owning a car by reducing space used and congestion created by the one person, one car tradition.
The HIRIKO’s success will probably also be based on how well the consortium backing the production works together, and how the system is deployed. Its innovative enterprise consortium is based on inter-enterprise cooperation, where many companies from different fields have worked together to develop and ultimately manufacture the EV. In preparation for production, MIT is studying deployment first in Barcelona, Berlin, Malmo, Hong Kong, and San Francisco (score!), with other cities to come, including Boston. Industrial production and commercialization is slated for 2013, but the HIRIKO EV could be on sale for personal use for an estimated $16400.
Read President Barroso’s speech.
Images via Hiriko