Citroen offers vision of autonomous, electric mobility with Urban Collective project

Europe

PARIS — Citroen and two major French companies plan to introduce an urban mobility system based on an electric, autonomous “skateboard” platform that can be combined with various “pods,” including a mobile gym, a luxury lounge and a public-private shuttle.

The partnership, Urban Collective, also includes the hotel operator Accor, which has more than 40 brands; and JCDecaux, the outdoor advertising and street furniture provider that also operates bike-sharing services. 

The vehicles would run on dedicated lanes, such as those already in use for buses, to ensure safety and limit costs, with a top speed of 25 kph. 

Citroen brand CEO Vincent Cobee said Wednesday during an online introductory event that it would take at least five to seven years to commercialize such a venture. 

“We’re visualizing a great idea and we’re opening a discussion,” he said. “We think the idea has a lot of traction, but getting to a physical operation would require four actors: city transport authorities, transport operators, manufacturers and the pod services.”

“This isn’t black magic,” he said. “If you go into any factory you can see autonomous vehicles moving parts around,” he said, adding that autonomous shuttles are being tested at locations around the world.

Citroen has been Stellantis’ leader in urban mobility products with the Ami, an electric quadricycle that was released in 2020.

The skateboard platform is 2,600 mm long, 1,600 mm wide and 510 mm high. It features spherical wheels developed by Goodyear that incorporate small electric motors, allowing it to pivot in any direction. They can be summoned via apps.

Citroen and partners say the goal of the collaboration is to “decongest cities while meeting citizens’ growing needs for mobility, services, safety and well-being.” A fleet of the vehicles could improve congestion in city centers by 35 percent, they say.

Citroen says the pods can be positioned on the skateboard in less than 10 seconds. Sensors to enable autonomous operation are hidden behind the brand’s logos. Suspension is provided by hydraulic cushions.

The Urban Collective system is meant to be open-source, the partners said, to encourage development of different pods. Among the possible users are municipal agencies, medical centers, airports, convention centers, food trucks or waste disposal services. 

Pierre Leclercq, head of design at Citroen, said about 60 ideas for different pods had already been discussed, but for now three designs have been prototyped:

  • The Sofitel En Voyage (Accor): This pod is meant to be luxury personal transport, and accommodates two or three passengers with their luggage. It has a bar with drinks and snacks, a sound system, mood lighting, and a touchscreen to contact a hotel concierge to make a dinner reservation, for example. “We want to give you an experience beyond the walls of your hotel,” said Patrick Mendes, head of sales and marketing at Accor.
  • The Pullman Power Fitness (Accor): This streamlined pod offers on-the-go fitness for hotel guests, allowing them to use a rowing machine and other equipment while traveling between city destinations. 
  • The City Provider (JCDecaux): This pod is an “accessible mobility service,” meant to ferry up to five passengers to various destinations. It can accommodate wheelchairs, tourists’ luggage or a baby stroller to make urban travel easier. There are two seating areas, one open to the air and the other protected by a roof. Interactive screens give information about activities, traffic conditions and community life.

Cobee said that problems with urban transportation would be best solved through such collaborative efforts as Urban Collective. 

“We see a very traditional, sectorial approach to transport today through authorities,” Cobee said. “Then on the other end we see a bunch of technology-based startups trying to find solutions. But in the middle there are key questions of resource usage, equality, reliability, freedom of movement and affordability.”

“The solution is probably only going to come through a collaboration between experience providers, authorities and manufacturers,” he added. “It’s a form of social responsibility to say that what we see today is not cutting it.”

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