Electric motorcycle designed by Chris Nichols (© Lawrence Technological University)
Electric motorcycle designed by Chris NicholsDesigner: Chris Nichols
School: Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, Mich.
A Michigan native and senior at Lawrence Technological University, Chris Nichols set out to create an electric motorcycle that meets the needs of both sport and touring riders. His innovative design wasn't inspired by current bike trends or even other futuristic creations that he might have seen in movies or on the Web. Instead, Nichols says he was inspired by a really cool chair. "It had these arching twin support tubes that I found fascinating," Nichols says. "So I decided to create a motorcycle on a twin-beam frame." He then eliminated the traditional fork steering that most motorcycles use and replaced it with a steer-by-wire system that uses hydraulics to turn the handlebars. In addition, the handlebars are on a track that slides forward as you accelerate, lowering your riding position for comfort at high speeds. They also slide back and rise as the rider slows down. This motion is a boon for both aggressive and leisurely riders, providing a more comfortable riding position in each situation.
The bike is fully electric, with four hub motors integrated with chargeable battery packs — a design feature that helps free up space where a traditional combustion engine would normally go, allowing for cargo storage instead. One unique feature is the virtual windscreen. A Venturi mixer — a bottleneck-shaped piece of hardware that compresses air and was used in the Renault Spider concept car — accelerates the air over the rider, eliminating the need for a physical windscreen.
Alex Nagel design
Designer: Alex Nagel
School: Humber College, Toronto
Students at Toronto's Humber College dabble in various forms of alternative energy: nuclear, hydro, solar, wind. "We try to use 'green' technologies not just in the design of the vehicle but also in the production of it," says senior Alex Nagel about students' extensive use of polymer composite and polycarbonate materials. For his senior thesis, Nagel designed a vehicle intended to be used for commuting around campus — at his own small school or at bigger universities. A lightweight, Go-Kart-sized machine, Nagel's conveyance is powered by solar energy, which is absorbed through a glasslike photovoltaic central spine and photovoltaic side panels that also act like a safety cocoon for drivers. The energy is stored in a small battery that feeds a pair of electric motors, one in each front wheel, which can propel the car at speeds of up to around 15 mph. Once the batteries are charged to capacity, excess energy can be channeled into the campus's energy reserve, which Nichols hopes will help offset costs of installing and operating the system.
Commuter car designed by Paul Hoste
Designer: Paul Hoste
School: University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati
Multitasking is at the heart of University of Cincinnati student Paul Hoste's design: a commuter car that drives on a magnetic-levitation rail system similar to Japan's famed bullet train, which uses high-power magnets to provide lift and propulsion. The result is a self-driving, high-speed way of travel into cities. Why is this good for commuters? All of the driving duties are handled by a computer, so passengers are free to send emails, prepare for meetings and do any other tasks they'd be able to do while riding public transportation. At the end of the commute, the vehicle leaves the rail system and drives itself to a parking structure. Just how is a little fuzzy, but the gist is that it would ideally "use a variety of sensor inputs (radar, lidar, etc.), an advanced GPS-guided system and traffic-guidance systems to navigate the streets on its own," Hoste says.
Claire Martin has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Outside magazine. She's the former deputy editor of Men's Journal and currently lives in Los Angeles, where she covers technology, travel and food.