The recent sightings of a strange, solar-panelled electric vehicle lurking in the grounds of the University of Melbourne herald an exciting development in the possible future of transport: the Australian developed AEV from Applied Electric Vehicle Robotics has today been formally ‘soft-launched’ to the public.
Quietly developed for over three years now, the company is finally breaking cover today with the launch of its website. Following this, the vehicle and concept will be showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, (January 8 – 11, 2019).
The Driven was last week given an exclusive tour of the factory in Melbourne’s outer east where it is built and given interviews with builders and management to learn more about its features and development aims.
Management comes from several high-level auto manufacturing engineers – including their Chief Design Officer Luciano Nakamura (former Advanced Design Manager at General Motors) and CEO Julian Broadbent (former Director of Innovation at General Motors – who was part of Holden’s secret 2008 ‘EV super ute’ electric vehicle project which was later canned by GM Detroit during the GFC).
The Chief Financial Officer (Shane Ambry) is also a former Manager of Product Strategy at Telstra.
So what is it? Well another conventional vehicle for competition with the likes of VW, Tesla and Nissan it certainly is not! Instead, it is the result of reimagining the potential future of transport needs for an increasingly complex, connected and crowded urban environment.
Its developers specifically note in their interview for The Driven that the vehicle is not intended as a competitor to the ‘Swiss army knife’ that the modern vehicle has become: the AEV is a purpose-built vehicle, and system, designed to meet the needs of the ever increasingly complex and expanding inner urban transport and delivery environment.
As part of this, they are applying the concept of the Swedish ‘Vision Zero’ road safety campaign – where research there has shown that pedestrian survivability is dramatically enhanced by restricting impacts to 40km/hr or less.
For urban environments, AEV robotics both argue for, and apply, a 40km/hr maximum speed for their vehicles in an effort to make the urban environment safer. The vehicle is also lightweight at less than 1000kg, and engineered for low operating costs.
Included in its passenger pod configuration are high efficiency solar panels to assist with charging throughout the day as well as using standard vehicle AC couplers for faster and/or overnight charging.
So what is special about its design? First of all the vehicle is designed as a multi-adaptable platform rather than using the conventional monocoque construction.
Described as a ‘modular vehicle system’, the electrics, motors, batteries and ‘brains’ of the vehicle are all contained in a flat platform base with mounting points for swappable ‘pod’ bodies.
Pods can be mechanically swapped in a reported 6 minutes or less, including the clipping together of a single plug wiring harness to engage the driver displays and controls due to the ‘drive-by-wire’ nature of the vehicle systems.
The vehicle is also described as ‘autonomous ready’: but full driverless travel will have to wait for full implementation as both law changes (and vehicle trials) will need to happen before it is deemed safe to roll this function out.
In the meantime – what can it do? Well, it is one of the early breed of ‘connected’ vehicle, aware of its surroundings through both inbuilt sensors and communications with surrounding vehicles and systems.
Car sharing systems would be an ideal use for its passenger pod configuration to provide local and ‘last kilometre’ travel options, whilst autonomous versions would have uses limited only by the imagination. Their website shows various ideas from mobile autonomous stores to waste carriers and delivery vehicles.
With its launch will come trials of several vehicles with one of their major partners (who will be revealed at the CES) as well as trials with the recently established University of Melbourne project, the Australian Integrated Multimodal EcoSystem (AIMES).
AIMES is describes by their website as: “a world-first living laboratory based in the streets of Melbourne. AIMES is being established to test highly integrated transport technology and its ability to deliver safer, cleaner and more sustainable urban transport outcomes”.
The AIMES network will involve a series of sensors and systems (in conjunction with a number of major industry and business partners) to monitor and integrate developing connected transport technologies within a 6km2 area close to the University of Melbourne.
The AIMES system is currently in development, and will ultimately cover over 100km of local, arterial and tollway roads.
Together, the AIMES network trial and the AEV could point a tangible (and visible) way to some of the possible futures of the connected transport system so often touted to be the future of inner urban (and ultimately all) travel.
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.