Creativity requires mental mobility. Or, “the head is round to let your thoughts change direction,” in the words of writer and painter Francis Picabia. Now, the moovel lab – the research unit of Daimler subsidiary moovel – gives this philosophy more room to move.

The creative minds at the moovel lab no longer need easels – like the one used by Picabia around 1900 to reshape his ideas with just a few brushstrokes. Instead, the three-member research unit of moovel, the innovative mobility brand by Daimler, considers itself an interdisciplinary dialog platform, according to lab director Dr. Eileen Mandir.

With her lab, she wants to process and develop any thinkable – and unthinkable – future scenarios and then make them visible. To this end, moovel promotes “speculative design,” as Mandir calls their modus operandi, a process that arises whenever the developers, designers, and data analysts on site start to artfully visualize their data streams, postulate hypotheses, or build bespoke prototypes in their future-driven lab.

The results are projects that oscillate and exist between data streams, drones, apps, and mobile urban gardens. They are designed to accelerate discourse and not only answer extant questions, but also pose some brand new ones: How do we picture tomorrow’s mobility? To what extent will technology affect and change our future mobility?

With this in mind, let’s explore four pioneering moovel lab pilot projects that anticipate the future.

working in the moovel office
Always one step ahead: the moovel team.

Trajectories – a colorful mobility mix

moovel lab takes data visualization to a new level – with an artistic twist. The Trajectories installation project transfers mobility data to paper, using a 3D printer and liquid wax. The results are stunning, relief-like works of art that reinterpret and present a city’s mobility streams in flux in a brand new way.

Inspired by French cultural philosopher Michel de Certeau, the installation tries to answer the question of everyday mobility by retracing the routes of metropolitan urbanites.

All of the data displayed is derived from the free (iOS and Android) moovel app, which lets users combine different mobility options to find the perfect path through their city.

To this end, the app not only combines public transport options with carsharing provider car2go, different taxi services, rental bikes, and the German rail system. The user can also pay for tickets or rental fees directly in the app.

In the Trajectories visualization, the various travel options are distinguished by differently colored wax.

The routes selected by moovel app users are retraced with drops of hot wax on paper, released from a height of approx. 4 inches to create a growing network of lines on canvas. The resulting contours of differently colored wax slowly, but surely, dissolve into a holistic image of the city’s overall mobility as the wax routes cross and overlap.

What’s more, throughout the installation, the warm and soft tactile quality of the medium reveals more and more subtle movement patterns, retracing a brand new perspective of the city in question.

A city’s mobility, painted in wax.

Roads to Rome

According to lore, all roads lead to Rome. But is this greatest of all mobility truisms actually correct? The moovel lab decided to go back to the roots – well, routes – to recheck the premise.

Drawing on today’s immense data streams, we can now provide statistic backing for the “millarium aureum” statement found on a Roman bronze pillar, installed 20 years BC to serve as an orientation aid for the Roman Empire.

As a matter of fact, the Eternal City can indeed be reached from more than 3.3 million European locations via almost 500,000 routes. To this end, all locations across an area covering more than 26,000 square meters were compared with each other.

For utmost precision, the moovel lab devised an algorithm that calculated a route for each and every journey. The more frequently a section of street was used, the more prominent its final visualization on the map.

Following the same principle, but on a much smaller scale, the moovel lab also tried to represent the characteristics of cities based on possible routes. This “urban mobility fingerprint” answers the question of just how far we can travel within a set amount of time and within a stated city using a particular mode of transport – whether car, bus, train, bike, or on foot.

This “street DNA” evaluates the deviation of the respective city from the ideal line between start and finish. It’s a prime example of artistic data visualization and an impressive representation of mobility in action. Certainly impressive enough to end up on T-shirts for some very personal urban fingerprints.

moovel map USA
The United States’ traffic as visualized by the moovel lab.


The Autonomous Human Drone Taxi

Right now, everyone’s talking about drones. Drones have started to take over children’s rooms, global logistics giants like DHL and Amazon are experimenting with the underlying technology, and they might even revolutionize our own future mobility.

And while a recent moovel lab experiment might remind us of a sci-fi epos by cult director Luc Besson, its actual premise could soon become reality: commuting by drone taxi.

Ever since the moovel lab released its video of a manned drone taxi, people have been engaging in heated discussions: Is this just a bunch of hot air or truly the next dimension of travel?

The clip shows the actual, everyday mega traffic jam that brings Greater Los Angeles to its knees. We see people on their way to work, hopelessly stuck in gridlocked traffic. Suddenly, a drone rises from the fray, carrying a passenger towards Downtown, high above the endless piles of grounded sheet metal.

At least this guy will be at work on time. And although it is just an experiment, the underlying approach could prove essential considering how much of their lifetime the average person spends stuck in traffic.

According to moovel, this is a shocking amount: more than four years of our lives. So, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement.

youtube teaser image

smart Green Skin

It’s a conspicuous and welcome trend spreading to cities and agglomerations: the greenification of railroad beds, industrial areas, and gray facades.

So, why not add cars to the mix? The moovel lab took a smart fortwo and added some flora to its roof, front, rear, and side elements – without changing the car’s overall form, function, or size.

To this end, the intrepid explorers used so-called succulents from the sedum family, i. e. hardy herbaceous plants, rare half-shrubs, that come with a generous water reservoir.

Beyond the project’s aesthetic value – a greener city is simply prettier – ecological factors like particulate capture, air quality improvement, or the curtailing of the urban heat island effect also played a role, although a tangential one. The moovel lab’s main aim with this project was to examine the concept’s feasibility and to stimulate public debate.

Editor’s note: This article was amended on November 17, 2016, to include the current Trajectories project.