Interview

This Man Is Trying To Change The Auto Industry Out Of His Garage

The odds might be stacked against him, but then again almost every auto company started with a dreamer in a garage.

Like many movements, Paulo Camasmie’s mission started with an accident. This was no lab mishap or falling apple striking an observer on his head, it was a car accident that placed his sister into the same pool of disabled survivors that sees 20-50 million new members added each year. As an engineer who fills his time building gizmos to improve lives, Camasmie decided that he had to do something about the automobile because of the primitive nature in which it kills 3,287 people a day is simply unacceptable.

Believing it immoral for automakers to save the most sophisticated safety features for expensive technology packages and wealthier markets, Camasmie began working on the Atticus Robocar, a vehicle that would use autonomous technology and recruit every known automotive safety feature to transport people safely, effectively, and efficiently. The demands Robocar had to meet aren’t much different than what most modern cars need to accomplish, but the approach is different. Much like Apple did with the iPhone, Atticus is not attempting to reinvent the wheel, just repackage existing technology with an autonomous twist in a way that makes more practical sense for the user and the environment.

Instead of heavy batteries like a Tesla has, Atticus focuses on a lightweight design that helps the vehicle stay under 2,200 pounds. Powering the Robocar is a small battery that gives it a range of about 93 miles, weighs as much as a single passenger, and can be quickly swapped for a replacement if long distances are required. Making mass production easier is a high degree of flexibility in chassis configurations. Not only will seating be available for two in truck spec, four in the standard setup, or six in a larger people transporter, but the Robocar will be easily updatable with new body panels, electric motors, and batteries. Once the car reaches the end of its lifecycle, the chassis can be recycled.

Given that most of the Robocar’s 157-inch length is taken up by the wheelbase and short overhangs, interior space is aplenty. This helps the Robocar cater to the active lifestyle with a built in bike drawer at the rear and a deployable paddleboard rack on the roof. Voice-activated electric gullwing doors run along the side of the Robocar and give access to the passenger compartment and storage areas, all of which are housed in the same mono-volume interior. The layout follows Camasmie’s philosophy that only minivans, station wagons, and the occasional small truck are practical automotive applications. In his eyes, the SUV is nothing but a waste of metal.

Wanting to bridge the gap between putting ideas on paper and bringing them to fruition, Camasmie cleared a space in his garage and used hand tools to craft the chassis. While the end purpose of the modern day car is simply to transport, it does much more than serve as a medium between points A and B. Cars are status symbols, but they also cocoon us from the exterior city life under the guise of comfort and convenience and can feel more like isolation chambers after a six-hour road trip. Camasmie hopes that the Robocar will remedy that. For now, the Robocar is controlled with pedals and a steering wheel like any other road car, but that will change in the near future once a higher level of autonomy can be reached safely.

For now, Camasmie simply won’t add semi-autonomous features that expect the driver to intervene when the situation goes south. According to the inventor, that expectation is simply “ludicrous.” Instead, the Robocar will come standard with electronic safety features designed to protect the driver from doing something dumb, much like a horse will refuse to gallop off a cliff even when the rider is distracted or inebriated. Communication between the Robocar, surrounding infrastructure, and other cars on the road is crucial to making this plan become a reality. Even with full autonomy, the Robocar will not be a secluded transportation pod where the population watches Netflix while on the commute.

Instead of being viewed as a bubble of personal space, the innovative vehicle should be seen a shared go-between. Camasmie’s ideal user would rather park at a convenient location and bike or walk the rest of the way to point B. When drives get longer, Camasmie foresees that drivers will be able to load the Atticus Robocar onto a train and spend the time walking around, socializing, and eating at the restaurant onboard the train. For those who would rather take up less space, the option to simply have a Robocar drive itself to the train station to pick them up upon arrival seems an enticing fantasy. Unfortunately, a fantasy reflected in an operational model is currently what the Atticus Robocar is.

To have the car launch effectively, Camasmie needs to garner the attention of an influential and endowed supporter, think large automaker or a tech company. If all goes according to plan, then we can expect to see a handful of Robocars on the road by 2020. The main hurdles are the obvious ones. For the Robocar to work up to Camasmie’s expectations, we will need to live in a world where our ideas of transportation are completely different that those we hold today, although the direction that the industry is taking is an example that these conceptions are already changing. Drivers, or in other words, elements of unpredictability, will need to be removed from the roads in favor of computers that make the decisions.

The expected transition to autonomous car sharing services that eliminate vehicle ownership in favor of rideshare subscriptions would ideally have already taken place. While these changes are more likely a matter of when rather than if, that question of time will keep the Robocar’s release somewhat uncertain. Still, with the Robocar already turning the heads of companies specializing in autonomous technologies as well as various schools, Camasmie’s goal is one step closer to seeing reality. If that dream comes to life in the form of the Robocar, or if Atticus’ vehicle manages to influence the industry in a positive direction, then Paulo Camasmie will be a happy camper.

Watch the Robocar's voice command features in action here.

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