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Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century (MIT Press) 0th Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262013826
ISBN-10: 0262013827
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Editorial Reviews


The content is intelligent, well laid out, entertaining, understandable, and approachable...Often, works about the future of the automobile industry are just tools to express idealistic beliefs or anti-industry sentiments. This book is refreshing because the authors understand the whole package in terms of current problems, and their solutions, and succinctly present a glimpse of a future (and a present) that people can feel good about.


In this book, William Mitchell, perhaps the greatest urban theorist and designer of the Information Age, provides a concrete alternative to the unsustainable model of urban transportation based on the traditional automobile, and paves the way for the transformation of the automobile industry as a whole. In this time of crisis Reinventing the Automobile is mandatory reading, besides researchers and students, for planners, industrialists, and governments searching for a way out for the car of the industrial era.

(Manuel Castells, Professor Emeritus of City Planning, University of California, Berkeley)

Our American auto industry is at a perilous crossroads - it can adhere to the 'old ways' and perish or it can leapfrog the competition, reinvent itself, and lead the automotive world into the 21st century. Many of the ideas set forth in this book just might serve as a blueprint for this much-needed and important change of direction. Who better to lead the way than our geek brethren from MIT?

(Tom & Ray Magliozzi, aka "Click and Clack," Hosts of Car Talk)

We are at the threshold of a new era of urban transport. Reinventing the Automobile offers a breathtaking vista of the opportunities ahead. Mitchell, Borroni-Bird, and Burns combine their great engineering expertise, design skills, and practical experience to create a dazzling vision of a new urban transport system to support healthy, productive, safe, and environmentally sustainable cities in the 21st century. The book is consistently exciting, a wonderful chance to peer over the shoulders of masters as they sort through the complex terrain of energy systems, urban lifestyles, digital connectivity, and cutting-edge automotive engineering. This book will fascinate and inspire not only specialists in transport and engineering, but everybody interested in the new age of sustainable development.

(Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Special Advisor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon)

Finally, a book that addresses the problems of carbon emissions, sustainability, transportation, city planning, and traffic, by authors who understand what the automobile industry does not -- that these issues are all interconnected and part of the same picture. This book has a great deal to offer to anyone who is interested in the green movement in architecture, in city planning, in traffic problems, in pollution, and in the challenge of making our planet more humane.

(Frank Gehry)

Mitchell, Borroni-Bird, and Burns have created a blueprint for sustainable urban mobility. Reinventing the Automobile will fundamentally change the way we approach transportation design. Every car company should take note: evolve or face increasing irrelevance.

(David Kelley, Founder and Chairman, IDEO, and Professor, Stanford University)

It isn't technological barriers so much as closed minds that are holding back the necessary evolution of the automobile; using calm and devastatingly inarguable logic, this is a virtual step-by-step manual that deploys an original idea on every page to show exactly how it can and should be achieved. If you care about cars, read this book: it opens your mind and lets the future in.

(Bruce McCall, artist and writer The New Yorker)

Visionary in its totality, it is also soberly realistic.

(Peter D. Norton Metascience)

Presents a fascinating and challenging model of technological possibilities.

(Martin Wachs Issues in Science and Technology)

About the Author

William J. Mitchell was the Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr., Professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences and directed the Smart Cities research group at MIT's Media Lab. Christopher Borroni-Bird is GM's Director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts. Lawrence D. Burns advises companies, governments, and universities on transportation, energy, and communications systems and technology. He was Vice President of Research and Development at General Motors from 1998 to 2009.


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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (January 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262013827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262013826
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #836,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jay C. Smith on May 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book to stimulate one's thinking about the future of the automobile and urban transportation. Even if you are skeptical about some elements of the authors' vision, it is likely to enrich your understanding of how technology, design, functionality, and economics interact. Reinventing the Automobile is clearly written, supported with ample attractive and helpful graphics. There is a bit of repetition, though it is probably desirable to help explain synergies among several of the key concepts.

The authors explore four principal ideas: a radical new "DNA" in the design of small urban vehicles (driven by wheel motors, for example); a "Mobility Internet" to help manage traffic flows and promote safety; clean energy, with vehicles powered by electricity and hydrogen; and dynamically priced markets. Most of their discussion centers on two-seaters, either "neighborhood electric vehicles" or "electric city cars" with more range.

These vehicles will not be designed to achieve high speeds, which permits greater flexibility in structure, surfaces, and glazing. Elimination of the engine and the application of "by-wire" technology make it possible to imagine new shapes, and in one design even possible to "fold-up" the vehicles so that they occupy less parking space. Based on an electric "skateboard" chassis the vehicles are modular with relatively few parts, easier to construct and repair.

The authors suggest several applications of information technology to aid drivers, some of which can and do work quite well in cars today (GPS-based navigation systems, devices that receive information about traffic to assist routing, and safety sensors, for instance). More futuristic is their vision that eventually vehicles will be safely self-guided.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What would cars be like if they were optimized for urban use, taking maximum advantage of technology? They would be much smaller, designed for the typical load of one or two people. They would be safe due to sensors and software and would lack the heavy "armor" of crumple zones and steel cages. They would be energy-efficient zero-emission electric vehicles. They would be as helpful and informative as iPhones. The authors make a convincing case that these cars are possible with today's technology, and that cities would be cleaner, safer, and would need less space dedicated to parking lots and roads.

The problem with this "small is beautiful" vision is that it will be hard to sell it to most Americans, who are used to getting more, not less. But what if these little cars actually got you to your destination sooner, because they could go on tracks that bypassed intersections and congestion, and because they could augment their battery with power supplied by the road? In that case, even a Texan might want one. The Third Generation Roadway by Roger Davidheiser describes such a system, based on the same small cars described in "Reinventing the Automobile" but with the addition of an interface for a dedicated track, or "Roadway." I recommend that these two books be read together.

Their styles are different. "Reinventing the Automobile" reads like a PowerPoint presentation by a design professor, and "The Third Generation Roadway" reads like a master's thesis by an engineer. Neither asks nor answers the difficult and divisive question, "Do these improvements in auto technology negate the need for more investment in trains and buses in American-style cities?" But both are important and stimulating attempts to imagine how we will get around in the cities of the fairly near future.
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Format: Hardcover
Reinventing the Automobile fails as a work of fiction because it was impossible for me to "suspend disbelief" long enough to take the book seriously. It also fails as a work of non-fiction because it is too lacking in technical details to satisfy anyone interested in the details of what the authors are proposing.

Let me get the good part out of the way first. As a commuter in Boston, I travel 10 miles each way at speeds not exceeding 30 mph and most of the time spent sitting completely still. The CityCar concepts (AKA hiriko) seems like a very sensible alternative to me. The electric drive in a lightweight vehicle means very efficient commuting, and the folding design might allow me to share by $1200/year parking bill with another commuter (perhaps two others). I'm sold on the concept for the inner city.

But if you think you will learn anything about the details of this car design (the in-hub motors, the suspension, the folding design), think again. No technical details are presented on the engineering of the car.

ONLY IN THE CITY. The other aspect of this book that must be made clear is that they are only trying to solve the problem of city traffic. If you travel outside of the city, even occasionally, the solutions proposed in the book are not realistic. I'm OK with that approach in general, because EVs work best in cities and at low speed, but you can't help but feel that the authors have written-off the needs of a lot of Americans.

THE VISION IS GRAND, TOO GRAND. The vision of the authors is sweeping. They envision a future with many USV (Ultra small vehicles) that roam the city streets. They can even pilot themselves, aided by vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to signal light, vehicle to pedestrian communications.
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