The Colombi is a neighbourhood electric vehicle, or NEV, capable of moving people in wheelchairs anywhere within a city. It’s clean, quiet, comfortable, and would help improve the lives of millions of handicapped people around the world.
Last week, I was invited to speak during the International week in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Before one of my conferences, I listened to an engineer named Fernando Guzman who presented a solar car concept designed to transport people in wheelchairs. He later approached me and asked if I could provide him with feedback for his project. The Colombi is my quick opinion on this particular idea. I modified some features and also asked Jorge Ciprian to create a new, improved design, since a picture is worth a thousand words!
How It Works
The Colombi is basically a small autonomous car. Developing a standard vehicle with a steering wheel would be simpler and more economical, but it would be difficult to drive for people with disabilities or with limited reflexes. Autonomous software and hardware are becoming cheaper every year. Open-source projects would also keep the cost down so, in my opinion, the Colombi should be designed as an autonomous transporter from the get go.
The integration of solar panels would cost a lot of money, make the vehicle heavier, and not provide much energy, so I would not include them in the first version of the Colombi. Of course, using an electric motor would be the best option, but right now the charging infrastructure is non-existent or highly limited in most cities of the world. Therefore, I would offer the vehicle with three power packs: electric, hybrid, and propane.
The main feature of the Colombi consists of being able to transport one person in a wheelchair, so the back door is a motorized ramp. That door could also be placed on the side of the vehicle depending on the client’s preference. Placing it in the rear, however, allows for a narrower vehicle.
Some roads are in really bad shape, so the Colombi should be designed to ride over them. I increased the ground clearance so it could ride over potholes and around road hazards on dirt roads. AC or heating systems would be offered as options. Opening and closing the side windows and the rear ramp/door would be voice activated.
The Colombi would be a better alternative than specialized vans since it would occupy less space on the road (footprint) and less parking space. It would also pollute less, be lighter on pavements, and cost less to operate—especially if you take into account the driver’s salary. The client would be protected from rain, wind, and heat or cold, and would have a lot more freedom to explore the city, go shopping, or commute to school or work without having to ask for help, which would have a significant social impact for disabled people.
Bombardier’s NEV (Neighbourhood electric vehicle) was a great idea when it was introduced in 1996, but sales never really picked up, mostly because legislation concerning NEV usage was not in place when those vehicles were offered for sale. Therefore, I think the first step before investing time and money would be to obtain support from a critical number of cities around the world. Letters of intention, lists of regulations the Colombi needs to meet in order to be road legal, etc Some countries have special classes for low-speed vehicles, and the Colombi would be in that category.
The Colombi is meant to address a niche for users in wheelchairs, but it could also be rented by people who have difficulty walking, just like a regular cab. I think cities could buy and rent them like the Bixi bicycles. This project could be an ‘open source’ initiative and it could be driven by a consortium of cities.
The Colombi concept was designed by Jorge Ciprian, an Industrial Designer from Argentina. Jorge graduated with a degree in design from the University of Buenos Aires, and he currently works as a freelance designer. Amongst other concepts, he also designed the Manitoo eco-friendly ATV for imaginative and the Vector hydrofoil watercraft.