Would you trade in your car for an adult tricycle?

Who needs a driverless car when you’ve got one of these?
Who needs a driverless car when you’ve got one of these?
Image: MIT Media Lab
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The latest vehicle invention doesn’t look particularly hi-tech, but it could potentially transform how we travel around busy cities.

An electric tricycle, invented by Ryan Chin from MIT’s media lab, is designed to meet EU bike regulations, currently travels at just 12 miles per hour, and is intended to fit in bike lanes.

But, unlike existing tricycles (or any other mode of transportation), it’s able to travel without a rider. “It uses low cost sensors to scan the environment, localize itself and use edge detection to get around,” said Chin at the EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Nov. 2. This means that the electric tricycle can work as an autonomous valet.

Under Chin’s vision for the electric tricycle, the vehicles wouldn’t be publicly owned, but shared throughout the city. That way, the tricycles could arrive whenever needed, carry passengers to their destination, and then continue on to meet the next passenger. The vehicles can also be adapted to carry packages, so they can provide a delivery service throughout major cities. They could also reduce the number of cars on the road, cutting back on both pollution and traffic.

And, there’s one final benefit to the tricycle over, for example, shared driverless cars. Chin has named the tricycle a “persuasive electric vehicle”, and the “persuasive” element is aimed at humans. “The idea behind the persuasive electric vehicle is to persuade you to get some exercise as you get to work,” said Chin.

Although the tricycle can travel autonomously, it won’t move if the passenger sits still. Instead, tricycle riders have to pedal in order to activate the motor (though the electric assist makes it far easier to go long distances and up hills).

This means that the vehicle wouldn’t just be good be for the environment, but also for fitness. Chin’s invention is a long way off from becoming reality, and bike lanes would have to be changed in order to make them truly effective. But riding along on an adult tricycle doesn’t seem so silly after all.