The idea for the unusual design came from Fast Company's Mark Wilson, and was distilled into renderings by product design firm Argodesign. Wilson says the aim was to create something that could provide the social experience of a car, but that could be a sporty personal urban transport vehicle too.
As with many concept designs, the Lane Splitter is more a flight of fancy than an exercise in practicality. It is 128 in (325 cm) long and, when in car-mode, takes the form of a buggy-like vehicle. Inspiration for the design came from as varied places as the Batman Tumbler and the work of Syd Mead. When its two halves are separated, the Lane Splitter becomes two closed-top motorbikes.
In order to achieve a flush fit between the two sections, but to avoid a "boxy look," the Argodesign team, led by Chipp Walters, embraced the notion of asymmetry. Each motorbike is curved on the side that forms the exterior of the car and flat on the side that joins to the other bike.
Hubless front wheels are used to allow for adaptability. In bike-mode, the front tires split and separate slightly to provide more stability and a better longitudinal center of gravity. When in car-mode, the front wheels of each bike move together to form car wheels that are more traditional in terms of width and separation.
The rear wheels are powered by separate electric motors. Roll-axis longitudinal steering is used at both the front and the rear so as to decrease the turning radius and mitigate the limited steering of the front hubless axle.
Vehicle docking and undocking is achieved by the push of a button. The docking connectors are situated towards the front and rear of the docking side of the bikes. An automated docking mechanism with a small landing wheel is used to help stabilize and align the vehicles during the process, much like an auto-parking feature on some of today's cars.
Given the unusual premise of the Lane Splitter and that only an initial pass has been made at the design, there are naturally a number of obstacles that would hamper it being brought to production. "Overall, cost as designed would seem prohibitive at this time," Argodesign tells Gizmag. "There would need to be more iteration on concept design along with a substantial engineering effort to realize the technology and promise of a vehicle which separates into two."
Coupled with what would likely be a relatively low demand for the vehicle, the development cost would simply be too rich. The docking mechanism is one area we can see needing a lot of work, for example. Having it fail at high speed would be catastrophic. Elsewhere, we can envisage a lot of work being required to ensure that the vehicle's balance when turning was adequate too.
Despite all this, we love seeing these sort of concepts. Imaginative, out-there ideas like the Lane Splitter are what spark real innovation and are a welcome distraction from more iterative cultures elsewhere.
The Lane Splitter was designed as part of Wilson's Creative Director for a Day series and was completed in time for the New York Auto Show.
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