C,mm,n (pronounced common) is an open community design project that is not only counting on its members to help design a car but is also tasking them with producing a whole new mobility solution to cope with the challenging demands of the future. The blueprints for the proposed electric car concept and the mobility concepts are freely available under an open source licence and contributions are welcome from anyone and everyone.

Software developers and users alike will be familiar with the open source concept but this may be the first time such thinking has been applied in the automotive industry - unless you consider Homer Simpson's bankrupting monster, (The Homer), as kind of open source.

According to the project: "Everyone is free to use and modify the design. The only condition is that any resulting derived designs are returned to the c,mm,nity as open source. We believe that the best results are achieved through cooperation."

From the start

Universities in the Netherlands were approached by the Netherlands Society for Nature and Environment in 2005 and asked to come up with a sustainable mobility concept for the future. Three universities accepted the challenge. Members of the automotive industry became involved and by the time the 2007 AutoRAI (Amsterdam's annual auto trade show) arrived the mobility concept was ready to be unveiled and the whole world was invited to take part.

At the core of the c,mm,n project is realism. Obviously the world will not become sustainable overnight (if only), change takes time. A long time. With this in mind, the project considered that the year 2050 would be a good point to aim for and set the ball rolling towards the creation of a sustainable community. The first project marker has been set for 2020 with the aim of rolling out 1 million c,mm,n cars and setting up a suitable support infrastructure by then.

Planning for the road ahead means having lots of vision and hope. C,mm,n sees the Amsterdam of 2040 as one of the, if not the, cleanest cities in Europe. Space will be a premium with a population expected to exceed 2.5 million so it'll be vital for all the city's transport networks to work closely together. And those networks of buses, trams, trains, metro and water connections will be extensive. C,mm,n is already planning for this clean city of the future and is receiving support from high places.

At this year's AutoRAI show in April, Dutch Prime Minister Blakenende said: "I am extremely pleased to see your goal of one million electric cars in 2020. This is exactly the kind of milestone we need to put on the horizon. I am entirely convinced that this is the direction we need to be moving in. I think it's a fantastic initiative. Now let's see that Formula-E Team happen!"

The Formula-E Team will consist of electricity companies, government agencies, corporate and auto industry partners, fleet owners, emergency services and environmental organizations. They will work together to bring the c,mm,n mobility action plan to life.

What about the car?

This will be an emission-free car built for the needs of motorists yet to come. From the wheelbase up it'll be a unique experience, confirmed on the c,mm,n website: "Generally, any new generation of car builds on existing models. Refinements in design result in a new car that surpasses its predecessor in all aspects: bigger, more powerful, safer and better-looking. C,mm,n abandons this working method completely. The concept of the development of c,mm,n is built around the society of the future, with the needs of the mobilist of 2020 in mind."

The look of the car design at the moment would fit quite well into Gerry Anderson's futuristic vision of 1980 in the cult TV series UFO, but hopefully c,mm,n car drivers won't need to sport the purple hair. Of course it's still very much in the concept stage at the moment but several show models do exist (as you can see in the gallery). And c,mm,n members are currently trying to get things moving by working on the powertrain, the suspension, the interior design and the intelligent systems.

Future generations of motorists are expected to have very different needs than they have today. The shift away from size and speed is already happening as car buyers increasingly opt for safety, security, fuel efficiency, low emissions and intelligent design. The c,mm,n car will incorporate all these things and much more.

For starters, it is intended that the powertrain will be fully electric and will take advantage of the latest in battery technology at the time of production. In recent years batteries have become more efficient, more powerful and smaller. These advances are expected to continue and allow the electric car of the future an impressive range between charges and improved performance.

When cornering the car will be kept in a horizontal position using a simple adjustable arm which will use virtually no energy to operate. Probably similar to the tech used recently in high speed trains that had a mixed reception from the public (people were expecting to lean into corners and when they didn't it made some of them feel nauseous). An active shock system will help the car ‘stick' to the road giving the driver more control and result in less tire wear.

Intelligent onboard systems that adapt to the needs of the driver and passengers as well as to different driving conditions are to be an essential component of the c,mm,n car. These will include KARMA - the KAR Mobile Assistant - an electronic interface which processes information picked up by the Advanced Driver Assistance System and feeds it to the driver via an interactive dashboard.

The multi-function interactive dash will benefit from the latest touch screen technology. Things like a route planner, communications center, sound system and internet browsing will all be available via this "river display". Further, all the tools and applications that the driver needs to efficiently navigate from A to B will be within easy reach and customizable to cater for different requirements.

The onboard performance monitoring system will provide the driver with basic feedback on not only how the car is doing but also on how the driver's doing too. Recommendations on modifications to driving behavior will be offered to enhance efficiency but the driver has veto on how much or how little of such information is provided.

It is thought that by 2020 driving will become a more and more automated process and this probability has been taken into consideration with the c,mm,n design. It will be up to the driver to decide how much control is given over to the car and how much remains with whoever is seated at the steering wheel.

As well as depending on individual driver personalities this may also depend on which driving mode the driver finds himself in. In order to encourage more efficient travel, the intelligent onboard system is expected to work with other cars and systems via a digital communications network to help the driver decide the most beneficial route from A to B. Where more than a couple of cars are going in the same direction, the system will plan a convoy of c,mm,n cars to make best use of aerodynamics and fuel efficiency measures.

When the car joins the convoy the car can take over, automatically responding to any changes to driving conditions and constantly sharing information with the rest of the network. The steering wheel can be moved out of the way, the driver seat turned around to face passengers or the dash brought to life with email and news functionality. If there's enough time perhaps the driver and passengers could take in a movie or watch TV. And to enhance the c,mm,nity feel of the experience, the car's corner lighting will be used to inform other road users how long the car intends to remain in the convoy before breaking away.

Thoughts about seating have led contributors to suggest a soy-based memory foam which adapts to the shape of whoever is seated and springs back to normal position when the seat is empty. Metal frames have been abandoned in favor of biodegradable plastic. The upholstery will be made from a recyclable spacer material which will keep cool even when exposed to direct sunlight.

All the bits and pieces that make up this car are being designed with refurbishment and re-use in mind to minimize waste and create a vehicle that isn't replaced every year but is in use for a long, long time. The bodywork is manufactured from a very light thermoplastic material which not only keeps production costs down but allows greater design freedom. The inspiration for the current exterior design is said to have come from the world of nature: "like a smooth stone in a river, shaped by ages of rushing water."

You might be tempted to think that all this sounds a bit "out there" and to a certain extent you'd probably be right. The concept is far from being a finished work. It will depend on the ability to produce and utilize technology which hasn't yet been developed. That's not to say that it won't happen if such tech never appears, other solutions will be found. That's the point - it's a work in progress and progress it will.

The mobility solution

The c,mm,n project is about much more than a car of course, it's about a complete transport solution. This aspect of the project is also open for everyone to contribute on the same open source development path as the car.

It is thought that the concept of owning a car will become less and less important as time goes on. This likelihood has been accounted for and long term leasing options for the travelers of tomorrow are already being put into place. Whether you use a hired bike, take the train or use a c,mm,n car such matters can be taken care of under one user-friendly leasing agreement where an automated billing system will ensure that you only pay for what you use, when you use it.

The mobility solution for years to come is all about getting things to work together for the good of everyone. You may start your journey to work in a car but that might not be the most efficient use of time or energy. The intelligent traffic systems will help you plan your journey so that it's as efficient, comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Most of the electricity networks in the Netherlands have already agreed to set up a foundation whose task it will be to roll out electric charging points throughout the country. It is thought that this pro-active approach will prevent any backlash from auto manufacturers concerned that there wouldn't be enough charging points to make electric cars a viable sales option.

Electric charging points that can charge cars in just 15 minutes have already been developed and installing such things throughout the country would ensure that each car's (current) estimated range of 150km between charges is extended indefinitely. If charging posts were incorporated in street lamps then electric car drivers could ensure easy and fast top ups on any street or in any car park.

Getting involved

There's a video overview of the project on c,mm,n's Youtube channel (in Dutch).

You don't have to live in the Netherlands to get involved in the c,mm,n project though. You can join the discussions at the c,mm,n wiki where you could help shape the mobility solution for the years ahead.

Designers of all sorts particularly welcome but there are other contributions you can make. For instance, if you have language skills to offer then you could help with translations and make sure that the ideal reaches as many people as possible.

You can download the car plans or the mobility solution and add your ideas to the melting pot.

If you have legal knowledge you could help the project draft documentation to help protect project inventions and innovations.

If you have some cash to spare you could even invest in the c,mm,n dream.

If you want a more hands on involvement, the project also holds regular get-togethers - called garages - where interested parties can meet, share ideas and find out what's going on.

You can start contributing by visiting the cmmn.org. But if you are a certain big-boned patriarchal type of jaundiced appearance whose last name is Simpson then do the c,mm,nity a huge favor and please stay away. Good man.

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