Transit Easter Eggs à la Montreal

There’s a school of thought that thinks of design as primarily a visual medium.

Haven’t many of us been seduced by the thin, sleek profile and attractive finish of a MacBook enough to lay down the bills to buy one?  The fit and finish are exquisite, yet the chintzy clatter from the keyboard come as a shock.  The taps from the keyboard made me wonder, is this is quality computer with a dinky keyboard or just a nice shell enveloping sub-par components?

The contrapositive is when a mundane experience is ennobled by unexpectedly thoughtful touches.  The morning commute can be the most forgettable part of every day but good design can leave subtle reminders that someone was thinking of you and wanted to make your experience more convenient, safer, or expressive.

During a trip to Montreal this summer I was struck by some very empathetic design elements in the transit system. Check out the slide show below.

Station doors

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There's never any ambiguity about whether one should push or pull on a door in the Montreal transit system. Simply follow the arrows to push on the right side of the door, whether coming or going. And you'll never run into someone going in the opposite direction. (photo courtesy of wikipedia)

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The Human-Powered Last Mile – DHL Delivery Bike

In the future, all your packages, food, and possibly children will be delivered by an intelligent, perceptive, box-on-wheels or flying machine that will gently deposit your package upon your doorstep and then float away.

That is the dream, and there are literally dozens of companies developing solutions for the most complicated and uncontrolled portion of the delivery chain. By uncontrolled, I mean in contrast to the massive automated sorting and scanning operations occurring inside carefully designed and efficiency-optimized distribution warehouses, the actual process of getting the object to your door is confoundingly complex and varied. Gates, curbs, stairs, weather, doors and other impediments to placing an object on the threshold demand that customers have to come to the sidewalk to receive their delivery, negating much of the claimed convenience.

Yet it is taken for granted that the postman and postwoman drop packages to your door everyday.

All this is to say that humans are very adaptable to unknown and changing contexts and conditions, qualities that the computer mind does not have (machine learning is an attempt to address this). This makes them very well suited to the task of last-mile delivery. So why not refine and leverage the part of the delivery equation that already works and address the noisy, polluting and obstructive part of the problem in a way that produces less emissions and better health outcomes for the worker?

DHL’s last-mile delivery bike, along with similar efforts by UPS and DPD is the outcome of that line of thinking. Currently deployed in Europe, plans to rollout in NYC have been stymied by regulatory hurdles but are still in the works.

Combining the flexibility of a human deliverer in the loop with a vehicle that is safer for pedestrians and other road users, won’t block a lane of traffic at a stop, and improves the deliverer’s health is a GHG-reducing last mile delivery solution that can be implemented now.

Check out the gallery below and in a follow-on post I’ll get into the design details. These pics aren’t as well-composed or exposed as I’d like as they were taken in a dark exhibit hall near a bay door open to the very bright day outside at the FormulaE race in NYC.


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Slide Whistle Chorus: Formula E Makes a Pitstop in NYC

Thinking back to a decade ago when the idea of racing electric vehicles was just a fevered dream of hobbyists content with 40 mile ranges and unhurried acceleration, to now attend a sold-out international motorsports event featuring first rank drivers piloting 250kW racers around city streets is a revelation.  Last weekend, the FIA Formula E circus came to NYC and courtesy of Wallbox, I was fortunate enough to catch Saturday’s round.    Besides the actual races, the E-Village hosted performers, musicians, and dancers along with stands
showcasing the factory EVs from Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW.  I was more interested in shooting pics of the design details from the spec Formula E cars sharing the stand but an interesting DHL delivery quadcycle caught my attention as well and will be the subject of a later post.

Wallbox is a Spanish maker of commercial and consumer EV chargers and wants to cross the pond and break into the North American market.  None of their products have been UL certified yet so realistically it may be a year before they’re commercially available, but of the Wallbox products on display, I was most interested in the DC Charger that claims to be “the only bidirectional DC charger designed for home use in the market today.”  It’s V2G and V2H capabilities would be especially useful in the “Powerwall for the track” concept I’ve been kicking about.  Rather than a stationary battery pack for home energy storage, what if it also served as the heart of an SCCA D-Sports (now called P2) racer?  Batteries on a wall, while useful, are not much fun on the weekend.  But when they’re used in a 500kg sports racer  powering out of downhill left hander onto a straight?  Significantly more interesting.  This would lower the cost of enjoying racing and a grid-light lifestyle by about the cost of one battery pack while delivering significantly more utility.  Normally, the economics of racing are gaged against the case of burning stacks of bills for heat in the winter, in which instance this concept has a significantly higher return.   

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