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Design Impact » Awards

Buckminster Fuller Challenge Winner: Sustainable Personal Mobility

In continuing with my recent theme on innovation, I would like to extend kudos to the winners of this year’s Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Quick background: Buckminster Fuller was an American designer and architect who devoted his life to improving the condition of humanity. He was an advocate of renewable energy, as well as design science, which is in his words “applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity”. This is aligned with the philosophy behind Design Impact. The Buckminster Fuller Institute awards a $100,000 prize annually to teams who develop and implement strategies with “significant potential to solve humanity‚Äôs most pressing problems”.

[Image Credit: Buckminster Fuller Institute]

[Image Credit: Buckminster Fuller Institute]

This year a team students from the MIT Media Lab won the challenge with a plan for an advanced personal mobility system, involving a network of folding electric scooters and cars powered by renewable energy. I had a chance to see one of the scooters in person; these vehicles are inspiring and captivating. This entry is very timely, as we are in a transitory period where we are rethinking our transportation system (a primary energy consumer). The vehicles developed by the MIT students reduce dramatically the mass and space required by vehicles used to move around a single person. Consider how many trips are taken in the U.S. where the driver is the only vehicle occupant. Most of the energy consumed is used to move the mass of the vehicle; the mass of the driver is relatively insignificant. Mass transit can help, but personal mobility is entrenched in U.S. culture. We need new options for personal mobility that involve much less mass, space, and energy. Bicycles are a low-energy option that can work well in many cases (and should be used more), but are not practical for all situations. The ideas presented by the MIT Media Lab are a great step in the right direction.

You can peruse the Idea Index for other entries to the Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

What do you think of the Media Lab’s proposal for personal mobility? Were there any other submissions to the challenge that you feel deserve attention as well?

Posted: May 6th, 2009 | Filed under: Awards, Design, Transportation | 3 Comments »