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The German Aerospace Center is breathing new life into future urban mobility and logistics with its futuristic U-shift vehicle concept.
The electrified motoring future is no longer news. Innovative clean energy and automotive companies like Tesla and Rivian Automotive Inc. are bringing that “future” closer than ever. A foremost component of the mobility turnaround of the third millennium is driverless technology, otherwise known as autonomous driving.
Speaking of the third millennium, perhaps no other motorcar excites us more than the Lamborghini Terzo Millennio, the ultimate demonstration of what’s next in smart mobility, of which autonomous driving is part of it. But no one car - not even the Lamborghini hypercar, can or should have it all, and that’s precisely why we’re eager for the U-SHIFT Concept.
In that “future” where the likes of Lamborghini Terzo Millennio won't even have enough units to go around the one-percenters, the DLR U-SHIFT will serve an entirely different and nobler purpose. Spearheaded by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt; DLR), U-SHIFT is essentially a smarter, cleaner, and versatile way to “shift” people and cargo. Unlike the Terzo Millennio, speed, unnerving aerodynamic design, and self-healing capability are not the U-SHIFT’s selling points. Here’s how it works.
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A DLR-led research consortium unveiled an operable prototype of the vehicle at the Interim Conference of the Strategic Dialogue for the Automotive Sector in Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart in September 2020. The concept is all-electric, fully autonomous, and designed to “breathe new life into future urban mobility and logistics.”
You can tell from the first glance that the DLR U-SHIFT is a radical shift from a typical motorcar. The innovative, out-of-the-box design incorporates novel modularity demarcating the drive module (or driveboard) from the transport module. So, here’s a driverless transporter that though uses a driver, but the driver isn't human either. The intermodal design opens up a new wave of products and business ideas.
For example, third-party entities can build transport capsules for the vehicle. The vehicle has a wide range of applications as an on-demand shuttle, autonomous intra-logistics and barrier-free passenger transport, a mobile ad van, a high-tech on-call bus, a versatile distribution center for goods and parcels, or as a mobile sales vehicle.
Of course, we’ve thought of that too- U-Haul. Why not? This would make a brilliant moving truck, trailer, or storage facility. Think about the fact that the U-SHIFT project has already received over $12,000,000 in funding from the Baden-Württemberg Ministry for Economic Affairs, Labour, and Housing.
So, how does it work?
The U-shaped driveboard (the driver) is the heart of the vehicle integrating all core technical components and systems powering the autonomous, electric, and quiet travel. The drive unit can travel separately to meet, straddle, and lift the transport capsule. And then the journey begins. This is an incredibly brilliant concept as per cost efficiency. The driveboard is inexpensive to manufacture, can be applied to various use, and can operate round the clock.
We see this concept replicated in various industries around the world due to its high sustainability and economic viability. As Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, Baden-Württemberg Minister for Economic Affairs, said, “Entirely new products and business models can emerge from futuristic innovations such as the U-Shift vehicle concept.” She went on to say that the modular approach opens up a lot of opportunities where futuristic smart mobility solutions are concerned.
Karsten Lemmer, a DLR Executive Board Member for Energy and Transport emphasized the eventual broad adoption and application of the U-SHIFT concept as to why unveiling the prototype provides the opportunity for "researchers and future users to truly experience and help to improve the mobile world of tomorrow."
As a gearhead, you want to know what makes the driveboard tick. Naturally, those are the battery, electrical drive, automation components, and the lifting system that allows it to quickly and easily straddle various types of customizable transport capsules. This allows one driveboard to serve different purposes. The prototype presented at the Strategic Dialogue for the Automotive Sector was remote-controlled, but the completed product will be fully autonomous.
The consortium is particularly fond of the vehicle's noiseless operation at night. According to the manufacturers, U-SHIFT's MAD (Managed Automated Driving) automation technology is miles ahead as it is more closely linked to the vehicle's infrastructure than existing CAD (Cooperative Automated Driving) approaches. It features protection via infrastructure sensors, optimized use of road infrastructure, and management via a traffic control center.
Related: These Are The Various Levels Of Autonomous Driving In A Nutshell
While this future-oriented vehicle is developed in partnership with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the national aeronautics and space research center of the Federal Republic of Germany, the on-the-road modular concept will undoubtedly be exploited by both governments and private developers around the world. Thus, the DLR U-SHIFT automotive is very likely to shape the future of transportation around the world.
How about the idea of a government-sponsored program to build and service U-SHIFT-like driveboard units, with other private and public companies building various types of highly affordable transport capsules you can buy and keep around. That way, you can “hail” a drive unit for your capsule whenever needed without actually buying one. The prototype passenger capsule had seven seats, excluding the extra folding seat. There’s a large door at the rear with an integrated ramp to ensure convenient access.
The prototype cargo capsule could accommodate four Euro pallets or eight barred rolling cabinets. The thing isn’t as obtrusive as it looks in the pictures. It’s about the same size as a large van. This is just one among countless applications of the U-SHIFT concept. The technology is truly the future of smart mobility we’ve been waiting for. DLR says a fully autonomous example with a top speed closer to 38 mph should be available as early as 2024.
Philip Uwaoma, this bearded black male from Nigeria, has single-handedly written more than a million words in the form of articles published on various websites, including toylist.com, rehabaid.com, and autoquarterly.com. Of all the websites and platforms Philip’s work appears on, the absence of his name attached to the articles published on Auto Quarterly is the only one that makes him moan; “ghostwriting sucks.” Albeit, Philip still won’t shy away from writing as a ghost. After all, it's the value he adds to human life with his pen that fuels his passion for writing. He has no dog, no wife- yet- and he loves Rolls Royce more than he really should.