In a very interesting assignment from the Singapore Design Council in 2009 we were able to think freely about the mobility context of the year 2050.
In particular, the Personal Emotional Mobility of that time frame-not what it necessarily will be, but what it should be. As a "studio master" for their ICSID World Design Congress of November of that year, I was first asked by Dr. Milton Tan of the SDC to consider the "Car of the Future", but together we decided to change the focus to a less dogma-laden title. The minute you say "car", everyone seems to know what it should be, without really considering the contextual issues. Ownership and ease of use are as important as the technical underpinnings. Just "Personal Mobility" however, was also improper. The great appeal of the automobile has been it’s ability to connect with the emotions and reflect the identities of it’s users-the added value to the driving experience beyond getting from A to B.
In the summer of 2009 we assembled an imposing team of design experts at a workshop retreat in Piemonte at the Agriturismo il Palazzetto in Clavesana, Italy, including:
- Assaf Biedermann of MIT’s SENSable Cities Lab (also a leader from the PiNk! Workshop)
- David Bousquet Director of RedGate Films Production House, San Francisco
- Karim Habib, the Director of Mercedes Advanced Design in Germany
- Roberto Giolito, the Director of Fiat and Abarth Design - Werner Haumyr, Responsable for Design Technical Integration at BMW Group Design, Munich
- Atsuhiko Yamada, former Director of Mazda Advanced Design, Japan
- Vasjlij Kourkoff (SPD Milano)
- Joseph Kfoury (IED Torino)
We were joined by representatives of the SDC as well, and assisted by Arch. Paolo Ornato.
The SDC had briefed us well on the issues of 2050 primarily the demographic, resource management, and Megacity context that will be coming. In particular PiNk! highlighted the emergence of "sharing" as a basis for all future product functions, and we examined the challenges of car sharing and mass electric vehicle use. We were also eager to convert the powerful emotive factors of the car today into a viable contributor to the economic, ecological, and cultural sustainability solutions. This requires a re-think of the car entirely. Today’s cars are a constellation of "nice-to-have" moving sculpture and regrettable sustainability consequences that has cost them their link to young customers that our generation enjoyed. In a performance-neutral shared-vehicle environment of 2050 we predicted a dire need to re-address the paradigm to keep personal emotional mobility from becoming irrelevant. We did this by first defining Personal Emotional Mobility as requiring 3 components; MOBILITY, ENVIRONMENT, and a characteristics we described as "Car-AVATAR". The first two elements might be found in an elevator (auto...mobil?) or a taxi, but it is the last one that makes a car a reflection of the owner and a link to enviable cohort groups. (MOBILITY+Car-AVATAR alone might be...a motorcycle?). Next we separated the three into stand-alone components, capable of self-reintegration and assembly, as well as autonomous function. MOBILITY became self-driving wheel-battery units that would be available to everyone for hire and seek their own re-charging stations where the tires would also be controlled, etc (eliminating the need to run power into every parking place in the world and keeping today’s gas stations in a valuable service role). This does not reduce their battery’s capability for ePower storage and re-sell, but keeps the investment in the hands of centralized commercial players instead of burdening the everyman. The ENVIRONMENT could be a simple ubiquitous safety box, perhaps even foldable for gang’d storage, again to be used on demand. The interiors would be spartan (ItalDesign’s BIGA was an inspiration to us) but the flat exteriors could be solid "digital display surfaces". This would bring a new business model into play, be it pay-by-advertising or pay-for-communication privileges. Some went as far as to suggest the boxes be homeless shelters when not in mobile use. The key to our holistic solution was the concept of a new interpretation of the emotional connection to the car, the Car-AVATAR. These would be highly complex, mechatronic-transforming machines formed as sculptural art-objects that would perform many functions of real service in the future (notice we avoided the term Robot as well). The challenge of creating such complex machines will be an inspiration to today’s culture of mechanical engineering expertise that the electric car in and of itself has little need for. In-home health care and personal physical assistance, secure storage, even private consigliere capabilities will be of a high value if combined with the cache of owning such a premium performance device. Atsuhiko’s sketches show that they can still be Brand recognizable too. A BMW that "tucks you in to bed at night" would have a different meaning than one that spends most of it’s time parked on the street. All of these functions are being experimented with today, and I welcome information on particular innovations or advances in technology destined to make this future a reality. In our vision of tomorrow when you tell your Car-AVATAR to "Go get the car" it would literally assemble it from roving components, 2, 4, or 6 wheel-battery units as needed. The personalization of the ubiquitous ENVIRONMENT would be part of the Car-AVATAR’s onboard toolset, useful when making the seat on the train or the bus attractive as one’s personal seat. Perhaps the Car-AVATAR would ride along outside the ENVIRONMENT, showing itself off just as a finely sculpted car does today. One of the car’s critical advantages over almost every other form of personal mobility is your ability to set your own pace. This feature is what separates them from horse (all horses walk about at the same pace, they don’t run far), foot, train, bus, and plane travel. Even the most expensive ticket on an airplane only gets you through the waiting lines faster. In a completely tele-linked future we looked for non-regressive pay-as-you-drive schemes that would tax those in a hurry but allow them to set their own pace, and distribute the proceeds to their slower drivers as a reward.