Volvo 360c is a clean self driving multi-functioning car

This Volvo 360c is an intriguing concept. This research project is at once a self-driving office with hot-desking on the move, a social hub, and it can be transformed into a tranquil bedroom-on-wheels – upper-class air travel on land. These ideas aren’t necessarily pioneering, but what makes the 360c pretty exciting is how it is being used as a channel for dialogue with other car companies, policy makers and governments to help find real answers, safety solutions, and a universal language for autonomous driving communication. Even more exciting, the 360c has its gaze on airlines… Read my full review in Wallpaper* here

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BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce navigate the future

Speculating the future of the car is pretty fascinating territory. The automobile has essentially remained the same, evolving technically rather than conceptually since its birth well over a century ago. Now, as the car moves closer and closer to becoming a personal gadget with multiple faces and functions, its next life is open to all sorts of interpretations. It certainly is an exciting time to be involved in the vehicle design world.

We’ve been in dialogues, or more accurately in marathon conversations (to borrow a phase from curator and art historian Hans-Ulrich Obrist), with a number of the more enlightened car designers (most notably the visionary Chris Bangle) for a number of years as they journey through this new phase. It is therefore extremely satisfying to see some of these ideas come alive.

To mark its centenary, earlier this year BMW unveiled the Vision Next 100 concept study. The futuristic shape-changing sporting saloon is an intriguing study into the BMW of the not-so-far future that runs on clean energy, moves autonomously, and is constructed through modern manufacturing methods.

Then last week we were shown BMW Group’s other two marques’ imaginative futures. Mini’s Vision Next 100 concerns itself with personalisation, working with artificial intelligence to create a transport hub that adapts itself to each and every user for an interesting shared urban transport concept

Whilst the Rolls-Royce concept 103EX offers the ultimate luxurious personal transportation portal for the future – it is the embodiment of bespoke automotive luxury, where the autonomous function allows for a supremely sumptuous cabin equipped with its very own virtual butler.

BMW’s head of design Karim Habib explains that exploring new and advanced manufacturing methods is at the heart of his Vision concept as it means bypassing the current outmoded forms of automotive manufacturing – conventional tools that are expensive, not very ecologically responsible and restrict design flexibility and freedom.

Advanced technologies like rapid manufacturing and 4D printing won’t necessarily produce components or objects but instead intelligent, networked materials for exciting possibilities in design and engineering, he says. In terms of material, the extensive use of lightweight and tough carbon (used in the i3, i8 and 7-Series production cars) is an indication of the changes to expect in the world of automotive materials.

With the BMW brand identity centred on being the ‘ultimate driving machine’, the team looked at how to contain or even enhance the emotive side of driving when the car is driverless. Here, the Vision concept can be driven or piloted – much like the i8 Spider revealed earlier this year. When not in autonomous mode, the augmented reality will guide the driver, projecting the ideal steering line and best speed onto the windscreen, and it will warn of dangers ahead, road obstacles and so on. In ‘ease mode’ when the car becomes driverless, the steering wheel slides away and the cabin transforms into a living room/work space.

For Mini, the focus is on the car as a personal, individual and adaptable gadget that also helps forms communities. At the heart of this concept is connected digital intelligence. This Vision 100 is a fully automated vehicle, wrapped in a discreet, silver blank canvas that alters according to the individual user, their mood and the situations they encounter.

Inside, the designers have worked primarily with fabrics made from recycled or renewable materials. The visible and non-visible carbon components, such as the side panels, are made from residues from normal carbon fibre production. Anders Warming, head of design, says in the future the choice of materials will become even more important throughout the design and production process.

Crucially, the marque takes the concept of shared living, explored in their inspired installation at Salone del Mobile, on the road by looking at how the vehicle can connect likeminded communities and help share their experiences. For instance, a user gets hold of some last-minute tickets to an exhibition preview as the car identifies another user who may also appreciate the show and coordinates a joint excursion.

For Rolls-Royce, the design team lead by Giles Taylor set out to envisage the ultimate expression of the future of super-luxury mobility – the haute couture of motoring, he muses. Here the team are delving deep into understanding the meaning of future luxury, of what constitutes modern luxury – a subject much at the heart of our marathon conversations with Taylor. For the marque it is a question of balancing craftsmanship, an individual spirit with high tech wizardry and seamless connectivity, delivered in the tranquil surroundings of the Rolls-Royce cabin.

The Rolls 103EX is based on an advanced lightweight platform equipped with a high-performance electric drive to allow for the body design, its various specifications and equipment to be tailored specifically to suit the needs of the individual customer. Taylor says progress in composite materials and technologies will have a decisive influence on how production can be customised in the future so the marque can achieve its goal of producing the ultimate bespoke car.

The cabin is a peaceful oasis incorporating warm tone Macassar wood, a carpet of hand-twisted silk (very very expensive to produce, confides Taylor) and soft silk on the upholstery. Designed to ‘waft’ along, with the chauffeur obsolete, the driver’s seat, steering wheel and instruments are superfluous for a completely new sense of open space.

Virtual intelligence directs the car and fulfils the passenger’s every need, at times even predicting their wishes. This softly spoken virtual butler appears on the full-width transparent OLED display, and is named Eleanor after Eleanor Thornton the model who inspired sculptor Charles Robert Sykes’ iconic Rolls bonnet ornament.

The sculpture’s form and proportions are impressive too and a bold move for the brand with Taylor noting that in the future we should expect a more daring Rolls-Royce design. There is much theatre here with the roof and coach door dramatically opening to reveal the interior of the vehicle as passengers gracefully step out. We also love the tailored luggage, now stowed in the long bonnet with a simple mechanism opening a hatch in the side of the car to present the luggage to the waiting hands of the porter…

It is fascinating to see how three brands with such unique identities have chosen to respond to the second life of the automobile. And these Vision 100 Next vehicles are very different conceptual studies, each marque navigating an intelligent path through the competing demands on the role of the car in its next phase – in its new life.

Nargess Banks

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Can electric cars make music?

Can cars make music? This is the premise behind a research project that is looking into inventing new sounds for the age of the silent electric and hybrid vehicle, a sound that responds and returns something back to the environment.

Electric cars emit very little noise. Legislations in Europe and the US, however, will soon dictate that they must alert other road users. What we’re seeing though is a focus on sounds that are about warning or are heavily imprisoned in the old age of the motor car: roaring engines, the depiction of speed, of aggression, even fake Ferrari engine notes.

But what if we look to it from an entirely different angle to discover the aesthetics of sound and the responsiveness of it. Or simply – how can the car respond to the city around it through sounds. And why not use this an opportunity to completely re-imagine the vehicle sound?

Electrification deserves its own sound, say Sonic Movement, a research project headed by a group of designers, artists and musicians. Our cities have developed but the sonic landscape remains primitive and disordered.

The brainchild of designers James Brooks and Fernando Ocana, the project is being backed by technology firm Semcon who are working with avant-garde musician/artists Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst. Herndon’s work sonically explores the intersection between people and technology, whilst Dryhurst is looking into the blurred edges between art and technology.

The team looked at multiple cars and how the sounds working together can build a symphony. They pinpointed sounds in a three dimensional way, creating elements for when a car goes faster or slower, turns an angle or sits idle. The soundscapes here show some of the ideas being explored at the moment.

‘What is the aesthetics of sound and the responsiveness, which allows the car to respond to the city around it,’ says Ocana. ‘We need to influence the legislation so as not to live in a world of fake Ferrari engine sounds and find a suitable humanistic sound,’ he notes, adding so that the car is no more the villain.

Listen to Sonic Movement talk with musician Jarvis Cocker here.

Learn more about the project and listen to some of the sound ideas here.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read about Fernando Ocana’s previous project Monoform that also looks into how the car can respond to its environment. Plus have a look at James Brooks’ shared transport project – both of there were presented at their final year Royal College of Art vehicle design show in 2011.

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Volkswagen electric e-Up

Electrification has been hailed as the next chapter in personal transport for some time. We’ve been promised interesting products, thoughtfully designed cars that are driven in full or partly by an electric motor. We’ve been teased with some intriguing visions for electric cars for a number of years. Yet until recently all these have been exactly that – visions.

Carmakers are not entirely to be blamed. A real infrastructure in most counties, even in the highly developed world, has simply not existed. Without charging zones and all the other furniture that completes electric driving, there seemed no real urgency to develop these visions. Until now. The new breed are nothing like the clumsy G-Wiz and other poorly designed older electric cars – products like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and BMW’s i3 have already proved that you don’t need to sacrifice on looks or driving when you go electric.

The latest product to hit our roads is the Volkswagen e-Up. What sets this car and the other new ones apart from their predecessors is that they are actually a whole lot of fun to drive. It is pleasant cruising along in near silence. And with instant torque electric cars can be pretty swift. Range anxiety is an issue especially out on country roads where charging zones may not be in easy reach, but then battery life depends on how you drive these cars. In the case of the e-Up VW’s figures are around 75-103 miles in summer and 50-75 miles in winter. The driver has some degree of intervention through the energy recovery system and selecting from the three driving modes – normal, eco and eco plus.

Unlike the Leaf, Zoe and i3 that were born to be electric, VW is basing its electric strategy on existing models – hence the e-Up and soon e-Golf. And where the i3 is a brilliantly crafted machine that is perhaps not for everyone, the e-Up is a car precisely for the masses. Much like its conventionally-powered sibling, this tiny city car has been envisaged and created with a wider world in mind. And the electric e-Up holds the same promise of universal – and in this case – electric mobility.

Read the full review of the Volswagen e-Up published in Future Space magazine.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our review of the BMW i3.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | | Published by Banksthomas

Design team discuss Infiniti Emerg-e

A month before the Geneva Motor Show a few of us were called to Park Royal Studios in West London for a preview of Infiniti’s latest design study. Emerg-e joins the 2009 Essence and 2011 Etherea – collectively they speak of the marque’s design direction.

To put all this into context Nissan’s luxury arm, which existed in the US as a premium brand, entered Europe in 2008 – the move prompting a much needed rethink of its design language.

The cars were introduced gradually to key European countries supported by identical showrooms, all carefully designed to resemble luxury boutique hotel lobbies (for more on this read our report on Infiniti).

Nissan group design director Shiro Nakamura called Infiniti at the time ‘the seductive alternative’. And it is with cars like Emerg-e that the marque aims to seduce buyers of established premium European brands.

The name Emerg-e refers to an emerging concept for sustainable mobility that merges the conventional combustion engine and the electric powertrain. This is a fully engineered prototype featuring a range-extender drivetrain mounted mid-ship, and in the flesh it certainly makes its presence known.

We caught up with the main trio in design Nakamura, Francois Bancon of advanced design and head of Nissan Design Europe Victor Nacif at the event. Here are some of the images from the day and the full report which was published in Car Design News.

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