Video Shows How Sleek Electric Cars Will Save Space in Future Smart Cities
Uniti doesn’t just want to electrify the car: it wants to change how we approach the car altogether. The Swedish startup is designing an electric vehicle built specifically with sharing in mind, offering space-efficient designs that will interact with smart cities. Its first vehicle, the One, looks a lot like something that could have rolled straight out of Apple’s last keynote.
“We might look like an Apple car but our software DNA is certainly more Android,” Thomas Westrum, senior vice president of digital for Uniti, tells Inverse.
The two-seater One is built for getting around a city at speed. Uniti is focused on supporting third-party technologies instead of an Apple-like approach of designing as much as possible itself. This includes a global partnership with Siemens and plans to integrate with smart city functionality. The latter refers to ideas like “Mobility as a Service” or “MaaS,” where a single app could handle payment and map out routes using a mix of whatever available transit is the most convenient.
It’s an area of innovation that’s growing in popularity, built on the hope that car sharing can save space and money for big city dwellers. Companies like ZipCar and Getaround encouraged around 15 million users globally to use a shared car in 2016, a figure set to rise to 36 million by 2025. On the other hand, a McKinsey report recently noted that because car sharing leads to higher mileage, that also means faster turnover, though, a younger fleet could also reduce carbon emissions by ensuring only the most efficient vehicles are on the road.
The One could prove central to making this possible, though its preliminary specs are unlikely to set to heart racing. It offers 149 miles of range from a 26 kilowatt-hour battery pack, with a top speed of 80 mph, capable of recharging from 20 percent to 80 percent in 25 minutes from a standard charge. Its dual motors output 120 kilowatts to power its rear wheel drive configuration. The whole thing weighs 900 kg, or just shy of 2,000 pounds.
It’s no Tesla Model S, but it’s ideal for the sort of commutable distances the team has in mind for this new ownership model. Because of this, Uniti is focusing on workplace-based charging solutions that make more sense for users that don’t own their electric car, and thus have little appetite to spend time and energy fitting a charge point in their home.
“Simply put, people should charge at work and commute to home rather than the other way around,” Westrum says. “This will prove essential to folks living in areas where at home charging isn’t yet practical or yet available.”
The company started out as a research project at Sweden’s Lund University in 2015, and it’s rapidly expanded since. It first unveiled the One at a launch event in December 2017, in front of 2,000 attendees at its headquarters in Landskrona. The vehicle, announced with a price of €14,900 ($16,976) with a deposit of €149 ($168), has since garnered a pre-order value of over €70 million ($79.8 million). The firm started a new round of fundraising in October 2018, with a pre-money valuation of £97 million ($122.5 million), and by the end of the year, it had nearly reached its £1 million ($1.26 million) goal.
While its small size restricts Uniti from bundling a heftier 90-kilowatt-hour battery like the ones found in the Jaguar I-Pace, the unique design of the One does mean more efficient use of city space.
“Because of our small physical footprint, we can place up to 20 vehicles in the same space usually reserved for eight,” Westrum says. “Place an induction pad on that space and we can charge all 20 through just one 3 phase charger (or do the same leveraging daisy chain charging without the pad).”
The car also improves on the actual act of parking. While giant parking robots like the ones designed by Giken are an uncommon sight in cities, Uniti’s vehicles can work together to form a virtual parking system that makes hailing a vehicle simpler.
“By making use of some fairly standard park assist autonomous features, the vehicles can essentially valet park themselves (think of it as an EV ‘vending machine’),” Westrum says. “In places where parking is a premium (London, NYC, etc.) we think this approach can prove to be quite helpful.”
It’s the sort of platform that can enable some of the more utopian visions for autonomous cars, where users can hail a ride and fall asleep in a robo-cab. Tesla is working on setting up such a service for its existing vehicles, while Volkswagen firm Moia is planning something similar for the early 2020s, but Westrum rejects the idea that autonomy is required to change transportation.
“We tend to view autonomy as the new seat belt, more about making automotive fatalities a thing of the past than taking away steering wheels,” Westrum says. “So in that context, autonomy figures into our planning from the start. That’s why we’ll have the necessary sensors, on board processing and wireless capabilities standard from the start, waiting to be progressively “turned on” via software updates as regulations catch up with the technology.”
The production version of the One is due to be unveiled in late 2019, with plans to start deliveries to customers shortly after.
Related video: Uniti One Electric Car Going for a Ride