We all want to imagine that the vehicle of the future is a solar-powered flying car or -- why not? -- a teleportation pad that beams us up to the mothership. But there's a more pragmatic alternative already on the market today that clues us into what's coming next for transportation.
It's not quite a bike and definitely not a moped. It's called the URB-E, and its website calls it a "folding electric scooter," which also doesn't totally fit.
"We're a new idea," Evan Saunders, URB-E's head of marketing, explained to The Huffington Post.
Saunders was doing his job well, speaking in detail about why the zippy not-a-bike has such an appeal. URB-E is electric and charges in normal wall outlets. It folds up and weighs 35 pounds, so you can carry it into your home when not in use. While it starts at a hefty $1,499.99, financing plans make it feasible for normal people to get one. The seat is pretty easy to balance on and ride, even for first-timers. (I wobbled a bit, as you can see above.) And it deliberately tops out at 15 miles an hour, so you don't need a license to ride it, per federal law. Double-check your state laws, though, as there are varying regulations for vehicles like this.
The Verge, writing about URB-E last December, called it "the ultimate hipster dad chariot," which might be true but misses the bigger point. The vehicle won a "silver" Edison Award Thursday for innovation in the urban mobility category, and its potential is considerably larger than serving well-off parents in cities like New York and Portland. The URB-E, or something like it, could be a neat solution to emerging global transportation problems.
Those problems hinge on a simple fact: The world's population is becoming more concentrated in cities. As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out in a conference last week, we're approaching a time when 70 percent of all people live in urban areas. Meanwhile, more people are expected to enter the global middle class in the next couple of decades, and those people -- analysts say -- will want to purchase cars. That's a problem for a few reasons: Cars take up a lot of space, they're bad for the environment and they're inefficient, burning through energy while sitting in traffic just to move one person from point A to B.
Cities, with their networks of roads and high-rise buildings, aren't easy to change, so transportation might have to. A report published late last year by the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment suggests a couple of core solutions: Ride-sharing services like UberPool and more efficient public transit.
A vehicle like the URB-E is relevant because it could make those solutions even more efficient.
"It was created to solve pain points in urban environments," Saunders told HuffPost. "[It's] the last-mile solution."
You can easily put the URB-E in the trunk of a car or carry it with you on public transit -- which isn't always the case with normal bicycles. If you live in or near an urban area and can travel to the city center on public transportation, then the URB-E will allow you to drive the rest of the way to your office without physical exertion and without filling a gas tank. When you get to work, you can plug the vehicle into a normal outlet, and it'll have a full charge before lunchtime.
And the URB-E is a relatively guilt-free purchase. They're built in California and deliberately manufactured to be fully recyclable.
"We need this material," Saunders told HuffPost. "All of this we can reuse." In other words, URB-Es can be broken down to build other URB-Es.
You can learn more about the vehicle and -- if you're ready to take the $1,500 plunge -- order one at urb-e.com.