| 11:02 AM EST

Transforming the Seat

Most know the famous quote from the 1967 film The Graduate, when an older executive tells the college graduate as he looks toward the future: “Plastics.” If I was to encounter a young mobility designer now, 52 years later, the one word of advice I’d give is: “Pods.” As in personal seating pod design for the upcoming massive multi-passenger vehicle mobility future.
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Most know the famous quote from the 1967 film The Graduate, when an older executive tells the college graduate as he looks toward the future: “Plastics.” If I was to encounter a young mobility designer now, 52 years later, the one word of advice I’d give is: “Pods.” As in personal seating pod design for the upcoming massive multi-passenger vehicle mobility future.

I see an enormous opportunity for creating personal, cove-like seating environments for people riding in future iTaxi (Uber/Lyft) vehicles, in new-generation public transit, in future autonomous vehicles, and in further out monorail and Hyperloop-style high-speed transit applications.

Why? Because every major city is seeking to improve the performance of their mobility systems, and only having one rider in a vehicle the size of a Ford Explorer, just won’t cut it. We have to move more people in less space, and one important way I see to accomplish that is to offer the rider a comfortable private environment to sit in, not unlike their car offers them today.

As I’ve written in this column before, an average city such as Denver only has 1.1 people/per car on average. Since most cars have at least five seats, that’s a 20% load factor. It’s interesting to note that not one major airline could stay in business for more than one week flying as such an inefficient level.

Even in the early days of the iTaxi industry, these services are creating more congestion than desired, often having a large numbers of their cars moving about in traffic with no riders at all as they wait for their next customer. UberX costs about $2/mile, and would be less if more riders would share a ride, but few do. Creating more personalized seating environments can’t fully address this situation, but it is a key part of the solution.

I’m inspired by the first-class cabins on airliners that offer pod-like private seating (and sleeping) offerings today. Users are provided screens or dividers to have a private space, so they can rest well or do their work.

As the iTaxi industry develops, I can easily see them offering vans, not unlike Via offers today, allowing them to move more people for a lower price. But I don’t see their customers wanting to enter something like a Super Shuttle van, with many rows of cramped riders, having difficulty accessing a rear seat and constantly rubbing shoulders with the passengers next to them. Also, packing the most people possible in a van doesn’t allow a rider to use their computer, make a phone call, nor relax with any real comfort.

Even the most modern Sprinter or Ford Transit van lacks the type of private seating environment that would be attractive to a car user. Europe-based Moia (a VW company) may have the best van interior today, which has more room for the rider, but still feels like old thinking.

The only “group mobility” vehicle design that I have seen from around the world that heads in the right direction is from IDEO. Several years ago they presented a new automobile-sized vehicle concept with more personal and individualized seating.

Ultimately, I would like to see the van’s body be designed to make ingress/egress far easier. Perhaps a section of the roof might lift-up to make loading easier. I can also imagine new loading platforms at fixed stations that are designed to rise-up when the van approaches, to eliminate that large uncomfortable first step entrance into the van.

One place to see some improved rider productivity in a group mobility vehicle is inside the many buses used in Silicon Valley to move employees of the large tech companies to and from work. Some of these buses offer large tables, and wi-fi, for their riders.

Even further down the road, I can see an opportunity for making the seat in a future group mobility vehicle a tiny “vehicle, perhaps with two small wheels at the side and Segway-like operation. This would allow your “seat” to load and unload automatically, and even allow switching from one large group vehicle for another incredibly easy for the user.

 

 

 

 

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