The way that we navigate our cities is changing. People are increasingly walking, cycling and riding scooters to reach their final destination. There is also a growing need for street furniture where residents and visitors can relax and rest.

Now, design students Corentin Janel and Guillaume Innocenti have come up with an intriguing concept – a rideable bench called “TOD”, short for “talk or drive”.

This idea won the Ford Fund Smart Mobility Challenge – and £12,500 (€14,600) for its creators that will go towards turning the project into reality. Organised by Ford Fund, the company’s corporate foundation and philanthropic arm, and the Royal College of Art, in the UK, students participating in the challenge came up with ideas that offer a sustainable urban mobility solution and benefit the community.

“A rideable bench is a great example of how design can help form the fabric of cities, as it’s something that’s fun, practical and multi-functional,” said Amko Leenarts, director of design, Ford of Europe. “It’s a clever way to make mobility part of the city, encourage people to interact and enable people to experience cities in a totally new way.”

“TOD” is designed as an adaptable system with a static mode and mobile mode. In static mode, it is a bench that can be extended to accommodate three people. Accessories such as chairs and corners can easily by added using a plug-in style kit system, while a flat square can be connected to two benches to form a picnic table.

In mobile mode, the sit-on scooter is for up to two people, with a maximum speed of 20 km/h. A hatch in the middle provides space for luggage, while stretching bands on the back and sides enable users to transport small and long items. Users can locate and book a bench or sit-on scooter using the dedicated app.

“We wanted to create a community service that adapts to the urban life of its users. Winning the challenge gives us a lot of confidence in our proposal, and it allows us to build a prototype so that our idea can become a reality. Working on a full-scale prototype will enable us to fully understand the package and at the same time think about the materials, the process and the user experience,” said winning designers Janel and Innocenti.

Ford Fund also awarded £5,000 (€5,840) to “Cardiac Patrol”, a proposal to equip private vehicles with automated external defibrillator devices for emergency use; and to “Communi-T”, an interactive vehicle that could help homeless people and those in need.

Students across Europe rise to the challenge
Further Ford Fund Smart Mobility Challenges have been held across Europe: at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany; Loughborough University, UK; and the University of Valencia, Spain.

Germany:

  • “Energetic Exchange”, an idea to turn battery charge in private vehicles into a source of currency, enabling users to pay for the next phase of their journey or for goods and services, won €11,500.
  • “Rhein Sharing”, a mobility station making use of renewable energy sources to charge e‑bikes and e-scooters, won €4,000
  • “MobilityHUB”, a warehouse that gathers various forms of micro-mobility into one accessible location, won €4,000.

Spain:

  • “MyWay”, an app designed to place all sustainable mobility options into a centralised place for easy access and more efficient multi-modal journeys, won €12,500.
  • “NetCare”, an app that helps families monitor and care for their elderly and dependent members, won €5,000
  • “EVLocker”, city stations for the storing and charging of electric mobility devices, won €5,000.

UK:

  • “Spectrum”, a proposal to set up inclusive supermarket checkouts for people with autism, creating a private area without music and with silent scanners to reduce the possibility of sensory overload, won £10,000 (€11,680).
  • “CareMiles”, a support charity that provides door-to-door empathetic transport for patients needing to attend medical appointments, won £5,000 (€5,840).
  • “HomeACTive”, a service that prompts people working from home to be more active by integrating house chores with home working, won £5,000 (€5,840).

Since the challenge first launched in 2018, Ford Fund, working with its international grant-making partner GlobalGiving, has distributed grants totalling more than €199,000 to student-led projects, including this year’s winners.

The winning teams

The Royal College of Art:

  • TOD, Corentin Janel and Guillaume Innocenti
  • Cardiac Patrol, Cheng Qian and Mingwei Lui
  • Communi-T, Domenico Perna and Pavan Kumar Sirigineedi

Loughborough University:

  • Spectrum, Indira Patel, Kim Huijsmans, Kyle Struthers and Wu Tsz Ting
  • CareMiles, Aiziel Nazario, Benedict Blyth, Haidar Darr, James Hoare, Maria Chanduvi and Tara James
  • HomeACTive, Huiyu Chang, Sophia Bird, Ticha Hongsongkiat and Yongnan Hu

Cologne University of Applied Sciences:

  • Energetic Exchange, Dzenana Canic, Nico Schmidt, Niklas Noel Krach, Oleksii Ponomarenko, Rea Hajredinaj and Younes Charif
  • Rhein Sharing, Anna Schmitz, Felix Roder, Marcel Heilich, Mariana Prado, Meryem Gencel, Rahma Guentepe and Zher Hassan
  • MobilityHUB, Ammar Hesam-Zadeh, Dominik Baumann, Eva Maria Thuemling, Philip Ulrichsen, Pia Schog and Sandra Knoebel

University of Valencia:

  • MyWay, Adrià Aquado Lorente, Alejandro Domínguez Fuster, Alex Segarra Pérez, Àngel Troncoso Guill and Vicente Verdeguer Chirivella
  • NetCare, Alberto Castillo Moya, Celia Fuentes Latorre, Clara Gisbert López and Pablo Miguel Argudo,
  • EVLocker, Rafael Rodríguez Gago and Vicente Torrejón Rickard