Vehicle: Car: Design
Automotive Y Prize   (+5, -5)  [vote for, against]
An anarchist version of the Automotive X Prize

Am I quite alone in considering the aims of the Automotive X Prize to be utterly misguided?

The goal of the Automotive Y Prize is to develop a free-floating formation of intellectual commons open to be used by an informal network of small-scale fabricators, which when applied together add up to a motor vehicle, but which may or may not also be applied separately to produce a variety of useful products, suitable to meet the needs and spontaneous desires of the localized, organic, and mainly agrarian economy the adoption of which is crucial to getting us out of the ecological mess we’re in. The envisaged scenario is one in which very few vehicles are made, the vehicle population is very small, and the intensity of vehicle use is very low by current standards. The designs that today result from the collusion of big business and big government are quite incapable of handling such a scenario, and the maintenance of their viability is a major contributor to the perpetuation of an unsustainable pattern of centralized overproduction. What the X Prize calls for will merely exascerbate the problem.

The primary practical aim of the Automotive Y Prize is therefore a vehicle that can be made locally and in small numbers by organizations that do not have the power to set the automotive agenda in the world.

The vehicle will comprise a base design that can be freely adapted at any level by any fabricator who chooses to do so. In this it represents a proposed technological vernacular and the cultivation of a future dynamic tradition. The design will not belong to anyone, and should therefore be as easy to copy as possible. It follows that the design represents only a starting point, and that perhaps a majority of those produced will vary considerably from the base specification.


1. Fuel efficiency: This is to be appropriate to the role the vehicle is intended to play in its context; that is, optimum rather than maximum efficiency, taking cognizance of the organizational and capital requirements of any given technology and the socio-ecological consequences thereof.

2. Climate change: Greenhouse/carbon emissions are to be considered in terms of the automotive phenomenon as a whole rather than simple mass-per-distance, and all systemic aspects of vehicle use, land use and settlement patterns, vehicle manufacture and repair, fuel production, etc. should be considered together.

3. Emissions: It should be recognised that the “traditional” controlled emissions, i.e. CO, HC, and NOx, readily deteriorate to harmless compounds if the intensity of their production is low enough. Current standards are not so much intended to clean air as to enable traffic. Emissions should be reasonably clean without recourse to “smog equipment”, i.e. anything someone seeking greater utility might be tempted to remove.

4. Safety: Being made by people who are no more powerful than the people who use the vehicle, responsibility for safety is expected to be shared fairly. Death-traps are not sought, but vehicles are not expected to be moron-proof. It is assumed that the intensity of traffic will be very low and, because driving will not be a daily necessity, it is not unreasonable to expect a certain level of technical understanding and skill from drivers. The standard of safety will be of the lights, brakes, and common sense variety.

5. Legislation: It follows that the vehicle will most likely be highly illegal in most parts of the world. Part of the purpose of the exercise is to illustrate precisely that point. A legislative framework is to be assumed that does not so saddle manufacturers with burdens of proof of compliance and other legal technicalities as to render larger, more powerful, more centralized organizations more viable.

6. Cost: Exploding the myth of “economies of scale” is a large part of the brief. Vehicles are to be reasonably affordable to those who would choose to operate them, in the context of the scenario outlined above, when produced at double- or even single-digit annual volumes.

7. Features: The vehicle is not intended to spend a lot of time in gridlock, so little is considered necessary in terms of creature comforts. Because the design is to be open-ended it should be possible to include as much or as little as one sees fit, during manufacture or at any time after, through anyone’s agency. It would seem reasonable that a heater at least should be optional from new.

8. Appropriate energy source: The choice of fuel or other energy source should be considered as part of the local community ecosystem.

9. Bad-roads capability: It is assumed that road infrastructure will cease to be as important in the scheme of things as it is now. Suspension design will be important.

10. Low-volume production: Single-purpose tooling should be avoided. All tooling should be affordable to a small business.

11. Owner-fixability: All parts, including the vehicle structure if possible, should be easily handled by a single person. All components should be sensibly accessible for service, repair, replacement, or general messing-about-with. All repairs are to be possible by replacing only what is actually defective. All components are therefore to be repairable: no sealed units. Field-reparability is also required.

12. Appropriate materials and components: Use of plastics and electronics should be considered very carefully. Specifications should be flexible to allow the substitution of locally-available materials.

13. Configurability: Designs should be such as to allow a variety of passenger- and goods-body, as well as performance and terrain-capability, configurations.

14. Durability: Vehicles should last several centuries if adequately serviced. Long-term durability should take precedence over short-term reliability. Vehicles should be rebuildable and reconfigurable. Vehicles should be capable of existing independently of their original manufacturers, and should actively accommodate later work by others.

15. Creative liberty: Designs should accommodate the autonomous and collaborative creative inputs of as many people as possible in all aspects of production. The manufacture of each individual example should be a creative process. The creative capacity of all people should be respected, and the use thereof considered a primary and precious right.

Base-line performance:

Top speed: 75mph/120km/h. Acceleration 0-60mph/0-100km/h: 16 seconds. Some actual iterations might exceed these figures by a prodigious margin, depending on individual requirements.


Small vehicle: maximum dry mass 1650lbs/750kg; vehicle variously configurable to carry driver and 1100lbs/500kg of passengers or goods. A four-passenger hatchback should be one of the possible configurations.

Large vehicle: vehicle variously configurable as 1-ton truck, minibus, ambulance, hearse, fire appliance, or large touring-car, and able to carry driver and 2650lbs/1200kg of passengers or goods.

The designs are to be submitted in the form of drawings and specifications, as actually building these things might leave participants vulnerable to State violence.

The prize has no monetary value. Participants will have to be content with the well-wishes of their peers. Perhaps, if there is enough interest, we can all chip in and buy a second-hand Prius to which the winner may set fire at the prize-giving ceremony.
-- Ned_Ludd, Apr 04 2008

JC Whitney can sell you most/all the parts for a VW Bug http://www.jcwhitne...?Ntt=VW+floor+panel
[MisterQED, Apr 04 2008]

Free Engine Technology Perfect_20Engine_20...omotive_20X_20PRIZE
You said Y PRIZE, I said WHAT PRIZE? [rotary, Apr 04 2008]

RQ Riley Enterprises
plans, ideas, inspiration [afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 05 2008]

(?) Tata Nano
so you want fast, good, AND cheap, eh? [afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 05 2008]

The airplane version.. simple and good, minus the glamor [afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 05 2008]

TRAG - A third world truck. http://www.homesofl...at_entrance_web.jpg
We designed this for local production. I once repaired a "totalled" one with a 7/16 wrench and a rock. [baconbrain, Apr 06 2008]

A one door sedan http://upload.wikim.../cb/Sedan-chair.jpg
The doors must be really heavy if a four-door weighs 2.5 tons. [coprocephalous, Apr 07 2008]

off on a tangent http://www.patternl...shamed-idealism.htm
a blurb from the Pattern Language people [afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 09 2008]

A summary of "A Pattern Language"
The book goes into detail about a free and sustainable world similar to that described by Mr Ludd [afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 09 2008]

Avestor http://www.greencar...vestor_shuts_d.html
Avestor was tooling up, for real, to make Li-polymer batteries for cars.. got bought by Anadarko Petroleum Corp and shut down. [afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 09 2008]

Small is Beautiful http://en.wikipedia.../Small_Is_Beautiful
Something everyone ought to read [Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

John Seymour http://en.wikipedia...eymour_%28author%29
Author of "The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency", another invaluable resource [Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

Jacques Ellul's "The Technological Society"
A more radical take, but an interesting and very thorough analysis [Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

The E F Schumacher Society
[Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

Leopold Kohr
[Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

Disunion Now: A Plea for a Society based upon Small Autonomous Units http://www.panarchy.../kohr/1941.eng.html
by Leopold Kohr [Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

Appropriate technology http://en.wikipedia...ropriate_technology
Come on, surely this stuff is common knowledge! [Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

Gandhi's economic principle [Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008]

Your asking them to revive the original VW Bug (-). Why do we want another VW Bug? I want an Aptera and I want everyone to drive an Aptera or cars with that level of efficiency.
-- MisterQED, Apr 04 2008

Perhaps you should rename the idea as "Free Cars" (not free gratis but free libre). All patent-free technology, fully specified for manufacture anywhere. Make it some kind of 'copy left' in which anyone who modifies the system must release their design and manufacturing specifications in full detail to allow others to build on their improvements.
-- vincevincevince, Apr 04 2008

VW Bugs are public domain. Any patents are long since expired. I believe they are still made in Brazil, but if not, you can assemble one from parts you can get from catalogs. They have been reconfigured into all the forms requested and if you ask for the parts in SS then it should still be running in 100 years.
-- MisterQED, Apr 04 2008

[MisterQED], is there any reason the Aptera, or something like it, can't be entered here? The question is whether it would be viable to make twelve of them and then stop. It might indeed be interesting to consider what I might be able to do with one if there weren't someone holding a gun to my head to stop me. A big, blown, air-cooled flat-eight running home-brew E96 springs to mind. So does a colour other than white. So, for that matter, does a pair of down-scaled 20mm Hispanos in the nose...

The original VW Beetle certainly won't fare very well. It consists primarily of steel pressings, and if the presses might at a reckless leap of the imagination be affordable to a mom and pop operation the dies certainly aren't. The Beetle was developed specifically for mass production, i.e. the antithesis of the envisaged scenario. It was also intended to introduce motor vehicle use to a hitherto "unmotorized" population, which is counter to the spirit of this initiative.

Read the third paragraph again. The whole point is to enable overall vehicle production volumes to be reduced drastically, and the remainder wrested from the control of global corporate interests.
-- Ned_Ludd, Apr 04 2008

Oh, how I’d wished you mean an end of ordinary car, and instead using an engine-powered, air-conditioned mechanical suit that can travel any surface terrain with just the taps of fingers and toes.
-- rotary, Apr 04 2008

If not pressed panels, do you have any ideas about how to make the chassis? I realise this is an idea for the prize, not a finished vehicle. Still, I'd be interested because one of my long-term dreams is to build a car from scratch. Welded tubes would seem to require some expert welding to make the structure safe.
-- Srimech, Apr 04 2008

[Srimech], there are many ways to do that. The first question is what your vehicle structure will need to do, and to answer that you will need to understand how the suspension deals with the various loads and possible ground conditions. The solution that comes out of that might be anything from a complex monocoque or space-frame, to a conventional steel ladder chassis, to a simple hardwood frame. It depends on what you want to achieve.
-- Ned_Ludd, Apr 04 2008

"The 'body' should be made of 'recyclable' 'reinforced' 'resin'...

--- body, being a non mechanical part that has the purpose of supporting a mechnical part

--- reinforced, meaning wood, glass, hemp, paper or perhaps carbon...

--- resin, well at present I would choose epoxy but you could use rice glue (and paper) too I guess...

<edited> --- recyclable...
-- madness, Apr 04 2008

Like a Trabant?
-- coprocephalous, Apr 04 2008

Yes and no --- needs to be recyclable. Wasnt the Trabant made from some sort of plastic...
-- madness, Apr 04 2008

Roofing felt, they were made of roofing felt, and whattle - yes I'm sure of it.
-- xenzag, Apr 04 2008

Who is holding a gun to your head? If you get an Aptera and want something other than white there are MANY local paint shops who can help you pick new color. If you want a different engine, change it, but my guess is that when the diesel comes out it will be better than anything else you can cobble together. You lost me with the Hispanos, but I’m guessing what you are talking about is velocity stacks or something, and that I don’t get since the engine is in the back and velocity stacks kill engine reliability which was one of your goals and it kills the aerodynamics which is their goal. And the genius behind the Aptera is the aerodynamic design and the use of technology to increase efficiency. There WILL be kit cars made based on the Aptera. I may make one myself if production is delayed. They can’t patent a shape so copy-cats of all kinds will appear if they are successful. My guess is they are already cranking out copies in China as we speak which use small Chinese diesels. If you can dupe an iPhone, you can dupe an Aptera.

I was thinking about the steel pressings and whether they could be replaced by fiberglass and I think they can as long as you start with a welded steel tube structure and then lay the fiberglass on top, but whether or not we think so, small companies are presently making VW bug parts. Who do you think JC Whiyney is buying their parts from? (link) But forget Mom and Pop, if a single person with some sheet steel, time and talent wanted to make the pressings, all they’d need is a wood negative, a sledge hammer and some steel pieces to use as dollies. All the body panels could be made from fiberglass using some wood forms.

I re-read the third paragraph again and wonder if my original post which my phone accidentally erased was the only answer, a SS BMX bicycle with a pulse jet engine for propulsion. Engines are hard to make, way harder than body panels or welding tube steel frames. Transmissions are hard too, but I guess you could make some kind of derailleur or friction CVT like in lawn mowers. It wouldn’t last very long but you can service them.

And as for Global Corporate interests, did you look at who is entering the Auto X-Prize? These are Mom and Pop or possibly two buddies and some beer operations. Most of them are doing three wheelers to avoid having to worry about bumpers and emissions.
-- MisterQED, Apr 04 2008

Your car isn't going to hold up well in a collision with my 5114lb 91 caprice.
-- MikeD, Apr 05 2008

Your idea, then, is not a vehicle per se, but a prize for detailed specifications of a vehicles that would be appropriate in an ideal world run by caring and thoughtful people. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
-- afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 05 2008

//Your car isn't going to hold up well in a collision with my 5114lb 91 caprice//
A caprice is a light truck?
-- AbsintheWithoutLeave, Apr 05 2008

I tend to ignore an X or Y prize. I firmly believe the car of the future can hover and fly, deserving an ultimate Z PRIZE: teleporting our wonderment for such mesmeric craft to its ZENITH.

If such car can be made cheap and efficient, then, multitudes will be mesmerized.
-- rotary, Apr 05 2008

I'm missing how this idea relates to caring people. To me this idea relates to car to have after society collapses. If you are caring, you certainly don't want vehicles moving around at highway speeds with nonexistant safety standards.

As for your 91 Caprice, that brings back memories as my first car was a 79 Caprice convertible. It was the only car I've ever owned that could be stood on.

[Rotary] come on, on my life, there will be flying cars before I die, but they will never be efficient, EVER.
-- MisterQED, Apr 05 2008

Oh, come on, [MisterQED]. You already knew that I have showcased the lightest and most efficient engine and drivetrain ever invented. Why comment so without considering other circumstances at hand?

If ever I decided to hover and fly straight ahead from the traffic-jammed city to a serene plateau, then drive the remaining stretch towards a secluded log cabin, would you still recommend an all-terrain vehicle to slither through busy city lanes all the way through the rugged hills, bridges, valleys, tunnels, dams, woodlands, swamps, quicksands, high-gradient winding feather roads, traversing rocks, rivers, lakes, ravines, chasms, crevasses, deep woodlands? You may brag you can have the most efficient future Allterrano Truck, but you would not beat the fuel efficiency of such straightforward travel mode, friend.

Such wonderful adventure of that very refreshing flight into a blissful seclusion with a new wife

is not even worth among the priorities in life,

how much more the risky adventure ride

through the rugged countryside!
-- rotary, Apr 06 2008

[Absinthe] No a caprice is a full size sedan. Mine is a four door, but they do come in two door models. Mine is heavier than stock because it used to be an undercover interceptor. It is a very well built car, as Mr.QED has stated.
-- MikeD, Apr 06 2008

[rotary], so you want gridlock in the sky, too?

[MisterQED], the X-Prize expressly calls for four-wheeled vehicles, and the general tenor of the provisional rules is one that assumes mass production by some fairly substantial corporate organization, be it an existing one or a new one.

I do not live in the USA, but I do know that the states are not unanimous in regarding a three-wheeled vehicle to be a motorcycle. I believe Texas is one state that will insist that the Aptera is a car and, therefore, subject to all the attendant bureaucratic tyranny.

//... I want everyone to drive an Aptera or cars with that level of efficiency.// I don't, because I don't want everyone to drive. Universal dependence on motor vehicles - of any kind - is the problem.

Certainly it is possible to demonstrate merit in the case of the Aptera if the daily commute and the daily round of errands are considered historically inevitable, beyond critical consideration, not part of the problem.

But an urban landscape in which the daily commute and the daily round of errands are systemically embedded IS the problem. And if that problem is solved it will be found that the remaining automotive transportation need might be considerably different to what we are trying to meet with things like the Aptera. How it is different will depend on how the urban problem is solved.

//Engines are hard to make, way harder than body panels// Not so. Anything with sensible planar or cylindrical mating faces is easier to make than something with complex free-form interfaces, which is why things like pattern taillights and door handles fit so badly.

And even if this brief calls for something comparable to the old Beetle, surely a better interpretation is possible than the old Beetle! I'm looking for the best possible design within the constraints I've outlined, in whatever terms you wish.
-- Ned_Ludd, Apr 07 2008

I am not qualified to argue the legalities, of three vs. four wheel vehicles. I mentioned the point to highlight the idea that these are not enormous corporations fielding these entries and I stand by that claim. As for the X-Prize, they have two categories, “Mainstream” and “Alternative”. Only the “Mainstream” requires 4 wheels. “Alternative” could have just one or fifty.

If you don’t want people to drive, and that is a reasonable request, then you want real alternatives that match reality. How about velomobiles (enclosed bicycles/tricycles) or mass transit or just bicycles/tricycles? This contest will do nothing to lower the number of cars, it just asks for ones that can be built and fixed by regular people, so I don’t see what that does. The request that the vehicles last centuries blocks any attempt at efficiency in search of reliability.

Again you mention “urban landscape” that conflict with what you say your idea is about. If we are looking for a vehicle for an urban landscape, we are definitely looking for bicycles and mass transit and have no need of vehicles with the 75mph top speeds that you ask for.

// Not so. Anything with sensible planar or cylindrical mating faces is easier to make than something with complex free-form interfaces, which is why things like pattern taillights and door handles fit so badly.// What? I’ll admit that door seals and such are challenging, but not too challenging. For proof I will offer the hundreds of successful kit car makers and boat makers who craft quality “free form interfaces” using only handmade molds and fiberglass. Throw in motorcycle customizers and you add in thousands more who work in metal. Now how many make their own motors? Now you drop to dozens, maybe a hundred world-wide. For transmissions, you drop to maybe two dozen, I can almost name them all from memory and they are all big companies.

As for the old Beetle, it wasn’t so bad, which is why it still lives. OK, make it all out of SS or Alclad Aluminum for rust protection, but I would say the third world has held your competition and found a couple of finalists, the Beetle, the Land Rover Defender, a couple of diesel Mercedes models and probably the Toyota pickup. (Probably a van and truck or two.) But I’d bet the Beetle in all it’s varied forms massively outnumbers who ever is the second place finisher. Look at your stipulations, you called for the Beetle, if that isn’t what you wanted then you probably mis-stated your qualifications. Look at the other submissions, the TRAG, which looks about a reliable a vehicle as I can imagine, though I have no experience, but I doubt it sees speeds faster than a quick jog.
-- MisterQED, Apr 07 2008

Then I am to assume that by //real alternatives that match reality// you mean that commuting and errand running and moving people around all over the place all day long is indeed historically inevitable, beyond critical consideration, not part of the problem? that the only question worth asking in this is what sort of equipment we're going to use to do so?

I'm not looking for a design of car that will solve the problem of transport ecology, because I don't think the problem is a car design problem. The solution lies elsewhere, in patterns of land use, for instance, and systems of economics. But that solution will change the context in which vehicles are used, a point that most speculators fail to see, for some reason. Car designs that are brilliant in the current context might not be very suitable in the new context. I thought I had explained that.

If you read my last anno carefully you will find that I do not call for vehicles for urban landscapes. Indeed I believe that urban systems ought neither to need nor readily to accommodate vehicles in large numbers. For it is about numbers: all the brave new car designs presume a vehicle market at least the size of the current one. I am asking for vehicle designs for a market 1/10, 1/100, 1/1000 the size of the current market.

(And I refuse to accept that the only way to achieve that is single, one-size-fits-all model manufactured at some central point in China and then shipped all over, for that would quite miss the point of the real solution).
-- Ned_Ludd, Apr 08 2008

// you mean that commuting and errand running and moving people around all over the place all day long is indeed historically inevitable// Yes. People need stuff, so you have two choices, move the stuff to the people or the people to the stuff. Start with food. We can have everyone grow their own food. In US we may have enough land to support our present population, though I doubt Japan will be so lucky. They only have about 2 acres per person. Also remember, this isn’t modern farming, this is Quaker farming, so leave enough room for the chicken coop as humans can’t be true vegetarians. Also you will probably need oxen/horses/mules, unless you will be attempting plowless farming. That might solve the food part if all land was arable. This was Gandhi’s dream, but it is personally my nightmare.

So your new context is really the old context of historical farming, so I’d still say the only solution is mass transit. Wood burning steam engines on rail for high speed transport and canals pulled by mules to fill in the middle. Maybe wood and steam could be replaced by renewable wind and solar to electricity. Mountains are tougher.

But in any case, your new/old context is an elimination of corporations and advanced civilization, so wind and solar are problematic as they need infrastructure to replace advanced their advanced parts, though basic wind, windmill pumps and basic generators, and thermoelectric solar could last a while.

In the end cars have no place in this context except for possibly mountain supply, so I still think you need to redefine your specs. Ask for better mass people/equipment movers such as buses, trains and barges. Speed should be minimal ~10mph for wheeled vehicles and ~30mph for trains. Power sources are the key: wood, wood-gas, solar, wind, coal and veg oil. Only sources available to a subsistence society qualify. Oil and NG could be of use for only the high speed sections. Single person transport is limited to bicycles or horse/dog pulled carts as none of the available powersources is efficient enough at small scale.
-- MisterQED, Apr 08 2008

[Ned_Ludd], is this about forgetting technology and going back to only "historical farming", or just adjusting our use of technology so that it is not killing us? I vote -/+ respectively.

A heavily depopulated low-tech agrarian society without large corporations or centralized control seems like a Nice Idea, at first, but this has never existed even back in the days of kings & khans & czars. In a radically depopulated world, 'Mad Max' is a more likely scenario than the proposed utopia. I would take my chances on the continuing development of technology, steered in a humanistic direction (linky), over an attempt to revert to some illusory good-old-days.
-- afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 09 2008

Comments on the specifications:

- Why the assumption of a fuel-burning engine? The batteries needed for practical electric cars already exist, its just that the manufacturers aiming for the auto market have been bought up and shut down (link). In a not-in-a-hurry world, as you propose, an electric car with an optional fuel-burning engine/generator would be better in every respect than an engine/transmission machine.

- Economies of scale are not a myth. Certain components (lithium-polymer batteries, electric motors and controls, engines, transmissions, tires) require exacting tolerances and strict control of material properties. These tasks are best performed by entities with multi-million$ resources and several hundreds of people working together to fulfill all of the required functions. Similarly, the cost of setting up to produce a certain design of product requires that many copies of same be produced to make each unit affordable. This is a fact of engineering, not a corporate conspiracy.

- //Vehicles are not expected to be moron-proof//.. excellent, thank you [Ned_Ludd]. Stupid people killing themselves is as much a Good Thing as smart people killing stupid people is a Bad Thing.

- Certain components such as body panels/frames and interior design elements are subject to fairly loose tolerances and thus lend themselves to individual design/fabrication, especially in a scenario where safety regulations are relaxed in the interest of accelerating evolution (LOL)

- Configurability/Creative Liberty: A vehicle is a unitary entity, such that you cannot change some parameters of the vehicle design without adjusting all other parameters or seriously de-optimizing the design. For example, a particular selection of brakes and suspension is good only for a vehicle of certain mass and weight distribution.

So, taking these points into consideration, please consider the following hypothetical suggestions:

- Vehicle "classes" would be specified by a non-profit collective entity. These vehicle classes would define certain parameters such as vehicle weight (dry & loaded), locus of allowable CG's (again, dry and fully loaded), allowable aerodynamic parameters, a variety of drivetrain/suspension parameters.

- Drivetrain/suspension kits would be built by entities (companies, co-ops, etc) with the wherewithal to do a good job on these technologically-intensive assemblies.

- These kits would be sold to smaller companies or individuals who would build them into a wide variety of individualized vehicles, which would be tested to meet the basic standards of the vehicle class in question.
-- afinehowdoyoudo, Apr 09 2008

[iron_horse], //adjusting our use of technology so that it is not killing us//, yes definitely (my bun, whenever you're ready).

Where many people are losing this is in a popular but baseless assumption that technological development describes a simple and inevitable linear progression, that is, that the only alternative to what for some reason escapes me is called "forward" is a "return" to some past state. I am not advocating a "return", but I do recognize that certain historical developments cannot but be regarded as mistakes that ought to be remedied if they can be. This will definitely require a lot of new design thinking, and thinking in a style that might be unfamiliar and uncomfortable to those who have grown up with the notion of a "march of progress".

Thanks for the Alexander links. Isn't anyone here familiar with the work of E F Schumacher?

However: //Economies of scale are not a myth// Some methods are more sensitive to economies of scale than others. Some methods achieve their optimal economic performance at larger scales than others. The tendency has been to favour methods that reach that sweet spot at increasingly large volumes, as powerful organizations wish to capitalize on their capacity, and at the same time reinforce the entry thresholds that protect their position. One could hardly expect them not to. But that doesn't mean that those methods are the only possible ones, or even particularly good ones. I'm asking for an investigation into methods, be they traditional ones revived or radically new methods, that reach that optimum at the smallest possible scale.

I see this daily in the building industry: bigger is not always cheaper. Some processes lend themselves better than others to magnification. Others peak out at low levels and can thereafter only be duplicated, with little real scope for savings.
-- Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008

Who is John Galt?
-- Iidhaegn, Apr 09 2008

I agree technological development is not linear, but it is pyramidal, like building a brick wall, you have to start from the bottom and move up. I agree every brick isn’t necessary, and leaving out some may make the structure lighter and stronger, but if you leave too many out, it collapses. I did my rant on historical farming to show you what taking the “transportation” brick out of the puzzle means. Too many people think you can pick and choose pieces and they fit together. Gandhi thought he could return a modern society to a pre-modern stage forgetting that the rest of the modern world would then look on them as most Europeans did on the Native Americans. The key is not to try to destroy the wall and rebuild, but build on top of what has been done. That is what the X-Prize is trying to do, accept the present realities in the modern world and steer them away from the wretched excesses that are killing us.

As for appropriate technology, I agree, but look at the Wikipedia article: //“It could be argued that "appropriate technology" for a technologically advanced society may mean a more expensive, complex technology requiring expert maintenance and high energy inputs. However, this is not the usual meaning of the term.”// Today people are using computers and modern metallurgy to create better wood burning stoves for the third world, which is appropriate technology, for the target audience. The X-Prize isn’t meant for the third world.

Understand many times the material and tolerances roughly define the appropriate level of mass production due to the level of front end cost necessary for the machinery to create them. Construction material is in general very soft: wood, wet concrete, bricks, foam, tar, copper pipes and even rebar are soft by comparison to parts that make up cars and trucks. Construction tolerances are reasonably loose .25” gaps in doors or a 1/8” dip in a ceiling may be fine. The extreme example in cars is ball bearings which are tiny objects that cars need desperately and are simply outside the purview of small companies. The metal is ridiculously hard and the tolerances are microscopic.

Bigger is generally cheaper, Walmart has proved it. The exception is when companies can prevent competition and that leads to inefficiencies, but in the end even Micro$oft is seeing that if you get lazy and pompous the little guys will get you.

As for batteries, they like fuel cells are only part of the solution. They don’t create energy; they only make available energy more manageable. People are all starting to talk about plug-in hybrids, forgetting that the gas engine may be more efficient than the system that brings you power from the power company.

Do you want to create a third world X-Prize? OK, but alter your specs appropriately.

And... I am John Galt, or at least I want to be.
-- MisterQED, Apr 09 2008

I mention appropriate technology as an example of an alternative way of thinking about technology. I'm definitely not thinking about an X-Prize for the so-called third world.

If bigness is necessary there is no solution: except in chaos. You said I was looking for a //car to have after society collapses//, and in a sense I am. Then you mention Gandhi and his principle of Swadeshi. I am reminded of Gandhi's reply when he was asked what he thought of Western civilization: "That would be a good idea." The implication is that "society" in your sense stands in the way of the emergence of "Western civilization" in Gandhi's.

John Galt is all over the West, reproduced endlessly like little plastic novelty dolls, each supposedly an incarnation of the Inimitable John Galt but each in truth another copy in an endless loop of copies without original.

(But I agree with you about plug-in hybrids.)
-- Ned_Ludd, Apr 09 2008

random, halfbakery