Home > Blog > The Renault POM Vehicle: It’s small. It’s silent. It’s open source.

 

The Renault POM Vehicle: It’s small. It’s silent. It’s open source.

If you live in San Francisco and certain cities in Europe, you might’ve seen this little vehicle zipping around. Based on the Renault Twizy, the “POM” vehicle (Platform Open Mind) electric city car in partnership with OSVehicle, is presented through the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Americans might not recognize the Renault badge, but Nissan brings that air of familiarity for the US consumer. I had the opportunity to test drive and explore the vehicle, and as an auto-enthusiast with a UX and racing background, I’m here to share some thoughts.

To get started, let’s look at what it is…

POM Open Source
First, I think it’s probably good to define what “open source” means in this instance, for the simple fact the term has been thrown around a lot. When purchasing the POM vehicle you’ll have just about everything you need to develop your vehicle: the chassis, parts, motor, transmission, access to vehicle data and the ability customize it for your own needs. If you like 3D printing, you’re in luck. You can also print your own custom interior elements from CAD files.

You like code? Tap the vehicle data which is made readily accessible. The POM vehicle promises to be a tinkerers dream, enabling engineers to collect and utilize vehicle data for a wide variety of purposes.

The POM vehicle isn’t exactly new—it’s been sold in Europe and the Middle East for a few years—and the idea of “open source” in automotive isn’t new either. On the software side, Ford has already been making their AppLink software available to the world at large, which has sparked a consortium of auto-makers who also encourage developers to build apps compatible with their cars. What is unique about this case of “open source” pertains to what POM vehicle offers. Not only can you design and innovate to your hearts content, but it’s essentially an entire open source ultra-compact EV—and it’s cheap, reducing the entry cost barrier tremendously.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of people who have built their own cars in the past, especially kit cars and race cars, down to professional race teams. If the software aspect of this bores you, there’s always the option of stripping the vehicle to its bones and designing everything yourself. To put it plainly, it’s a giant Lego kit that can be used for a wide number of purposes—R&D and the real-world. Kind’a groovy, right?


Real-world Application
As explained by Renault Groupe and OSVehicle, there are a number of plausible uses for a customized POM vehicle, most of which can be made possible by the use of a connected tablet or mobile device:

Delivery Business: Software applications can be developed to monitor drivers, how they drive, read data from connected wearables, operate per certain geo-fence boundaries, and so on. On the exterior, the LED colors can be matched per the branding on the body work, blinkers can be remotely app-controlled, and the interior could be altered by printing 3D shapes to hold certain items pertinent to that of a delivery driver.

Security and Surveillance: Patrolling buildings, parking lots, and facilities, there lies the ability to control vehicles within specified speed limits, customize the interior (i.e., to hold a flashlight, clipboard, etc.), or capture video or images by using a GoPro (or other connected camera). It’s also possible to remotely monitor what’s happening in the building, illustrating that connectivity isn’t only limited to the vehicle.

Tourism: Enabling a tourist with a tablet, they can use the vehicle to tour the city and get information about landmarks and sights to visit, as well as record the trip with a GoPro. Monitoring the driver is another possibility, but likely, the primary concern would be that the vehicle is operating well, is within specific ranges, or something as simple as ensuring that they’re wearing their seat belt. Also as a side-note; this particular demo vehicle is a single-seat version, but does come in a two-person tandem. This means you lose the trunk of the car in place of a second seat.

I can imagine dozens of reasons to customize a vehicle—from use-specific tasks, closed environments, city driving, to assisting the hearing or physically impaired. Bonus points that this can be done without spending tens of thousands or having to tear apart a full-sized vehicle.

Okay, enough about possible scenarios. On to the specs!


Specifications
There are two power ratings, and based on how fast you want to drive you’ll want to pick one over the other. The POM 45 4kW (5hp) has a max speed of 28mph, and the POM 80 13kW (17hp) has a max speed of 50mph. So, it’s not necessarily setting the road on fire, but for a city car you won’t need to go much faster anyway. Although there are plenty of people who will argue me over that statement.

Classification: Electric city Car / Ultra-compact EV
Drivetrain: Rear engine, RWD
Transmission: Single-gear, push-button operated
Battery: 6.1kWh lithium-ion
Range: 62 miles
Curb Weight: 992lb
What’s Inside: ARM Processor
Motor Options: POM 45 4kW (5hp) [25mph max], POM 80 13kW (17hp) [50mph max]


Impressions + Thoughts
Many automotive purists will balk at this vehicle. It’s not exactly a Ferrari you’d admire on the street, while others have said it looks too much like a fancy golf-cart. That’s not the point I’m trying to make and it’s not the purpose of this vehicle. Looks aside, what I’m most interested is the reduced cost-barrier for anyone interested in automotive R&D and human-machine interaction. Sure, I think it’s great that you can customize interior/exterior, develop app-driven connectivity, and communicate to the vehicle remotely, but right now the R&D value for the dollar can’t be beat. Not officially, but based on USD/EURO conversion, it appears you'll be able to get a POM vehicle for about $8,000.

As a completed car, test driving the Twizy is much like other EV’s. For one, it’s quiet. The controls are simple too, with just a few buttons: park, neutral, and drive. The hand-brake is somewhat hidden, almost like a traditional hand-brake turned over on it’s side. The pedals are a nice standard size and staggered properly, unlike some vehicles in Europe I’ve driven where pedal confusion is a possibility. Keep all of this in your customized POM vehicle or not, it’s simple enough to change.

This particular model had some 3D printed interior elements which featured a tablet shelf and a cup holder. Handy? Yes—and altering base CAD files, your the rendering possibilities are endless. Personally, I’d like to have a cup holder big enough for my daily iced Starbucks, a holder for my iPhone, and a container to hold a stress-ball while driving in San Francisco traffic. Why? Who doesn't need a coffee and a stress ball while commuting through the city?

As a racer I like a very responsive throttle, whereas this vehicle feels lazy to “get up and go.” I’m not entirely clear if it’s the nature of the motor or the way it’s programmed, but I’d also assume an engineer could change the throttle response.

The vehicle rides a little rough—even in Nissan’s Research Center parking lot I could feel variations in the pavement. I’d imagine driving over the cracked and pot-holed streets of San Francisco or the cobble-stone streets of Europe would be pretty brutal. I’d bring a pillow, or make a comfy seat.

The chassis is simple, and in many ways it reminds me of a formula car without bodywork. It might appear top-heavy dressed in the body work, but it has a low center of gravity given the position of the motor, battery and electronics. This particular vehicle wore Continental tires, obviously in Smurf-size, instantly making me wonder how it would feel with slicks—and if they even make slicks in that size. The suspension appears like any normal suspension might, just much, much smaller. I even said the rear sway bar was “cute”… because, well, it is.

You don’t need to have the light-bar on the roof—though for safety I think I’d rather have it! I’ll say it again, this vehicle is small. Watching larger gentlemen climb in and out of it reminds me of the challenges average-size Americans face climbing in and out of Spec Miatas or formula cars. I can't exactly imagine how small you might have to be if you wanted to fit in the second seat--the tandem arrangement is probably as spacious and practical as the backseat of a Porsche Turbo.

The doors swing upward, not out, an instant turn-off for me. In general and as a racer, I know unfortunate events happen on the road all the time and I don’t like the idea of being trapped in any vehicle. Perhaps if I were to customize my own, I’d design doors that open outward.

Personal note--even if you are just testing the car and occasionally driving on the street, safety can never be a second consideration.

The framing for the roof and pillars seemed frail, and there is no side protection. I understand weight-savings is key, but side protection is huge in any vehicle I drive. It’s probably fine for the speeds it’s rated for, but in places like San Francisco where nobody does the speed limit and they drive like men/women gone possessed, I’d have to drive this vehicle just as defensively as I would riding a scooter. I think it’s safe to say it’s a step up from a visibility standpoint, simply because of the large rear break light and a noticeable exterior.

California is blessed with great weather, but I instantly thought about rain or snow and how that would affect my driving experience. If you wanted to design one of these vehicles and test its tolerance with father winter, you’ll want to build exterior for less than favorable climes or dress for motorcycle riding, because even with doors and windows, water still seeps through (See: Driving Renault Twizy in the Rain).

For the performance-minded audience, because the car is RWD and rear-engine, I did ask Renault if the car was capable of drifting: The answer is yes, but with the faster motor. Bonus points! Imagine the lateral-g data you could collect, including acceleration and deceleration data.

Anyway, all that aside... “With age comes a cage” as they say, I’d still be happy to drive the Twizy versus a scooter or motorcycle.


Conclusion
It goes without saying, I’m a huge advocate for collaboration and innovation. I think the POM vehicle might be the spark needed in the automotive industry to encourage the acceptance and availability of open source. While many brands might not be able to offer an affordable R&D option like the POM vehicle, I think the lower cost for entry is a great way to even out the playing field for those with lower budgets.

Whether you are developing autonomous-driving technology, software applications, or you simply want to create a personalized mobility solution, you might want to give the Renault POM vehicle more than a glance.


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OSVehicle is a B2B company that provides a ready-to-use hardware platform which enables companies to produce complete electric vehicles in half the time and ⅙ the cost. OSVehicle’s platform is the key functional parts of a vehicle – the wheels, chassis, motor, electronics and battery. Their open source platform allows new and existing car manufactures develop their own models by lowering the entry-barrier cost. It is also a reference platform for mobility startups to embed and develop their technology without reinventing the wheel (no pun)—shortening the time required to deploy their products.

Groupe Renault is harnessing its international development and the complementary fit of its three brands, Renault, Dacia and Renault Samsung Motors, together with electric vehicles and the unique Alliance with Nissan. With a new team in Formula 1 and a strong commitment in Formula E, Renault sees motorsport as a vector of innovation, image and awareness.

ARM technology is at the heart of a computing and connectivity revolution that is transforming the way people live and businesses operate. Their advanced, energy-efficient processor designs are enabling the intelligence in 90 billion silicon chips and securely powering products from the sensor to the smartphone to the supercomputer.