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Mobility for Future Rural Communities

The Royal Automobile Club and the RAC Foundation have held a number of annual projects with the RCA’s Intelligent Mobility MA programme that coincide with the London to Brighton classic car run and the club’s Motoring week. 

This project seeks to combine the educational aims of the RAC‘s motoring committee and the RCA’s MA programme, with the research objectives of the RAC Foundation and the RCA’s Intelligent Mobility Design Centre.

Students on the MA Intelligent Mobility programme at the RCA investigated the mobility needs of Wadhurst residents, a market town in East Sussex, England, with a population of around 5,000 people. They were provided with background research and access to the neighbourhood plan as well as opportunities to meet and run workshops with local residents. 

Wadhurst collaborative workshop, Sep 2019
Wadhurst collaborative workshop, Sep 2019
Students discussing mobility challenges with residents, Sep 2019
Students discussing mobility challenges with residents, Sep 2019

Residents shared their hopes and fears for future mobility, including: improved road surfaces; conflicting desires for increased parking together with reduced congestion; improved community and shopping activities despite an increase in online commerce; the need for radical social and environmental changes while recognising that they didn’t want Wadhurst to lose its rural qualities; and improved public transport, walkability and cycling opportunities while, not necessarily, foregoing their ability to get around by car where useful and convenient. Wadhurst is an area of natural beauty and residents want to improve their access to this environment whilst reducing the impact of new development. Wadhurst’s narrow roads are not designed for heavy traffic or large vehicles and they do not work for pedestrians, cyclists or other road users, especially during busy times. 

Wadhurst, East Sussex, England
Wadhurst, East Sussex, England
Wadhurst’s narrow roads
Wadhurst’s narrow roads

The student teams developed eight alternative visions for future rural mobility, including micro-mobility for older residents; improved pavement lighting to support evening walks; a range of small scale autonomous vehicles to support shared mobility and more radical solutions including cable car systems that connect into larger scale transport systems, autonomous goods movement to support small scale market gardens and vehicles that can be reconfigured to provide social as well as work spaces for the local community.

  • Carchitecture is a one-of-a-kind smart mobility and infrastructure concept. It is focused on repurposing dormant vehicles from mere mobility devices into something that can create temporary shared spaces, using two or more vehicles. Team members: Abhidnya Kothavade, Dinesh Raman, Jospeh Zammit, Xiao Yang and Sharon Ramalingam. 
  • Star Road is an interactive light system that allows people to get around town safely without raising light pollution levels. Pebble-shaped light-emitting modules are installed onto the pavements. Team members: Chenming Li, Leesu Kim, Mengmin Cai and Mingwei Liu.
  • JUSTABUS is a mobility service that helps residents be part of an even stronger community. The bus is half the width of a regular car and gives more space to cyclists and pedestrians. During busy hours, the bus is public and dedicated to congested destinations like Wadhurst Train Station. Between these hours it can be booked to support other local needs. Team members: Douglas Leroy, Jinhui Xu, Min Keun Choi and Ruocong Liu.
  • DIMAXION is a holistic concept combining small autonomous vehicles with an integrated architectural pavilion. Inspired by several timeless theories of Richard Buckminster Fuller, including map measuring, time management and a focus on parametric flexible structures. Team members: Anna Pittrich, Jiyang Lou, Linqi Yi and Yanhao Li.
  • Wago is a vehicle designed to help young and old feel free and unlimited, as both groups are currently extremely limited in terms of mobility. Team members: Chengao Li, Guannan Zhu, Jiaheng Wei and Theo Mesplou.
  • The ‘Missing Link project focuses on creating a mobile communal space for rural villagers which can tighten social bonds. Families and other social groups could spend time together in the vehicle during their journey. The project seeks to recreate this active social life accommodated in the moving, autonomous vehicle. Team members: Jay Morris, Tianyu Wu, Young-Jae Kim and Zixuan Zhao.
  • The Carnier is a vehicle that aims to support the self-sustenance of rural communities. It is composed of a carrier that can be used as personal transport for the farmer and a cargo bay, that can be used as a pop-up shop for the market or can become an autonomous delivery vehicle. Team members: Domenico Pema, Marie Torrens, Zheming Zhang, Wenhao Zhang and Seok-woo Choe.
  • The ByE provides a first and last mile personal mobility solution that supports the needs of senior citizens whilst also providing a fun and low carbon way for young people and other residents to get around the community. Team members: Antti Alasalmi, Benedetta Ippoliti, Heewon Choi, Patryk Musielak and Youngjian Tong. 

IMDC Research Team and IMMA staff

Prof Dale Harrow
Dr Chris Thorpe
Dr Cyriel Diels
Dan Phillips
Guy Colborne
Cynthia Charwick

Project Partners and Judges

Steve Gooding – RAC Foundation 

Guy Nicholls – Royal Automobile Club

Lynda Addison OBE – Past chair of the Transport Planning Society

Carl Gotham – Design Director at MG/SAIC Design Advanced London

Special thanks to Sue Bishop, Chair of the Wadhurst Neighbourhood Planning team for access to the knowledge and support of the Wadhurst Community