The Soft Car

As part of his dissertation at MIT, Mitchell Joachim designed a "nerf-soft," self-healing automobile that promises to prevent deaths from car accidents in our increasingly hot and crowded cities.
  • Transcript


Topic: Mitchell Joachim’s Soft Car 

Mitchell Joachim: Well at MIT part of my dissertation was to rethink automobiles. In fact, we were charged with making the car of the future. We thought that was a bit boring and we knew that in about five years it would be a really anachronistic object. Every car of the future becomes really dull as time goes by. Instead, we thought of thinking of many discreet inventions that would fit into vehicles in the future. That would rethink mobility in the future through many concepts or kind of a lexicon of ideas.

If you think of the airbag, which was also invented at MIT, the airbag doesn’t belong to any one company or any one model of vehicle. It goes in every kind of car that wouldn’t necessarily belong to every kind of company or any company. So one umbrella thought was changing the bodies of vehicles to soft materials. Materials that were more social, materials that were scuffable, self healing, and more about pleasured motion and spaces of event instead of what we have today which is shiny, metal, precious boxes, which say don’t touch me when I’m in one. Don’t look at me.

These things get really hot and I’m stuck in traffic and there you go. We were thinking that when we’re in the future when we have about 2.4 billion [new] people on this Earth, coming in about 30 years, cities are going to be awfully congested. So we want to think of a gentle congestion. Vehicles where people could move in dense packs or herds or flocks of smart vehicles linked to an intelligent network where the body of the car accepts occasional bumping; accepts an occasional chow, how’re you doing? I’m in a Nerf-like automobile.

These are concepts that you would be fired if you were an engineer at General Motors and produced something like this. But they came, the soft car, came from the principle that no one will ever die in a car accident again. So let’s rethink everything we can think about the car to make sure that no one could possibly get hurt in them. So we had to slow them down. We had to certainly change their materials. Then we had to think of many layers of safety from brakes that replaced the contact patch with the actual belly of the car to thinking of the streets themselves in constant communication with the vehicles and the wheels and the cars behind them. So we rethought the entire system based on this principle of not only would it be good for the environment but no one will ever die in a car accident again. And that’s kind of how the soft car reified itself. That’s how it came about

Recorded on: September 11, 2009