Stories & Projects

A United Nations roadmap for sustainable mobility


Equipped with the UN 'Sustainable Development Goals' as a roadmap for change, TD1 students role-played as design strategists analyzing trends and developing solutions towards a more circular future.

Text: Jens Persson 

Few industries are undergoing as profound a transformation as the world of transportation. The industry's parallel paradigm shifts towards sustainable-, autonomous- and shared mobility will radically alter the vehicle landscape in decades to come. Part of the challenge for emerging designers is to look beyond form and aesthetics, the beating heart of the business over the past century. Honing a holistic mindset, where function and strategy become equally central pillars in the designer toolbox, will be vital to staying ahead of the curve.

Demian Horst, Head of Umeå Institute of Design and previous director for the TD programme, set the challenge for the students using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guiding principle.

"Students were introduced to all seventeen SDGs during the research and concept formulation phases of the course. In parallel, they analyzed the values, strengths and challenges of three different brands within the portfolio of our collaboration partner, Polaris. The students then selected the SDGs that seemed more relevant for each company and used these both as guidance and inspiration to propose mobility solutions and vehicle concepts that could support a new strategic direction for the company".

From cars to boats - making use of inner-city waterways

Polaris proposed its brands Goupil, Aixam and Taylor-Dunn for a strategic re-evaluation. Teams of students were challenged to develop vehicle line-ups that could revitalize each of the brands within the scope of sustainability. The overarching mission was to present a concept that could stand the test of time, from an environmental standpoint as well as from a business one. From the outset, students assumed the role of design strategists, navigating different stakeholders while staying in close contact with business professionals from different areas within the Polaris organization.

The student team of Weihao Shao, Mario Schaffeld and Christoffer Weinrich were tasked with the make-over of GOUPIL, a company specialized in utility electric vehicles suited for watering, waste collection and deliveries. Focusing on SDGs 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities & communities), 12 (responsible consumption & production) and 15 (life on land), they developed a concept for an autonomous network of vehicles, including boats, to help offload logistic operations currently performed using roads in the big cities.

"In the future, utilizing waterways in cities can effectively help us decrease congestion by moving tasks mainly reserved by road-based vehicles today onto water. It could have a massive impact on our carbon footprint", says Mario Schaffeld.

Goupilc4The C4 driverless catamaran designed for deliveries using inner-city waterways.

One of the vehicles, the C4, is a driverless catamaran performing parcel delivery, waste management and maintenance tasks in urban environments. The C4 connects to a sharing ecosystem, the Goupil HUB, with the other two vehicles developed by the group. The second vehicle is the G2-S, a utility vehicle that is activated through a mobile app able to carry out professional and private assignments. When tasks are finished, the G2-S goes back to the Goupil HUB, loading cargo modules and switching batteries for the next trip. Finally, G0 is a small-size autonomous robot, a smart co-worker able to carry heavy objects around, collecting waste or hand over tools to make the customer's life a little easier. The Goupil network of vehicles operate inside the city, becoming an integrated part of the urban environment.

The interactive factory vehicle - a new approach to shared, digital mobility

The group responsible for modernizing the Taylor-Dunn brand created two alternate concepts. One, called Collective Industry, is an approachable industry vehicle and the other, titled Tactical Urbanism, acts as temporary urban furniture to promote social interaction in city areas.

The Collective Industry concept connects people from different businesses allowing them to work closer and in more interactive ways. In one design example a craft beer company uses the Collective Industry Pixel Buggy as an agile logistic vehicle for transporting boxes and barrels. In another case, a music festival company uses the Pixel Buggy with a robotic arm add-on, allowing it to support work in preparing modular festival stages.

CisketchesProcess sketches from the developmental phase of the Collective Industry vehicle.

The Tactical Urbanism concept includes low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places.

The strategic direction of the concepts developed by the Taylor-Dunn student group align with sustainability in differen ways; through sharing services, safety measures, interactive efficiency and the digitization of the vehicle fleet.

Greg Brew, Vice-President of Industrial Design at Polaris, believed that all three student design teams executed the challenge in a strong way.

"All the teams more than fulfilled our hopes and there has been a lot of interest and follow-up conversations after the presentations. The concepts emphasized the overall design solutions, packaging solutions and brand proposals. They felt very fresh and straightforward, I was very impressed"

A human-powered vehicle promoting physical and mental health

The student team tasked with updating the Aixam vehicle portfolio saw an opportunity to develop a mobility sharing platform, Aixam Connect, that could appeal to a broader target group in the license-free vehicle market. An extensive research phase, followed by ideation and prototyping led to three distinct vehicle types, all connected via the Aixam Connect app.

The three vehicles - Flex, Companion and Active - are all made with reproduced and recycled materials. These waterproof reproduced plastic fabrics also reduce the overall weight of the vehicle, thus helping decrease the cost and the energy of driving.

The Aixam Flex, as the name suggests, is all about flexibility. This is an all-terrain vehicle that can compete with SUV's, ATV's and camper vans, all at once. Flex allows you to go for outings in the countryside, explore nature or just unwind from the hectic city life. It's a license-free vehicle made to fulfil everyday purposes during weekdays and a vessel for adventure backpacking during weekends.

The Aixam Companion is, in short, a smart trailer. Rather uniquely, it autonomously connects to and follows a lead-vehicle through city traffic, without any physical link. The front and back panels are designed as interactive touch screens. After recording and saving your voice commands, it's just a matter of seconds before you can start performing basic functions like opening the side door, which is especially useful when your hands are full during onloading.

While charging in your backyard, the Aixam Companion turns into a hang-out space as the back part of the vehicle extends into a lounge area and the integrated speakers are activated.

Finally, the Aixam Active is all about promoting physical and mental health. It's a human-powered vehicle acting as a bridge between the car and the e-bike. The experience is meant to be engaging, fun and empowering. It is designed for people conscious about their own health and the environment.

AIXAM ACTIVE2 PROCESSThe Aixam Active is a a human-powered license-free vehicle promoting physical and environmental well-being.

The group behind Aixam Active hopes that it can create a new standard for hybrid vehicles in the small mobility segment. The concept, whose design has taken inspiration from the exoskeleton and the wingsuit, combines the encapsulating protection and stability of the license-free car and the augmented, activating aspects of the e-bike.

The vehicle also has interactive elements via its app-based digital point system, connected to the level of resistance you choose while pedaling, or by sharing and connecting with other users. Through the point system you are able to unlock new interfaces, discounts for the newest software updates or receive custom storage options. By updating the vehicle software over time, the idea is to keep it in use longer, thus making it more sustainable.