One+ is an intriguing concept. Vehicle designer Fernando Ocana has created a conceptual electric bike designed specifically to transport clean water from place to place in the developing world.
The lead designer at pioneering electric car company Think, Ocana’s design is an unusual electric motorcycle inspired by the simplicity of the bicycle so that it is simple to produce and easy to maintain.
He says he was inspired by locally available material such as the jerrycan which he notes is a ‘common approach for the developing-world scenario.’
Ocana used rough plastics in the construction to keep costs low and weight nimble. The overall shape works around the need for it to hold the water containers, which can be removed and replaced as users fill up their jerrycans.
The wheels are made of rubber to absorb any shocks and impacts. This is where the battery and engine are stored to meet the renewable energy capacity in the developing world.
Ocana says the idea for the in-wheel electric engine and batteries came as an attempt to match the intensive developments in solar and wind power that are taking place through developing regions such as Central Africa.
Ocana was sponsored by Japanese carmaker Honda through the ‘mobility for the masses’ project when he was completing his masters in vehicle design at the Royal College of Art in London.
Finding beauty in complex mathematical data is essentially at the heart of one of the latest art/car collaborations. Japanese digital composer and artist Ryoji Ikeda has translated the entire data of the new Honda Civic into an audiovisual installation with intriguing results.
Exhibited at MUMA (Kraftwerk) on a bespoke 20-meter by 4-meter wall – the giant robust concrete warehouse in East Berlin admittedly adding to the theatrical drama – data.anatomy[civic] is a twelve-minute video art with sensual fast-moving imagery and hypnotic music. It is a visual and sensory treat.
The project started in early 2011 with development leader of the new Civic Mitsuru Kariya allowing Ikeda complete access to the CAD data of the car. ‘This information is confidential and top secret like a CIA file,’ muses the artist following the screening, ‘and we felt huge responsibility.’
Then came the difficult task of translating it all into visual and audio form. ‘When I saw the data I felt like a microcosm – it is so detailed,’ he says. It took around 3000 engineers over four years to create this. ‘And I had to respect what they do.’
Working with his team at the studios in Paris and Tokyo, Ikeda analysed the data and began to compose his work. ‘A Civic consists of thousands and thousands of tiny parts,’ he says. ‘It is like a human – there are so many organs in it – and that inspired me.’
Asked if the sound triggered the music or the music the sound, Ikeda notes that the process was essentially democratic. ‘The colours, frequencies, music – all come together. It is mostly a mathematical operation.’ Honda’s Kariya later remarked that he could almost see the engineers and designers involved in the project in Ikeda’s installation.
Ikeda’s compositions often involve visualising complex data – subject matters have included NASA – although with Honda the process was more complex. He explains: ‘It was the little things – the tyre, the wing all three-dimensional figures – having to translate all this data into my computer language first.’
He insists he worked with the entire data and took almost a crash course in car construction. ‘I knew what the data meant,’ he assures me. ‘You are watching entire parts but the frame set is so fast your brain cannot make them out.’ Every single part is used in the installation.
Ikeda believes data can be beautiful. ‘It is pure information. This is very abstract – a pure mathematical model,’ he adds.
He admits that the Honda team have created a substantial and functional product. ‘I’m making art, which is useless, but to be enjoyed. You can’t find meaning. You can say its enjoyable, boring or whatever – it is just art.’
But why work with data? ‘This is very contemporary technology and I am doing contemporary art,’ says Ikeda, before adding: ‘I’m not doing paintings and it is very natural to use this technology.’
Commerce will always be flirting with art. In many ways they need each other to survive – one for creative recognition, the other simply to survive.
In the case of data.anatomy[civic] and others that we’ve reported on – light designer Paul Cocksedge’s collaborative lamp with BMW Sestoseno shown at Milan last year and the Mini-sponsored sculpture this year – the viewer almost needs to eliminate the sponsor and judge the work in isolation.
In this context Ikeda’s installation is a simple celebration of the intricacy and complexity of car making – of technology and of aesthetics where data almost becomes alchemy.
The car industry is full of contradictions. On the one hand it creates machines that are harming our planet, yet some of the most innovative sustainability thinking takes place behind the the closed doors of some of these companies.
Last month we flew to Japan to visit Honda. Founded in 1948, this is Japan’s third carmaker and the world’s largest producer of motorcycles. It is also one of the leaders when it comes to ecological thinking as we discovered on the trip where amongst other innovations we met ASIMO the humanoid robot.
Watch the video of ASIMO running, the humanoid robot is now smarter and even more agile.
Japanese car design is an interesting mix of a thoroughly modern minimalist aesthetic and stylised animation. It really is different and exciting to witness some of the work created by local designers at the motor show that took place in Tokyo earlier this month.
Car design here sits at the polar side of German car design that is usually perfect and polished. In Japan it seems to be more of a refection of their inventiveness and playfulness.
Small urban commuters and pure sports cars – mostly with a focus on sustainability – were the main themes of this year’s show.
We are at the start of the second life of the automobile. Up until recently, cars were more of less about individual mobility, personal space, about ownership. It has been about creating beautiful or quirky sculpture.
With our diminishing fossil fuel reserves, concerns for the environment and world economic recession, the closeted, cosy world of the automobile has had to shift. I recall going to see controversial ex-BMW design boss Chris Bangle at London’s Design Museum in 2004 who talked of the car essentially remaining the same horseless carriage of a hundred or so years ago, and even then proposing we re-address the automobile.
Fast-forward to September 2011, and it seemed that at the Frankfurt Motor Show some genuinely interesting ideas for future transport and mobility were being proposed. Alternating yearly, Frankfurt and Paris are the most coveted international shows and an indicator as to where this industry is heading.
So what were these trends? It was admittedly a bizarre mix of clean mobility that has more in common with product design versus extreme high-performance cars wrapped up in shinny metal with the usual references – clean lines, lean athletic muscle.
BMW’s i3 and i8 – its first offerings in its electric sub-brand which we reported here back in the summer – are inspired concept cars that will be produced in the next few years at the Zaha Hadid Leipzig factory and promise to remain close to what we see now.
Audi Urban Concept studies, in coupé and open-top Spyder formats, are plug-in electric two-seater concepts that feature carbon fibre monocoque; the interior uses aluminium and carbonfibre trim and a quirky square steering wheel. Despite their modern approach to mobility, these cars retain the clean and precise Audi design DNA.
Volkswagen’s Nils is a similar idea – this one a tiny one-seat concept car with gullwing doors in a unique shape that envisions a future mode of urban transportation. Our reaction, design director Klaus Bischoff told me at the show, will determine if the marque will invest in such mobility solutions. We already saw the VW e-Scooter concept at Shanghai and a car like the Nils will fit in nicely to the marque’s electric portfolio.