Greek Researcher Helps Design Innovative Folding Car of the Future

Dimitris Papanikolaou is the only Greek researcher working for the Hiriko project. With seven more researchers, Papanikolaou saw their common idea becoming real with the Hiriko city car, an innovative vehicle of the future that aims at changing driving habits in major metropolitan areas.

The “Hiriko”, the Basque word for “urban”, is an electric two-seater with no doors, whose motor is located in the wheels and which folds up like a child’s collapsible buggy, or stroller, for easy parking. The car was designed in Basque, Spain, and several cities around the world have already shown interest in purchasing it.

The futuristic vehicle was officially presented on January 30 in Brussels, in the presence of the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who said that the project “combines new business possibilities with the creation of employment and social innovation”.

Mr. Papanikolaou studied architecture at the National Technical University of Athens and continued with his postgraduate studies in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There he specialized in digital technologies, design and construction, and joined the research team of Media Lab, where he began a new postgraduate education program.

Today Mr. Papanikolaou is a PhD researcher for the University of Harvard.

In his telephone interview to Greek daily “NEA”, Mr. Papanikolaou pointed out that the Hiriko project is the answer to the urban stress and pollution hitting European cities, which will intensify in 2013.

The next research steps include designing, studying and developing a smart management system of a fleet of Hiriko vehicles. The solution proposed by Mr. Papanikolaou is entitled “Mobility on Demand” and is similar to the large-scale public bicycle sharing system in Paris, Velib. “Mobility on Demand” will be the first autonomous vehicle rental system in the world, which will be exclusively managed by its own users.

“Our proposal includes a network of terminals and a fleet of common use electric vehicles, which will allow users to move from the one terminal of their choice to the other” said Mr. Papanikolaou.

For the needs of the research, Mr. Papanikolaou examined the Velib rental network of Paris and found that such networks may be easy to use but are still very expensive to maintain and manage.

The management model introduced by the Greek researcher “is like the stock exchange course”. The user chooses to use the vehicle with the lowest price. The price of each route will be respective to the demand and offer recorded at the rental stations.