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You are here: Home > Suggested readings > Mitchell - Reinventing the Automobile - ISBN 9780262013826 - 3.5/5

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Published on 2018-05-22 10:28:00 | words: 1713


Mitchell, William J.
Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century (MIT Press)
BookID 155928853
ISBN 9780262013826
(see LibraryThing.com card)
Description (from Amazon)This book provides a long-overdue vision for a new automobile era.

The cars we drive today follow the same underlying design principles as the Model Ts of a hundred years ago and the tail-finned sedans of fifty years ago. In the twenty-first century, cars are still made for twentieth-century purposes.

They are inefficient for providing personal mobility within cities -- where most of the world's people now live.

In this pathbreaking book, William Mitchell and two industry experts reimagine the automobile, describing vehicles of the near future that are green, smart, connected, and fun to drive.

They roll out four big ideas that will make this both feasible and timely.

The fundamental reinvention of the automobile won't be easy, but it is an urgent necessity -- to make urban mobility more convenient and sustainable, to make cities more livable, and to help bring the automobile industry out of crisis.
My review: 3.5/5This is actually a "dual" book review, covering in part both this book and Hasegawa's "Clean Car Wars: How Honda and Toyota Are Winning the Battle of the Eco-Friendly Autos".

Why? Because while Mitchell (2010) focuses on the technical issue, economic analysis, and physical infrastructure to prepare the transition to a new kind of mobility, Hasegawa (2008, but I read the 2010 Italian edition) is more focused on the human side.

And, incidentally, both books actually hint here and there about the long history of electric cars and what made it not possible to have them before.

Therefore, I suggest to do as I did- preview both, and then read both but alternating content, as Mitchell's first part can be a good background on the potential of the future, while Hasegawa's book, after the Toyota-Honda "arms race" for hybrid and electrical, digs more deeply into the historical attempts- and becomes a useful introduction to contextualize the remaining parts of Mitchell's book (which, beside being technical, discuss also the economic side- something that is more easily understood if you know a bit about past attempts)

And now, the review of Mitchell's book.

Some reviewer on Amazon said that this book is a disappointment, as it is too much about technology, while cars aren't just that.

Frankly, it is not a Womack, but a sign of the times.

While Womack's "The Machine that Changed the World" was focused on Lean Manufacturing with cars at its center (from design, to engineering, to supply chain management, to production, with a short foray into distribution and sales), with customers dropped in almost as a footnote, this book is just apparently about technology.

It is about cars' DNA in new times, times where cars make sense only if seen within a "systemic" approach.

To be precise, as stated within the preface, the point is to change that DNA, moving beyond fossil fuels cars, and onto electrical cars that are wirelessly connected.

Cars of the future? What would "ownership" mean has yet to be fully designed, but certanly I am not the only one thinking that cars should be seen as a "moving platform".

So, not individual cars anymore, but platforms that coexist along with other platforms, and coordinate themselves into a mobility ecosystem.

I am writing in May 2018, the book is from 2010- and just the other day Jeremy Rifkin said that a German auto and truck maker (I call it "mobility components producers"- I think that also "model design" will change a lot, thanks to commoditization of sub-assemblies)...

...unleashed a large number of vehicles that actually have a "skin of sensors", so that, while moving, deliver data about their environment, data that can be used to rereoute other "mobility components".

Beside moving past fossil fuels, the other element is what the book calls "Mobility Internet".

This will actually change also our way of seeing at data: which data makes sense to transfer to a central storage facility ("Big Data")? Which data should instead spread and processed locally (what we call "Edge Computing")? And what should be the lifespan of these Big Data processed at the Edge? Or what if they were to use Mesh networks?

Which is similar to the "deep space Internet", i.e. the "catch-and-release" of data packet by each vehicle.

I remember something similar in my 1980s time on Decision Support Systems and data storage and first large databases in retail.

Systems were designed to have more details on the "now and here" (e.g. daily or maximum weekly data for each store), aggregated and clustered information on a "short-yet-longer" timeframe (e.g. weekly, monthly), and even more aggregated data or even just Key Performance Indicators on a longer timeframe (months, quarters, years).

Why? Because back then disk space was too expensive, and anyway there weren't the human and technical capabilities to process all those data- we needed a manageable haystack to find needles, not an Everest-size one.

Right now, the collection and dissemination of Big Data collected by a "swarm of sensors on wheels" has to cope more with data transmission, bandwidth issues, than storage space.

But, at the same time, this is an opportunity to avoid doing with "mobility Internet" the same mistake done with many data warehousing and Big Data projects.

Just because 5G or a future 6G will allow more bandwidth, it doesn't mean that we have to use it for irrelevant data (allow me to send you to a book that I wrote, and that can be read online for free, just on "relevant data" http://www.robertolofaro.com/portal/books/business-books/)

A third element- if you have cars that are electrical and communicate via a mobility Internet, it makes sense to power them with a smart grid that is able to adapt pricing to demand and corral energy provided by clean and renewable sources.

How smart? Smart enough to consider that, in reality, a fuel-cell-based vehicle is not just a consumer of electricity, but potentially also a storage facility and producer.

Akin to mining bitcoin but generating, not substracting, real value (energy).

A fourth element is the integration of all these systems (and vehicles) together, to add coordination and dynamic pricing also for roads and other infrastructure used by vehicles (and for use of the vehicles).

There is a fifth element that is just hinted at in the preface (and not singled out), but appears here and there across all the book.

Our current towns were redesigned for fossil fuel cars that had to be moved indipendently, and therefore needed to be larger and heavier, both for security reasons and due to the needs of combustion engines and the associated mechanical elements converting fossil fuel into motion.

Anyway, nice the "Superfob" concept of carrying along with you the "configuration" of your car, so that it reconfigures automatically when you approach it (e.g. to be used when you use a car sharing, as any vehicle within the fleet would be configured for your use automatically).

Even funnier the concept of "social networking" between modular vehicles, a kind of "swarm driving", as well the "convoy" approach to reduce queues and vehicle separation.

Also if now a little bit dated, the book contains information that is quite useful as a reference for further activities, e.g. by listing the various configurations possible for doors, wheels, and discussing briefly stability and flexibility issues.

As a further "general thinking framework", the book includes also multiple discussions about the Total Cost of Ownership and lifecycle (e.g. maintenance, repairs) for various non-combustion-engine vehicles, as well as energy costs and business models for infrastructure use billing.

The second part is more focused on the infrastructural details- but, being focused on "Personal Urban Mobility", while Womack's research discussed redesigning the manufacturing processes, there Mitchell's book contains only some hints (e.g. swappable standardized batteries, or swappable wheels-with-electrical-engine, the "in-wheels" version of electrical).

An overall theme that is not so often discussed is that, per se, while hybrid car might create new jobs and require investments, electrification actually could streamline the market, as electrical vehicles are generally more complex on the electronics and software side (notably when are using multiple sources of energy and energy storage/release), but with less parts.

There is one section that even today, almost ten years latest, is still relevant and often missing from discussions about alternative modes of transportation: that electrification would actually have the potential of an "equalizer", as there might be many different energy sources.

Living in Italy, I had a chance to see across the decades how diverse could be our local renewable energy sources (we have limited fossil fuels sources, and our coal is terrible), but co-generation initiatives over the last few decades showed all the complexity of grid management (we have a company doing that at the national level, Terna https://www.terna.it/).

But I will further develop these ideas within a "drafting" section that I will post soon on the drafting of a books on the commons that I started long ago- see http://robertolofaro.com/expo2015diariesdrafting

About the future of mobility industry (and not just the automotive industry), more recent (2016 and 2017) details are available in two German books that I will soon review, "Silicon Germany" and "Der letzte Führerschein-neuling".

[Review released on 2018-02-22]
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