This is the e-floater: a new, solar powered three-wheeled scooter. Paul Sillers talks with its inventor and discovers the ecology underpinning it.
From China’s Wuhan and Hangzhou to Paris’s Velib and London’s Santander Cycles, aka Boris Bikes, self-service bicycle hiring schemes are firmly established as an eco-friendly transport paradigm that mitigates city-centre traffic congestion, reduces street noise and cuts urban air pollution. They’re especially convenient for commuters who have to go the extra mile to get to their offices from the station. And bike hire schemes are pretty handy for tourists too.
The last major study conducted at the University of California’s Transportation Sustainability Research Centre at Berkeley in 2014 revealed that there are bike hire schemes in 712 cities worldwide, utilising 800,000 bikes.
THE NEXT GENERATION
But what will the next generation of eco- friendly, on-demand urban mobility look like? Hamburg-based Floatility GmbH – a portmanteau of floating and mobility – envisions it in the form of a three-wheeled, solar-powered electric scooter called the e-floater. The vehicle is lightweight and is charged via solar power cells at the docking station – or “solar bench” as its designers call it. And, according to Floatility’s Founder and CEO Oliver Risse, these solar scooters will hit the streets later this year.
The scooter’s development has taken advantage of new eco-efficient prototyping techniques made possible by the phenomenon of 3D printing.
“The e-floater is a perfect example of how 3D printing enables designers and inventors to turn their concepts into fully-operational products quickly and cost-effectively,” says Andy Middleton, president of Stratasys EMEA. The 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions company is using its FDM and PolyJet 3D printing technologies to transition the e-floater from concept to working prototype.
LIGHT AS A FEATHER
In contrast to bicycles which use human energy to keep the vehicle moving, the e-floater derives its power through the solar-powered docking station. “We’ve designed the e-floater for a range of 15km. A typical short distance trip will take 1.5-3km each. Too long to walk, too short to drive,” says Risse. To achieve this range, keeping the scooter really light has been key, so Floatility turned to the expertise of chemicals and plastics giant BASF which has created the composite and plastic materials that will be used in the production models to keep the weight of the device to around 12 kg. The weight of the e-floater obviously impacts the vehicle’s energy consumption and range, but durability for the urban environment and attaining a smooth ride is also down to assigning the right materials to the right components within the vehicle.
A broad spectrum of materials enabled that balance of robustness, lightness and ride comfort. For example, the main structure uses BASF’s reinforced Ultramid® (Polyamide) and a specially modified Ultramid® B3ZG8 combines toughness and stiffness in a way that is favourable for those structural parts that have to resist crash-loads. “This is a perfect example of how we cooperate with our partners to fully unfold the strengths of our innovative materials. The e-floater combines stability, durability and safety with an exciting, functional design,” explains Andy Postlethwaite, senior vice president, Performance Materials Asia Pacific, BASF.
Durable and lightweight materials and the use of solar power are just part of the product story. The e-floater’s integrated electric motor “communicates in real-time with a server back end. “It’s probably the easiest and most convenient short distance e-mobility solution,” according to Risse. He adds: “The combination of hardware plus software makes it an Internet-of-Things application that allows network operators the best and most efficient mobility operations.” Floatility sees the e-floater as having particular advantages over bicycles in an urban environment: Its weight is half that of a hire bike, and it’s portable, so it can be brought on to public rail, underground and trams. That’s a significant USP – it’s this ability to integrate with other transport modes, combined with its 20 kilometres per hour speed that makes it a compelling proposition. As to the power source, he says: “We’ve developed a pretty cool standalone solar bench where the e-floaters can be recharged.” How long will it be until the e-floater starts appearing on the streets? Risse says: “We’re operating and testing the first two pilot projects in Singapore and Hamburg. The rollout is planned for summer 2016 in Europe and Asia.”
PLEASE SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES AND VIEWS IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW