Art Center's New Breed

Personal Mobility, this is perhaps the most used description for what automotive design is trying to become, of the future of mobility.  Often, and in certain countries, it has a linguistic connection to gear that helps physically impaired people move around comfortably.  The car industry is desperately trying to shake that connotation off but at its core it is essentially true.  Most people in big cities where ecological vehicles could have a positive impact are physically impaired from getting from point A to B comfortably – impaired by cost, space, congestion, or climate concern.

A few years ago Prof. Bumsuk Lim told GCD that he was thinking about changing the name of his transportation design class from Motorcycle Design class to Personal Mobility Class, so he did.  The first of its kind in the world his class directly and exclusively explores the new dimension of design that is Personal Mobility.  In this exclusive story we can reveal a ‘New Breed’ of transportation designers that has emerged from Prof. Lim’s unique and clear vision of the future of transportation design.  It fulfils his many loves, designing cars, riding motorcycles, and science fiction.

“I always start off my class by asking what is wrong with cars and motorcycles of today?  Are they the best answer for tomorrow’s transportation needs?  Can we dream of something else?”, says Prof. Lim.  Basing themselves on a future scenario he asks his students to go beyond cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, jet-skis, and bicycles to come up with new concepts that challenge the traditional vehicle.  “Of course being green is a must, I can’t imagine a future world without green vehicles!”, he confesses…and the results are explosive.  In 14 short weeks his class produced some mind expanding results of which we feature the top 5: Tomas Bubilek’s +1, Philip Haban’s Burton Boreas, Michael Hritz’s DC Comics/Motoczysz Combat Cycle, Joseph Martinez’s Puma Trials, and Musa Tjahjono’s Mission Motors Mission E.

Tomas Bubilek - +1

Bubilek’s +1 exemplifies the notion of a New Breed, specially a new breed of personal mobility vehicles.  His inspiration for +1, a Robotic ATV, came from the idea of “half man, half machine”, where the structure and appearance reflect a symbiotic relationship.  Bubilek takes the assets of the human form, flexible and articulate skeletal and muscular interrelationship, and melds it with the protection and performance of a machine amplifying resistance and strength.

Like its inspiration the +1 is driven by a hybrid system composed of very powerful electric motors whose energy comes from a small diesel generator located under the rider.  The diesel operates at peak efficiency (constant RPMs) and at the same time produces as little emissions as possible.  The four battery packs located in the belly of the machine can also power the machine in complete silence for a range of about 30 miles, an advantageous stealth mode when +1 is used for military purposes.

Reminiscent of the wearable motorcycle GCD featured a few years ago the +1 takes on issues of protection that the former lacked.  A more advanced and rugged solution that reflects an increasing trend in niche automotive design with a flare for combat, such as built by Local Motors, makes the +1 a design to fawn over.  The exaggerated limbs that turn into individually sectioned treads that make up the super flexible wheels create a new visual texture.  The front end with its muscular shoulders and head cockpit makes you want to get in and ‘feel’ what its like.  The contrast of soft surfaces that embrace the human body against the rigid exoskeletal forms that act as body armour accentuate its aggressive body language.  There is something sinuous and fragile about the design nonetheless, and it is due to the fact that all these connections are exposed, there for the eye to see…reminding us of the vulnerability of our own internal architecture.  +1 “the new species is here”.

Philip Haban – Burton Boreas

"Boreas is a lightweight high performance electric snow racer that fits the event course designed for Tartarus and its riders” says Haban.  Boreas is the Greek god of the ‘cold north wind and the bringer of the winter’.  A free spirit he is often shown as a winged old man and as being very strong.  Tartarus, the deepest gloomy world that is even worse than the underworld and believed in Greek Mythology to be even lower than Hedes, is the backdrop for Haban’s Boreas. How such a light and elegant piece of design could come from such a dark scenario is contradictory to say the least but Boreas’s design language is nonetheless athletic, sleek, and fresh.  It has more in common with the little gem that inspired its stance, the Anolis Lizard.  Spending only about a third of the time touching the ground it embodies the lightness and speed with which Boreas needs to win snow races in the Tartarus competition.  Fantastical as this design may be the materials are seriously considered as if to be built in the real world.  Haban selected the toughest and lightest materials he could find in our world to apply to his extreme electric snow racer - carbon fibre, acrylic, aluminium, and honeycomb vinyl seat covers.  The discrepancy between our world and his imagined scenario takes away from his design story, its as if we want the Boreas to really stay in character the whole way through.  Nonetheless, real applications of his electric racing design could come to life if he managed to keep the conflict above ground and in the future rather than in mythology.

Michael Hritz - DC Comics/Motoczysz Combat Cycle

Hritz’s scenario took him to a future where automation and the inherent rules that need to be followed for that to happen have led to an essentially boring and controlled environment.  In spite of comfort and efficiency the system doesn’t cater, it even denies, our basic human instinct for survival.  In a recycling centre of all places a citizen finds a comic book that sparks a mellowed imagination and gives a new sense of purpose, rage against the machine.  Slowly a kind of Fight Club mentality arises and good and evil also emerges inspired by characters by the DC Comics book and Motoczysz forming a motorized team that  “enjoy the act of high speed, full-contact battle while hanging-on to the fastest machines that they could build”.  In a classic good vs. evil setting two vehicles come out of Hritz’s scenario: “Nullifier”, bold, brave and virtuous vs. “Instigator”, mischievous, unstable, and flawed.  Battles ensue providing a sense of purpose, challenging the complexity of imposed comfort in society by the use of simple controls and body language as the main drivers for their Combat Cycles

There is always a threat to freedom of expression when massive systems replace human input, just think how Google has changed that way we get our information, it is by no means random.  Hritz addresses a fundamental issue with his scenario and the outcome is based on our purest instincts, the use of our bodies and minds to survive.  Aesthetically the “Nullifier”, or Combat Cycle A, reflects one side of our psyche, lean, essential, light, pure but vulnerable, our good side.  The “Instigator”, or Combat Cycle B, personifies the other side; it is heavier, has more mass, or perhaps better said brawn, and shows our insecurities by bulking up in form.  Although DC Comics would most likely use more curvaceous characters as their battling heroines Hritz has chosen a more androgynous athletic female character as the protagonist of his adventure adding just the right touch of reality!

Joseph Martinez - Puma Trials

Inspired by a trip to Venice beach where he met a trials bike rider Martinez’s scenario challenges a person’s physical limit rather than limits of speed.  In a project that might be seen as the antitheses of car design that borderlines on product design he actually directly answers Prof. Lim’s questions at the beginning of the class.  He strips his vehicle of any engine or motor and replaces it with human power, he solves the need of getting from A to B efficiently, and he adds quality of life by designing a wearable bicycle.  As he learned from his friend on the beach, “Trials” is a unique sport that involves the customisation of a typical bicycle to be able to perform complex jumps and scale objects such as boulders, tables, even walls! 

Trials is simple in its form and honest to the user.  Each foot is linked to a wheel with leaf springs and tension rods to create a system that makes the rider go faster and jump higher.  Through hydraulic brake cables and lightweight composite parts the structure evenly distributes pressure from the calves to above the knee allowing for independent motion.  This sensation and physical attachment not only allows freedom of movement but also adds to the visual impact of the Trials, they seem to become a natural extension of the body.  Designing Trials under the Puma name might not have been as provocative as perhaps BMW or Honda but it does add to the wearable aspect and enhances to its sporty loooks.  Chariot Skates meet Air Trekkers here we go!

Musa Tjahjono - Mission Motors Mission E

Not as much inspired by a future scenario as by modern furniture Tjahjono’s Mission E trike was designed to solve the problem of congestion in cities and contribute to a new generation of green vehicles.  Mission E is a folding full electric trike that operates as a bike in Riding Mode and a motion assistant during Walker Mode.  In Riding Mode the trike has a traditional stance with a longer footprint to increase stability at higher speeds.  During Walker Mode the trike’s harmonic drive will engage as the vehicle slows down to walking speed to assist the rider in lower speed situations. In this mode Mission E behaves somewhat in the same way as Honda’s UX-3 with a gyro to assist with balance as well as the three-wheel configuration.  Being electric, thus emissions and noise free, allows Mission E to trespass the usual boundaries between outside and inside spaces much in the same way the Segway does.  But the design is neither a clear nod to furniture design nor does it excite the eye as per its full potential as a ‘companion’ vehicle.  A closer look into the new kind of relationship this kind of vehicle speaks about vis a vis the user and his/her environment could have been further explored.  Leaving aside motorcycle images, such as users with helmets, and exploring our use of interior space and connectivity would have been perhaps offered better design solutions.  A good idea, but a missed design opportunity.

Personal Mobility design centres on us as human beings.  It involves our minds and bodies in a unique way that reconnects us as users to the road, to our environment, and to each other.  The students of Prof. Lim’s Art Center class are designing a new breed of automotive vehicles, setting new rules and parameters, and in doing so they have themselves become a New Breed of transportation designers.