« Marketing software for small companies: great marketing essay | Home | Using CSS with radio »

April 30, 2002

The skateboard: GM's new idea for fuel cell cars

This is a few months old, but it's still a revolutionary idea in transportation. In January GM previewed technology  it's working on towards hydrogen fuel cell cars.  What was most interesting was the expression of that idea in a technology GM calls AUTOnomy. AUTOnomy divides the vehicle into two parts: the body, or upper part of the car that we sit in, and the platform, which sits underneath the body.  The platform is the revolutionary part: it's designed to be produced in mass, last perhaps 20 years, and allow different kinds of vehicle bodies to sit on top of the platform.

GM calls the platform the skateboard, and it looks like one.  Think of a skateboard as long and as wide as a normal car, with four tires at the corners, but no more than 6 inches high.  The skateboard contains the fuel cells, the drive train the brakes - everything that makes the car go.  A regular car has mechanical linkages - the brake pedal pushes down on something that in turn connects to something that squeezes your brakes - but in GM's concept, it's all electronic, or drive-by-wire. The body in turn "docks" with the skateboard, making an electronic connection between the controls you use to drive the car (brakes, steering, etc) and the drive-by-wire system in the skateboard.  You press the brake pedal, which sends a message to the skateboard to apply the brakes a certain amount.

Right now GM has a "non-operating" prototype, but it will be fascinating to see if this takes off.  Cars have changed a great deal over the past 30 years, but how all the parts fit together hasn't changed nearly as much.