Oct 5, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Self-driving electric skateboards hint at future mobility

A woman with luggage approaching the Citroen En Voyage concept for an autonomous hotel lounge on wheels.
En Voyage, a chic hotel lounge on wheels, is one pod that could ride on Citroen's autonomous electric skateboard. Photo: Citroen

Nobody really knows what the future of urban transportation looks like, but chances are it will involve an electric skateboard.

Why it matters: Automakers like Citroën are imagining a future based on the same basic foundation: A "skateboard" chassis consisting of a flat battery pack and four wheels. What goes on top of the skateboard is open to interpretation — everything from robotaxis to delivery vans and more.

Driving the news: Citroën and two other large French companies are showing off some eye-popping new concepts that include a rolling hotel lounge and a gym on wheels, all tethered to an autonomous robot known as a Citroën Skate.

  • Citroën teamed up with Europe's largest hotel company, Accor, and the outdoor advertising giant JCDecaux — also a leader in urban bike rentals — on a self-driving mobility initiative called The Urban Collëctif.
  • Together, they came up with about 60 self-driving experiences that would allow people to explore cities in new ways.

How it works: The concepts — all futuristic and not-ready-for-a-street-corner-near-you — are based on Citroën's vision for an "open-source mobility model" that adapts to various needs.

Accor, for example, wants to extend the guest experience outside its hotels' walls:

  • En Voyage, therefore, would be a chic lounge — with a bar and virtual connection to the concierge — to transport travelers and their luggage from the train station to the hotel.
  • Power Fitness would be a moving vehicle with a rowing machine and exercise bike for travelers who want a workout while traversing the city.
  • City Provider would be a rolling, open-air park, with a green planted roof overhead and interactive screens to plan your excursion.

Fun details: The Citroën Skate's most interesting feature could be its Goodyear tires: They're spherical, which would allow the pods to move in any direction.

  • Yes, but: The Citroën Skate is designed to travel in dedicated lanes, which means they pretty much go in just one direction. Having dedicated lanes would improve traffic flow by 35%, Citroën says.
  • Citroën's design chief, Pierre Leclercq, said his team came up with more than 60 ideas for pods in just two days, ranging from a mobile optician to a barbershop, Car Magazine reported.

Context: While other carmakers haven't shown such far-out concepts, nearly all are working on some kind of modular skateboard platform that will be the foundation for new models.

  • GM, for instance, is designing luxury cars, pickup trucks, delivery vans and Cruise robotaxis on its Ultium EV platform.
  • Toyota's e-Palette can be customized for riders or cargo.

The bottom line: Autonomous, electric vehicles could potentially change the way people experience city life — by making roads safer and less congested while connecting them with jobs, housing, shops and entertainment.

  • While it's unlike any of these fantastical concepts will come to fruition, they represent the direction companies are hoping to build out our future mobility.
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