Citroen, arguably the most French of all French car firms (well, they've never put Peugeot's name up in lights on the Eiffel Tower...) has teamed up with two other well-known French brands to try to create the autonomous urban transport of the future.
Future urban mobility
Together with Accor (famous for hotels) and JCDeceaux (famous for outdoor advertising) Citroën has created a skateboard based urban transport system that could, some distant day, be shuttling us to and from our hotels and other destinations.
When we say skateboard, we don't mean Marty McFly-style. We mean a high-tech, fully autonomous, electric transportation system. The Citroën Skate is 2.6 metres long, 1.6 metres wide, and just 51cm high. It's designed with spherical wheels - specially made by Goodyear - at each corner, and is packed with autonomous sensors and software so that it can beetle around town all by itself, heading off to find a charging point when its batteries run low. Being as its top speed is just 25km/h, that probably won't be too often.
Those spherical Goodyears - assuming they can ever actually be brought to production - give the Skate remarkable manoeuvrability. It can turn in its own length, and even shuffle sideways to make the most of tight parking spots. Well, it has been designed for Paris you know... There are also Citroën's hydraulic cushion suspension systems at each corner, to make sure it rides pock-marked city streets with ease.
So, what goes on top? Well, that's where Accor and JCDecaux come in, working with Citroën to form what's being called the 'Urban Collëctif' The idea is that the Skate is effectively open-sourced - all you need to do is design a body that fits to its hard points, and you can have clever, autonomous, urban transport that fits your company's needs, as well as being something of a mobile advertising space.
The first of the bodies designed for the Skate is the Sofitel En Voyage - named after one of Accor's well-known hotel brands. Looking more than a little like a 19th century carriage (car design is truly coming full circle...) from one side, and an odd wooden alien pod from the other, it's actually been made using hyper-modern laser cutting techniques, to create bodywork that: "evokes the city of Paris, French furniture and haute couture."
Dramatic, circular couch
Inside, there's a dramatic high-backed red circular couch, which comfortably seats two-to-three people. Their luggage goes in a separate compartment, and there's an interior scrolling LED strip would display information in real time, such as personal messages, news, weather, arrival and travel times. There's also a mini-bar! It opens like a flower to the touch to offer drinks and snacks, a sound system, induction chargers and a configurable mood lighting. Finally, there's a tablet computer that puts you in direct touch with the concierge at the Sofitel hotel you're presumably staying in so that they can make bookings for you as you trundle around.
Next up is the Pullman Power Fitness pod - Pullman being another Accor hotel brand. It's a big glass bubble, with dichroic patterns that basically form blinds (for a bit of privacy). Inside, there's a static bicycle and a rowing machine, so that you can work up a sweat as you roam the city. If you need a bit of encouragement, there's also a digital coach that appears on a holographic screen, and who presumably hollers things at you to make you go faster. In French. It's even possible that cycling on the static bike could help to charge the Skate's batteries as you go...
Finally, there's the JCDecaux City Provider, which is arguably the simplest, and potentially most useful, of the three concepts. It's an open-sided shuttle, designed to be simple to use and accessible to the widest number of potential travellers. It looks almost like an old-fashioned tram car (again, design seems to be heading back tot he 19th century as we approach our autonomous future...) and is designed to be to board by passengers with luggage, a pushchair, using a wheelchair, alone or with other people.
There's an awning to keep the rain off, and on top of that is a living roof, planted with actual plants. There are two passenger spaces, each with USB sockets and touchscreens which can be used for planning and tracking journeys, obtaining information on cultural, tourist and community life and discovering new places, as well as proposed activities which the Pod can head towards on request. JCDecaux seems to be moving in the general direction of moving people around - it's been working with instant-rental city bikes since 2003.
"At Citroën, we examine medium and long-term trends to anticipate consumer expectations and needs. We believe that this new concept can redefine the framework of urban mobility: shared, electric and autonomous. With the solution we are presenting in partnership with Accor and JCDecaux, we are inventing autonomous mobility for all" said Vincent Cobée, Citroën Global CEO.
"We are delighted to be teaming up with Citroën and JCDecaux for this innovative project. With nearly 5,200 hotels worldwide, our Group is active in the local ecosystem and committed to offering ever more exclusive experiences, both to travellers and local communities, while contributing to the development of sustainable cities. Extending the hotel experience outside the walls of our establishments is in line with our bold and modern vision of hospitality" said Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Accor.
"Teaming up with public and private partners to develop innovative and useful solutions to sustainably improve city life is fully in line with JCDecaux's mission. The result of a close collaboration with Citroën and Accor, The Urban Collëctif symbolises JCDecaux's desire to continue to innovate and imagine the urban mobility services of the future" said Jean-Charles Decaux, Co-Chief Executive Officer of JCDecaux.