Microlino is an electric city bubble car fit for the 21st century

The Microlino by Swiss maker Micro is a tiny electric vehicle imagined entirely for city commutes and short distance travel. Its shape is inspired by the bubble cars of the 1940s and 50s – think of the brilliant L’Oeuf Electrique by French industrial designer Paul Arzens or BMW’s Isetta – with its single front door design which allows you to step right onto the pavement when cross parked.

The Microlino can transport three adults and their luggage, will speed up to 56mph and there is an option of a 77 or 124-mile range battery. Essentially, this bubble will make city commutes easy and (I suspect) hugely fun. It would be hard not to smile if you saw one drive by. To me, it represents a simple and relevant design idea.

Read the full story here

Time for change after the coronavirus pandemic

I’ve taken to keeping a daily diary in isolation – though I suspect I’m not alone here. Most of us locked up our diaries to collect dust in the attic when we left our teens. Its job was complete, navigating those unpredictable and impressionable years. This pandemic needs its own navigation. For many, cocooned in the safety net of the western world, trauma of such scale, the human loss, the fear of the unknown, are new. Some have witnessed wars and displacement (I saw some of this) but for many, the memory of war is from grandparents’ stories, from the movies, from The Diary of Anne Frank. The more contemporary events are events – they happen somewhere else, captured in a photograph, an article, noted and then gone.

This coronavirus pandemic has the gravitas of a world war. And there is something unifying in its global-ness. We’re all in it together, feeling one another’s pain, understanding each other’s fears. And equally terrified and helpless. Yet, the reality of the loss of lives and livelihood, the surreal nature of the lockdown – these need to undergo some sort of daily navigation. And so, the daily diary has re-emerged, with slightly less self-absorbed content and with a finer quality Japanese fountain-pen, ink, and paper.

It contains intimate details of the cherry blossoms that have doubled since yesterday in the local park where I take my daily walks. The hazy morning light brightening in the unusual April heat. London’s clear skies. The silence in the air. The orchestra of bird songs – some of which are new melodies in a city cleansed of air and noise pollution. The hungry bees populating the garden. Spiders weaving their architectural webs. The house cheese plant cuttings coming to life in their containers. The life of spring.

I observe the teenager across the lawn in the neighbouring house slouched in his backyard, headphones on, absorbed in his world, possibly thinking of his school friends, maybe even a girl, or boy, whom he cannot see for months. Months that are years in the teenage world. I watch the man in the park dry fly fishing. It looks surprisingly elegant. I mourn the elderly neighbour no longer with us, not for the virus, but another illness that took him in silence in the midst of this chaos. I hear another neighbour signing, alone but with her church choir via Zoom or Skype for Easter Sunday. I try not to listen to the ambulance and police sirens moving across our road, slowly fading, perhaps another tragedy in offing. Then silence and stories in my own mind.

Mostly, my diary pages are filled with ideas of how these monumental episodes offer the chance of renewal. Why not use this golden gift of silence to rethink our cities? With the High Street closed, I’m reminded of how little we need to live well. There are the essentials, of course, but do we need all this ‘stuff’ designed for desire? Observing families in the parks, should shopping be the default for entertainment? Equally, the pandemic is highlighting the precious value of time with family and friends, the social factor in being human. It is humbling watching communities come together to help one another with such dignity, and formal work rivals offering assistance. Perhaps our cities could focus less on empty consumption and more on places for people, for communities to grow, for this unified spirit to continue.

Equally, observing London with minimum cars and transport, do we need to be constantly moving? Walking through Hyde Park and onto Buckingham Palace, there is so much beauty in this city without clutter. Why should cars drive through parks? Why not pedestrianised central London and offer electric trams and the kind of clean driverless pods we have been discussing for years? The products are there. The technology is there. The infrastructure is largely there. It all just needs a push.

We now see that many businesses can function perfectly remotely. Why not rethink the tired work arrangement, the largely unchanged office format? Judging by the conversations I’m having with most colleagues, especially those in public relations and communications who are now working from their home offices and shed, I see such creative thinking from individuals who usually follow the corporate line. I suspect there will be more productivity, more interesting work emerging from this new way of working.

The world could benefit from working together progressively. This pandemic is proof of that. Watching the devastation caused to less fortunate countries, and watching ours largely surviving through state intervention, should it not encourage a more active state? Surely, we can now see the value in investing ever-more in our national health system – instead of systematically starving it. Equally, seeing how more deprived communities are suffering largely due to underlying health issues, isn’t this the time to discuss inequality, education and more? Even capitalism knows it cannot survive in its current grossly unequal state.

Within this adversity, we see families reuniting in parks, teenagers cycling with their parents, no iPhone in sight. Couples jog together absorbed in conversation. Maybe they are revaluating their life, their fast world. Perhaps they are rethinking their careers, ditching the corporate life for something more real. I suspect much of this thinking will be gone by the end of the pandemic (assuming there is an end). Yet, dear diary I hope this episode changes our collective perspectives, that we each see our individual responsibility to help make this world a better one not for a handful, but for all. That is not a tall order.

In talk with Benoit Jacob head of BMW i design

BMW announced the birth of its new e-mobility sub-brand i at the start of 2011, created to focus entirely on finding sustainable driving solutions. Since, we have been introduced to two concept cars – the i3 and i8 – that together reflect some of the design and engineering thinking that we should expect from the marque’s eco-arm.

The cars represent the two extreme poles of BMW – i3 is an all-electric urban run-around designed for dense megacities, i8 a a part-electric high-performance car. They share a strong aesthetic that will be developed further for the i brand, an innovative modular architecture that is at the heart of all these cars, and a high degree of connectivity that makes these cars almost like personal electronic gadgets.

Here Benoit Jacob head of BMW i Design explains further

How long did it take to design the BMW i3 and i8 concept cars?

For the first two i concepts the phases were organised slightly differently [from the normal car design process]. Since we had no predecessor on which to base our ideas, we had to develop the cars from scratch.

To begin with we generated ideas and decided on the line we wanted to take, from progressive to conservative. We adopted a very experimental approach to this phase – we didn’t just rethink the drive system, we reviewed the entire production process.

Of course, there were a few tried-and-tested ideas we could fall back on, including concept vehicles like the Vision EfficientDynamics. Interestingly, development of the first two vehicles took only about six months longer than the normal design process.

What technical innovations will have a key influence on car design?

In principle, today’s cars come as fully developed, highly complex and virtually perfect products. So as long as circumstances remain the same, design will continue to follow this 100-year-old line of development.

At BMW i we are constantly questioning existing solutions and have been able to develop an entirely new formal vocabulary thanks to innovations such as electric drives and lightweight construction.

To what extent is there cooperation between designers and developers?

As a designer it is absolutely vital that I comprehend each stage of the technological development in meticulous detail. Only then can we as the design team fully understand our development colleagues and marry the new technology to our formal vocabulary.

How do you see the future of automotive design?

One thing is certain: personal mobility, and therefore automotive design will continue to play a significant role in future. I think we’ll see a lot more innovations in the field of drive technology in the years ahead.

These might be electric drives, hybrids, vehicles powered by hydrogen or even technologies we haven’t discovered yet. And as these technologies find their expression in automotive design, they in turn will bring a new look to our roads.

BMW makes premium cars, but how would you define this in the context of the i cars?

BMW i symbolises ‘next premium’ – this is the term we use to redefine the premium concept, widening it to embrace future requirements and the need for sustainability of i vehicles.

For some time we have been observing a change in the way people are beginning to take individual responsibility for the environment. In future we will also see changes in what the consumer expects from products, in particular where sustainability is concerned.

We have to acknowledge this development in the design process and continue the trend. That’s why we have to redefine premium. For us, premium is not only defined by quality excellence in materials, surfaces and details, but also to a great extent by the manufacture and selection of sustainable materials right along the value chain.

Next premium is therefore an entirely new combination of premium and sustainability and reflects not only our corporate philosophy but also a new way of thinking for society as a whole.

What is the central message of the i design philosophy?

BMW i represents visionary automobiles and a new understanding of premium mobility with a consistent focus on sustainability. At the same time our work is all about alternative drive systems, technical innovations, production processes and the use of sustainable materials. The entire design process at BMW i is geared to this.

Our first two concept cars demonstrated the bandwidth of the new design idiom at BMW i. But between and beyond these two there’s still plenty of room for manoeuvre. As for what we’re working on for the future, you’ll just have to wait and see.

How can automotive design play a role in shaping our society?

Our society is increasingly shaped by our virtual presence. In spite of this, we still have to manage a lot of real-world mobility. In other words, our spatial interaction will continue as before – and so will our need to move from one point to another.

So mobility is set to remain a very fundamental requirement, one we must place within a much wider context. For us in the automotive industry that means constantly looking at ways to help improve mobility and ultimately make our surroundings more harmonious. As far as the future of mobility is concerned, I believe we are at the beginning of an entirely new era.

Read more on the two i cars here as well as interviews with BMW Group design director Adrian van Hooydonk as the cars were unveiled in 2011 published in Wallpaper*

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Adrian van Hooydonk on BMW Vision ConnectedDrive

Adrian van Hooydonk took over as BMW Group design director when the former boss Chris Bangle departed in 2009. Since he has been busy shaping not just the future of BMW and MINI cars, but also working on BMW i, a separate unit dedicated to electric driving. We caught up with the Dutch designer earlier this month as he unveiled the Vision ConnectedDrive design study.

Adrian Van Hooydonk with the MINI Rocketman Geneva 2011

Design Talks Your new concept car Vision ConnectedDrive is more than a visual statement about the future of BMW design. What are you communicating with your latest study?

Adrian van Hooydonk Two years ago we showed Vision Efficient Dynamics that was also dealing with a new technology – in this case lightweight which is also hard to explain. With this car we are showing how internet connectivity can enhance the driver experience and not take anything away.

DT The car is very good looking. Why did you choose to showcase the technology in such a classic package, a two-seater roadster.

AVH I’m glad you like it! We like this division of classic concept and modern technology. Off course since it is a roadster from BMW is has to look sexy. In the interior we’re showing something that is light and playful. It is made of layers that wrap around the driver and the floating element in the dashboard, which we see as the next level of driver orientation.

BMW's Vision ConnectedDrive at the Geneva Motor Show 2011 ©Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

DT But what is the main story behind this vehicle?

AVH Essentially this is about the user interface. Internet connectivity is all good and well but the deciding factor will now depend on how you deliver this information to the driver and the co-driver. Connect drive is something we already offer in our vehicles today.

DT Can you explain what you mean by connect drive?

AVH It has three elements: safety, convenience and infotainment and on Vision ConnectedDrive we have used lighting to illustrate the flow of information through the vehicle.

The blue light illustrates the infotainment scenario. Here the driver enters a city he doesn’t know. The car is in contact with the environment picking up information about restaurants, bars and entertainment that sink into the car and are delivered to the co-pilot who gets this information on the personal display.

The co-pilot can then ask for more information on a certain event, buy tickets on-line, which gets downloaded to their cell-phone. The co-pilot then swooshes this information to the driver interface, the navigation then directs the car to the destination.

BMW's Vision ConnectedDrive, the metal wire mesh on the dashboard that contains the purple LED lights underneath and the sensors that allow this so called swooshing movement are quite magical.

DT This metal wire mesh on the dashboard that contains the purple LED lights underneath and the sensors that allow this so called swooshing movement are quite magical.

AVH What we’re creating is magic and so we wanted it to look like magic too which is what these LED sparkles do.

DT What does the green light represent?

AVH This is about convenience showing how internet connectivity can make life easier and movements seamless. This means when you approach the car, it recognises you and will synchronise with your cell phone so that your playlist and calendar are uploaded automatically into the car.

If you have a business appointment in the city, the minute you get in the car, the car knows where you have to be and the navigation begins, it will then find a parking spot for you – all seamlessly.

DT And red I’m guessing is about safety?

AVH That’s correct. In this scenario the car is in touch with other vehicles on the road so it gets traffic information and warns the driver of a dangerous situation ahead. If the car is in a dangerous situation it will communicate through the red light – the sensor sends the information to the driver who gets a warning, if he reacts all is ok. If not then the seatbelt activators get a warning and the break system activates and the vehicle takes over.

BMW's Vision ConnectedDrive the infotainment scenario

DT All this is very exciting but are we talking about ideas that are feasible today?

AVH I already have an app on my cell phone that allows me to track my car – it finds my car and sets of flashing lights and I can set the temperature in the car. So the stuff we are showing could easily be possible in the next five years.

DT What does this mean for people like you in design?

AVH The user interface will be a much more integral part of the car’s interior and now our challenge as designers is to express this technology in a more seamless way.

Here the driver has two screens in front of him or her that have a three-dimensional effect so that we can display information in the order of importance – the closer it gets it becomes more relevant to the driving information. Then the head up display projects information in a distance.

DT How much further will this develop?

AVH The future of head-up display will be like augmented reality so that you look into the windscreen you see the city, but you see an arrow pointing into the street that you want to go into.

Young people are expecting their driving experience to be seamless and have this kind of connectivity. It won’t take anything away from the joy of driving but frees you from a number of things.

DT How do you see this car fitting into your current portfolio?

AVH Our Megacity Vehicle that is coming out in two years will be zero emission and will have that kind of connectivity to its immediate environment in the city. This car is more for the current city – somewhere like London and Paris.

See the concept car in action here.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

For more visit BMW.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Video: BMW Vision ConnectedDrive

The latest advanced design from BMW, Vision ConnectedDrive, connects the driver, vehicle and the outside world.

Adrian van Hooydonk discusses Vision ConnectedDrive here. Also follow BMW’s sustainable mobility activities at BMWActivatetheFuture.com.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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