Rinspeed Unveils Modular smart fortwo Dock+Go System

Words John Clark | February 20, 2012
The Rinspeed Dock+Go concept will be on display for hands-on inspection at the Geneva Motor Show, March 8-18, 2012
Words John Clark February 20, 2012

It’s a car, it’s a truck, it’s a club on wheels – No, it’s Dock+Go from Rinspeed on an electric smart car.  What is a Dock+Go system you’re wondering.  It is the latest creation from Swiss automotive visionary Frank M. Rinderknecht that is essentially an on-demand third axle.  In simpler terms, it is a backpack for your tiny electric vehicle, in this case a smart fortwo.   For everyday driving from point A to B, your smart car is enough, but what if you plan on doing some serious shopping, or are headed to the mountain for skiing.  Rinspeed has the answer with the Dock+Go, plug it into your smart and you now have the added room of a full size vehicle to store whatever it is you need.

For demonstration purposes Rinderknecht selected a two-seat smart car as the basis. One of the Rinspeed backpacks can turn an electric smart car into the dream car of every pizza delivery driver – complete with a built-in isothermal box. Or winter sports enthusiasts can comfortably stow their gear in another of Rinspeed’s Dock+Go packs. In a few weeks in Geneva, Rinspeed will show off a rolling “sound pack” which multimedia and infotainment specialist Harman has filled with the latest high-end sound solutions in order to guarantee a first class acoustical experience.

Before you read more and get overly excited that you will soon be able to convert your smart fortwo into a party bus, keep in mind that we have seen some wild concepts from Rinspeed in the past that didn’t make it into production. But, whether the Dock+Go backpacks ever make it to the streets isn’t the important thing, they help us to realize the possibilities available to us in the future.

Saving the best pack for less, Rinspeed can extend the operating range if your electric vehicle with an “energy pack”  An “energy pack,” fitted with a range extender or additional batteries, powered by a fuel cell or equipped with a combustion engine, provides the crucial extra mileage needed to reach more distant destinations. The simple and equally clever trick of the latter is: the docked third axle drives the rotating second axle and in doing so also recharges the on-board batteries of the city speedster. The world’s first Variohybrid – as Frank M. Rinderknecht calls his range donor – is born. And to top it all off: when the pack with auxiliary batteries is docked and the vehicle is not in use, the pack will even provide electricity to the owner’s private residence or serve as a buffer for the public energy grid, in effect turning it into a “smart grid.”

Rinspeed’s automotive visions live not only on the quality of the ideas behind it, but also and in particular on their sharp implementation. That’s because one key element of Frank M. Rinderknecht’s credo is that a car must provoke emotions and visions, especially if it is to serve as a vehicle for communicating new technologies and innovative materials. And there is a lot to see on the “Dock+Go” in that respect, contributed by large corporations and small but brilliant specialists alike in order to effectively showcase “Dock+Go,” which is currently going through the Swiss patenting process.

An immediate eye-catcher is the silver outer skin from AkzoNobel with a finish that resembles sparkling ice crystals. It ties in with the Goodyear low-rolling-resistance tires in size 205/40-17 mounted on 7.5-inch AEZ rims, whose decorative silver covers are attached to red fasteners with rubber bands. At night the chrome-blue accent striping on either side stands out immediately, developed by Lumitec based on an electroluminescent 3D-flexible film. Anyone with a message for their environment can broadcast it using the innovative “Identiface” feature. This display-based surface, developed by MBtech, replaces the front grille, which on an electric vehicle serves virtually no purpose. Thanks to internet connectivity “Identiface” can display the owner’s Facebook pages, news from around the world, the manufacturer’s badge or even the offer of a ride from point A to point B.

The interior is dominated by black and red. The high-tech Schoeller yarns have strong natural thermoregulation, good insulation and a high capacity for absorbing moisture. They keep comfortably warm in winter and remain pleasantly cool in summer. Premium automotive textile manufacturer Gaenslen Völter spun them into soft, supple upholstery that provides that special feel-good factor. And wherever plastics are used, it is in the form of high-grade man-made materials, such as the creatively and stylishly embossed synthetic leather that is supplied by Hornschuch, a specialist in this field. The transparent roof and its distinctive grass inlays – as well as a number of other interior materials – were contributed by Studer. The view ahead is dominated by a 12.1-inch monitor. It belongs to the multimedia equipment and is part of the intelligent infotainment system developed from Harman. The platform features the latest integration technologies for smart phones, adaptive navigation and the cloud-based Aha-platform with a flexible Human Machine Interface (HMI) and gesture control in order to bring digital contents intuitively, easy and safely into the car. This gesture-controlled system makes operation of the contents child’s play and the four cameras integrated into the vehicle body make dents from parking maneuvers things of the past.

The instruments were again supplied by – who else? – VDO. Also brand-new is the steering wheel from the German-Japanese Takata Corporation with integrated “parking space” for a smartphone, which serves as a second monitor when docked. This is made possible these days by a driver airbag that thanks to vacuum technology requires reduced installation space.

But “Dock+Go” offers more than just style; it also serves up a high level of technical sophistication. The recently newly developed high-strength, lightweight door frames come from Austrian steel manufacturer Voestalpine. Weber Fibertech built the extremely lightweight liftgate insert with function integration, the high voltage electric heater including the futuristic air vents were supplied by German specialist Eberspächer. No compromises can be made when it comes to handling huge amounts of energy safely, a fact accounted for by the extremely robust electric plug connectors from TE Electronics. Apropos plug connectors: recharging the car no longer requires it to be plugged in. Instead the vehicle simply rolls onto an induction field from SEW Eurodrive for non-contact charging.

“Dock+Go” is a clever mobility concept, implemented rich with emotions, enhanced with technical delicacies and intriguing enough for Swiss insurance giant Zürich Versicherung to commit to the cause. Who wouldn’t think of a series production in this context? No wonder that dynamic Frank M. Rinderknecht, one of the flagships for Swiss watch manufacturer C.F. Bucherer, is toying with this possibility. Rinderknecht on this issue: “Yes, we have been in productive talks with potential manufacturers for some time now.” Düsseldorf-based consulting company A.T. Kearney at any rate has already devised a manufacturing and marketing concept for the series production.