Here is an interesting concept that has us thinking about the future of transportation: inflatable vehicles.
It sounds strange to consider, but some students at the University of Tokyo have an intriguing proof of concept (dubbed POIMO), and the aerospace has already proven out these ideas further.
The concept is basic, the body of the vehicle (think: frame, bodywork, seat, etc) is actually an inflatable bag that when pumped with sufficient pressure, becomes a rigid structure.
Attached to the inflatable portion is an electric drivetrain, which is the only solid structure on the vehicle.
Conceivably, one could make a modest two-wheeler that would be big enough to commute on, but small enough on deflation to be carried in a bag, as is the case with POIMO (though, with four wheels set in a narrow track).
Now, the relevant technology – most notably the electric drivetrain – needs to mature a bit before this is truly a viable form of transportation, but the concept itself is quite sound.
The university students behind this POIMO concept have already shown a pint-sized four-wheeler can carry the weight of a person (check this video out) when filled to 10 psi, and then still fit in a backpack afterwards
For further proof that this idea could work, we can look to how NASA uses the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is a modular section of the International Space Station (ISS) that was expanded to full size after its delivery to space.
Launched to space in its collapsed form, astronauts inflated BEAM to be roughly twice the size of its flight form factor. BEAM isn’t an active part of the ISS, but it is a proving ground for the inflatable habitats in space, and works on the same principle as the POIMO vehicle from Japan.
Looking down the pipe, it is easy to see how miniaturization of some of these parts, especially batteries and motors, could make reasonably competent motorcycles available for urban use.
It is an interesting thought, and we will be curious to see how this develops over the coming years.