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Archive for the ‘things with engines’ Category

I’m Counting on Being Surprised.

Monday, June 15th, 2009

That headline is a quote from the video above. It’s only one of the many great lines from one of the many smart people interviewed in this thought-provoking video from Honda. They were asked the simple question of what they thought transportation might be like in 80 years. It’s crazy, fun, and absolutely vital that we speculate on the possible answers to questions such as this. Projecting out a few decades unbinds us from the constraints of now, of the current state, and empowers us to not only stretch our imaginations, but to tap into the collective desire to unwind the status quo and envision something that is truly better for all of us.

Via .

Chris Bangle Moves On.

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Chris Bangle

Wow! Chris Bangle has left BMW. This is surprising news, in many ways, but perhaps most of all because I think many of us were beginning to think that Chris Bangle WAS BMW. So, yes, I was very surprised early this morning when the automobile sites that I follow were buzzing with news that after 17 years leading design for BMW, Chris Bangle had resigned. Being a loyal customer of BMW’s for almost exactly as long as Bangle has been directing design there, I have to say that this news made me a little sad. Yes, Bangle has had a controversial tenure at BMW. Yes, some of the designs that came from his leadership were not well received. But many, many others were, and it was under Bangle that BMW saw both its brand awareness and its sales rise to fairly incredible levels. Bangle was not only responsible for numerous designs for new vehicles, but also for incredibly visionary and forward thinking vehicle concepts (like the GINA Light Visionary Model). All of these, the good and the bad, found their DNA in the cohesive design language that Bangle developed in the 1990’s for BMW (anybody remember “flame surfacing”?) This language, and its evolution, is still in place. While controversial, Bangle’s influence on BMW is unmistakable, and is best summed up by Klaus Draeger, BMW’s Board Member for Development:

“Christopher Bangle has had a lasting impact on the identity of BMW Group’s brands. His contribution to the company’s success has been decisive, and together with his teams he has mapped out a clear and aesthetic route into the future.”

Another impressive accomplishment by Bangle was the successful creation and direction of BMW’s design consultancy Designworks USA. Designworks is now a formidable design agency in its own right, working with international brands and companies in a wide variety of industries and doing work that is innovative, cutting edge, and very impressive.

Apparently, Bangle is leaving BMW but he is not leaving design. How could he? His stated plans are to continue designing in a non-automotive related industry. I wish him the best, and am excited to see where he goes next.

Strangely coincidentally, just two days ago I decided to watch, again, Chris Bangles’ presentation at TED from back in 2002. It’s excellent, has some great back story on the design of models that seriously influenced cars that are now on the road, and benefits from his passionate use of profanity:

The Power of Team

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Ferrari F1 Pit Crew

I’m one to flog motorsports analogies to help make a point. The image above is one I’ve used often in presentations to help businesses understand how a team comes together in support of their goals, and that success is determined by the ability of this team to work together and not by the talent inherit in any one individual. This is as true for designing buildings as it is for designing websites. The team is much, much bigger than the sum of it’s parts. When talking about this, I’ll often say something to the effect of:

“If our client is the driver, the car is their business, and the track is the competitive marketplace, we want to create, lead and support the best team to help our client win.”

I know, it’s a bit excessive. But it works. There’s something about a Formula 1 pit crew, as pictured above, that makes this clear and that everybody gets. First, races are often won or lost based on how well the pit crew can execute the pit strategy, and the pressure to perform is intense as they typically have between 4-8 seconds to change tires, refuel, and make important adjustments. Each member of the crew is very highly accomplished not just at their specific task, but in their ability to seamlessly integrate into the larger event of a pit stop. Each crew member must intuitively understand where they fit into this precision drill, and understand their physical relationship to the other crew members, the vehicle, and the crew leader. It’s exciting to watch a team in action, and with Formula 1 racing the best spectating is often just watching the different teams execute their pit strategies.

And so it is in business, design, architecture, marketing, advertising, and anything else that depends on people working together for success. Henry Ford was right, putting effort to team building and understanding, to learning how to work well together, is success itself.

Update: A friend sent on the image below to further beat the pit crew analogy to death. It’s a great image, and adds some clarity to the six second chaos we spectators witness when the racing cars enter the pits.


Honda, (Em)Powered By Failure…

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

I have written about the Honda culture of innovation twice before in the last year. That’s because the history of innovation at this company, and how they have maintained a consistent focus on innovation for several decades, is a pretty incredible story that is totally worthy of investigation.

Also incredible, though, is Honda’s passion for failure. This would be something they share with another innovation icon, Burt Rutan, who also very clearly understands the relationship between innovation and failure. They are inextricably linked, and without failure there can be no innovation.

A favorite line from the video above:

“You can fail 100 times as long as you succeed once. We can only make fantastic advances in technology through many failures.”

Takeo Fukui, President and CEO Honda Motor Company, LTD.

Despite the video above being a gratuitous advertisement, of sorts, I appreciate how earnestly it addresses the role of failure in success at Honda, and the honesty in how these failures may be humiliating at the time but ultimately lead to determined success. There’s a couple complimentary videos which are also quite good at .

Segway Engagement Protocol

Friday, November 14th, 2008

This video does an excellent job making clear what to do when encountering somebody on a Segway while driving. It’s a potentially confusing situation, so the technique demonstrated by Ken Block is much appreciated. The Segway lesson begins at about three minutes into the video, but it is worth watching the entire thing. If you have even the most basic understanding of vehicle dynamics you will find this video utterly amazing.


Innovation and The Future of Peugeot

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

The vehicle above is the Peugeot RD concept created by 25 year old Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar of Colombia and chosen as the winner for the recent , which ended back on September 15th. Like other automobile companies, Peugeot hosts these contests to open wider the search for innovations, vision, and ideas for the future of its products and while the RD will probably not actually be made, some of the smart innovations that it incorporates may very well inform the Peugeots of the immediate future. Some of the innovations in the RD concept are focused on shrinking the vehicle’s footprint, like the ability to fold and being single seat 3-wheeler, as shown below in a detailed rendering:

As of late there have been several automobile concepts that take advantage of folding functionality. This is a response to the reality of space constraints of navigating urban environments and the need for a smaller parking footprint. We’ve also seen more single seat concepts, a design approach that takes up less space, less material, and subsequently less weight. In many ways, the single seat concept is one that takes the great efficiencies of a motorcycle and wraps them in the safety and convenience of an automobile, making vehicles like the RD concept above seemingly ideally suited to urban commuting and meeting the needs of a flexible city car.

Better Than Coffee This Morning

Friday, October 17th, 2008

from on .

This video would be the first thing viewed via my RSS feed this morning, and it pretty much sums up my present attitude. Nothing like starting your day with a little Ferrari racing action. Grrr.

Video via at .

Honda and The DNA of Innovation

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

That is (1906-1991), the founder of Honda, above in an image from 1963 when Honda was still somewhat of a fledgling company, though already a powerful innovator. He is sitting on one of the many racing cars, this one for Formula 1, that Honda was developing at the time, and not because racing for Honda was a marketing exercise. At the time most of Honda’s attention had been focused on motorcycles, and it was in 1963 that Honda became the best selling motorcycle in the United States. Moving into automobiles was the next priority for the company, and only as an innovator. As Honda began building cars, so it also started racing them, just as it had been doing successfully with motorcycles (in 1966 Honda won the Constructors Championship and all five motorcycle Grand Prix classes). For Soichiro Honda, racing IS Honda, the ideal environment for Honda’s engineers, designers, and leaders to be challenged, to innovate and address situations, problems, and opportunities in a way that ultimately benefits the entire culture of the organization. This approach is not an ancillary element of Honda culture as Mr. Honda succeeded in making racing synonymous with the culture of Honda. He had been a successful racer himself, winning and setting longstanding speed records in the 1930’s, and understood intimately that the passion for winning in motorsports can translate into product innovation and market success. Previously, I had written about innovation at Honda and touched on the racing culture of the company. Just recently, though, I had cause to dig deeper into how Honda’s passion for racing has informed the entire company, and lead to innovations across the comprehensive product range that Honda offers.

Several automobile manufacturers benefit from comprehensive racing programs. Think about BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, and Toyota. For each of these companies, as with Honda, R&D happens on the racetrack, and the successes from the track quickly make their way to the road, to the customer. For Honda, though, there is something deeper with regards to racing and innovation, and this is due to the place that Soichiro Honda ensured that racing held in corporate culture. More than the engineering benefits of a successful racing effort, Honda has imbued its entire culture with a passion for innovation that found its inception on the racetrack, but now touches and informs the development of robotics, aircraft, marine engines, and a long list of other products. Honda doesn’t just race cars and motorcycles, they race everything. Or, perhaps, it is accurate to say that for Honda everything is a race. For people like me, who share similar passions (and I have never owned a Honda product), it is windows into the Honda culture of racing and innovation, like below, that continue to earn my admiration and respect:

Video found at .

Hot, Red, and Fast: Ferrari V4 Concept

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Visually beautiful, modern, and purposeful. I would ride this, but prefer my motorcycles in low-visibility black. Summing up this concept motorcycle from :

“The concept motorbike is the work of Israeli designer Amir Glinik, who centered his design around the theoretical application of the Ferrari Enzo’s V12 engine, chopped down to four cylinders and modified to drive just one wheel in a motorcycle frame. Around the V4 engine, Glinik has designed a fluid shape that may appear more futuristic in its styling than inspired by current roadcar designs, but certainly catches your attention. Glinik has even planned out the theoretical controls, which blend elements from an F-16 fighter jet (more common in his home country than Ferraris, anyway) and the Scuderia’s high-tech Formula One steering wheel, supplemented by a weatherproof touch-screen LCD atop the fuel tank.”

There is a convergence of technologies and materials happening that, when added to the forces driving change with regards to how we get from one place to another, is going to yield some incredible advances in transportation design over the next decade. I am both optimistic and excited for what these advances will reveal, and I believe that this motorcycle concept embodies some of what I am optimistic for with regards to design.

A Winner Departs

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

I awoke to sad news this morning, that Paul Newman had died. There are several of his movies that I love, movies that truly represent the independent, driven energy that Newman brought to everything that he did. For me, though, it was his passion for racing that I found inspiring, ranking up there with James Dean and Steve McQueen who also shared this passion for going fast well. Paul Newman was a great actor, no doubt about it, but he was also an incredibly natural race car driver. He discovered this racing, and his talent for it, in the 1970’s. He went professional in 1977 racing and winning in a long, long list of events. One highlight would be his team’s second place finish at Le Mans in 1979 (that is Newman at Le Mans that year pictured above). On racing, Newman famously said:

”Racing is the best way I know to get away from all the rubbish of Hollywood.”

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

I think it would be hard not to respect Paul Newman. He embodied an integrity and love for life and family that provided a role model for a generation. He had a legendary sense of humor, an obvious devotion to his wife, and a lifelong desire to help others. He will be missed.

A commercial featuring Newman’s SCCA win in 1985 that I found and enjoyed:

Motorcycle of The Future

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

This concept motorcycle from Jake Loniak is very interesting, it being a “wearable” motorcyle. First, there is the ergonomic differences, giving the rider a range of positions that can be determined by comfort, speed, or performance. Then, there is the inherent stability of a three-wheeled platform that lowers its center of gravity and lengthens its wheelbase as speed increases while offering the increased visibility and improved rider view of the lower speed upright driving position. Contextual performance, that would seem to be both very safe and very logical.

Found at

Phil Hill: A Reluctant Winner

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

The first and only American to win the Formula One World Championship, in 1961 racing for Ferrari, died last week at the age of 81. was a somewhat reluctant racer, competing at a time when tragic accidents and death were sadly common events at the races. It was in this dangerous environment that Hill raced with intensity and determination, while being nervously mindful of the grave risks he faced and famously saying with regards to surviving his 20-year racing career injury-free, “I could not have been trying hard enough.” In addition to the 1961 F1 World Championship, Hill also had victories at the Le Mans and Sebring 24-hour races and the Nurburgring 12-hour, among many others.

Besides being remembered as a great racer and representative of the sport, he was universally regarded as a quiet, reserved, and gracious winner. He had an incredible sense of vehicle mechanics and dynamics, a sense that was revered by his competitors and surely a skill that gave him a clear edge while racing. Racing was not Phil Hill’s only passion, though, as he was also an accomplished photographer, musician, writer, historian, and archivist.

I have a portrait of Phil Hill racing at the Italian Grand Prix in 1961 hanging in my home.

Possible Futures: BMW in 2015

Friday, August 15th, 2008

The above image is the Vela concept that came out of a partnership between BMW and the Transportation Design School in Turin, a city that continues to embody its position as a design epicenter. BMW asked students there to design what BMW’s might be like in 2015 consistent with BMW’s “language evolution and trademark essence.” This simple brief resulted in a very interesting and creative response by the students, like the Vela pictured above and the ZX-6 concept pictured here:

Pretty wild. 2015 is only seven short years away and while these concepts may be unrealistically radical BMW is smart to take advantage of the way the students at IED are thinking to look for innovative design opportunities. It’s hard to say what cars may look like in seven years. If you think back to seven years ago today cars are not really that different at all. Still, much can happen to change our expectations of what an automobile is in this short time.

More at .

Lotus Eigne: Please Build This Car

Friday, August 8th, 2008

, a recent honors graduate of the Transportation Design Course at Northumbria University, has been inside my head. The man has designed what I might have to proclaim as the PERFECT CAR. Let’s run down the criteria:

  • Performance focused – check
  • Innovative design – check
  • Electricly powered – check
  • Visually appealing – check
  • Can seat three – check

The Eigne concept would currently be the only automobile that meets this criteria. I have usually driven two seat sports cars, but with the relatively recent arrival of my lovely daughter, this is no longer a practical option for our little family. A three seat sports car, though, totally works. One that is electrically powered, even more so. Rarely do I come across something that seems so perfectly tailored to my needs, my passions, and ultimately… my wants. This car must be made.

Fearnley’s design sports a coveted central position for the driver, with seats on the left and the right for passengers. The electric motors for the vehicle are conveniently located at the wheels, in each corner, freeing up valuable internal cabin space for the three seat position. This would be a phenomenal real-world vehicle.

Alas, though, it is but a concept for the moment. At least we are provided this video by Fearnley to appropriately whet our appetite:

I came across the Eigne concept at .

The Mothership

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Lot’s of excitement last week with Virgin Galactic’s unveiling of (WK2), the aircraft that will carry SpaceShipTwo aloft for mid-air launching into orbit, on July 28th. Developed by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, WK2 is an innovative and visually interesting aircraft distinct for its twin fuselage and kinked wing designed to hold SpaceShipTwo for the ride to 48,000 feet. I just came across this video from Virgin Galactic that shows us great detail of the aircraft’s exterior:

I especially like the end of the video which shows Burt Rutan and Richard Branson walking around the craft and smiling widely. This is a big deal, and these two gentlemen are far along in a pioneering effort to begin to make space accessible to a great many more than those that work for governement space agencies. WK2 is an exciting step in this effort, and flight trials of the aircraft are set to begin this fall. Note the functional benefits of WK2’s twin fuselage design. The aircraft can be flown from either side.

The Future of Beachfront Real Estate

Friday, July 25th, 2008

That’s because with the current prognostications of global warming and climate change the beachfront real estate that we all know and love may be disappearing. With focus being put on the possibility of complete loss of Arctic ice, rising sea levels, and the resulting inundation of cities like New York, London, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, most of Japan… places where some huge percentage of the world’s populations make their homes and places that many also like to travel to while on vacation, who is preparing themselves for this possible bleak future for the coastal areas and vacation prospects? The wealthy, with the help of and in the UK. By 2010 those with means should be able to choose from a fleet of 40 different yachts of the future designed by Foster + Partners. Actually, I exaggerate a bit as the plan is for these yachts to be leased for vacations in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean complete with a captain and support staff. YachtPlus claims this scheme is a “financially sensible” way for you to partake in the joys of luxury yachting. I have no idea how financial sensibility and luxury yachting can mutually coexist, but I digress.

The most interesting story here for me, though, is that an architecture design firm is designing this fleet of 40 luxury yachts. This is oddly coincidental as the week before last a co-worker asked me if we had considered diversifying our services into yacht and cruise ship design. Honestly, up to that point I do not believe that we had. Perhaps, in the interest of business model innovation, this should be seriously considered. Perhaps not. Everything else asside, the design of the yachts does indeed strike me as innovative and interesting:

Das Auto of The Future

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

One company’s vision of the automobiles of the future. Volkswagen recently launched , a website that explores VW’s perspective on a number of issues and how those issues might manifest themselves through design twenty years from now, a perspective rooted deeply in Volkswagen’s longer term brand strategy (read that as marketing). This is not so much about showing us futuristic concepts as much as demonstrating the response to different needs, constraints, and technologies. Responses that are increasingly important to people. Specifically, Volkswagen provides us with some detail in how, in the near future, they might respond to issues of sustainability, networked mobility, customization and personalization, and accident prevention. All of the concepts offer hypothetical technologies that either replace the traditional human-car interaction, or enhance it by steamlining and focusing the action of driving. It’s a good exercise, and I have no doubt that the issues and ideas addressed by VW here are the beginnings of some pretty sophisticated changes that we will see in automobiles. While I imagine that all automobile manufacturers are digging into these concepts, at least to some degree, it is interesting to see Volkswagen put it out there in such a cohesive and comprehensive way, though this is clearly as much about marketing as it is about showcasing advanced engineering thinking.

Making Fuel Efficiency Cool (and Sexy)

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

I don’t think this is an issue for most of the rest of the world, but for the United States this is a serious design challenge. This is mostly due to our long established culture of valuing big and fast when it comes to our personal transportation. In the U.S., we’re just catching wind of small and efficient, and this is being driven by our pocketbooks at the moment, and not necessarily by doing what is right. Whatever works to achieve change…

Being an absolute gearhead has presented some interesting dilemmas for me, personally, as I reconcile this fact with my work in sustainable design. I love cars, but I do not love the current range of high-mileage fuel efficient vehicles currently on offer. Yes, the is sexy and it is indeed fast. It is also around $100k and only six or so have been made and delivered (far below the pace for the 650 promised this year). More options are going to be available in the near future from a range of manufacturers, and these options will begin to push into performance territory while also delivering on great design.

The concept pictured above appears to be one of these options, at least from the perspective of design. A concept car from a couple years ago, and not tentatively scheduled for production until 2012, the One-Liter seems to be getting more attention from VW. There are plans to produce limited numbers of this 282 mpg, two seat microcar (around 1000 vehicles) over the next year or so with planning being done around it being a mainstream production model by 2012. I like this car. I like the influences of mid-century automobile and aircraft design that doesn’t feel too retro. I like that you access it via a pop-up cockpit canopy, and that the passenger sits behind the driver. I especially like the interior, which looks purposeful and performance focused:

Engineers at VW made good use of materials like magnesium, titanium and aluminum to greatly reduce the weight of the One-Liter, down to a third the weight of a Toyota Echo. Carbon fiber also figures prominently in the design of the vehicle, and is actually a big reason VW is considering production much sooner for this car. The cost of carbon fiber has dropped dramatically much faster than VW had expected, making the production of the One-Liter much more viable. I want to drive one very badly.

via via (thanks Garrick)

It’s How You Drive It

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

A somewhat comical comparison between the fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius and BMW’s new M3 sedan. The results are NOT what you might think. I am surrounded by people gushing over the Prius precisely because it is ostensibly so very “economical.” Cue the bucket of cold water.

Found via Matt Dickman’s

The Lonely Road of High Gas Prices

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Our little family is definitely feeling the pinch of higher gas prices, to the tune of a couple hundred dollars a month more than we were paying about a year ago. Yet, my wife and I are ok with this and are adjusting our lifestyle and schedule to allow us to drive less. We know that these high gas prices may be what it takes to change not only the habits of Americans as individuals, but of society at large. The net of that will be a very good thing. So we are beginning to drive much less, and be much more thoughtful in our destinations. We are clearly not alone.

A Department of Transportation study (via ) has revealed that in April of this year Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer miles on highways than they did in April of 2007, a 1.8% reduction. So far for 2008 Americans have driven 20 billion fewer miles than they did in 2007. What is interesting, though, is that while those numbers may sound large they are not yet a significant percentage reduction over 2007, though the April numbers continue a six month trend in declining miles travelled. I would anticipate that miles driven will continue to decline and while 1.8% may not seem like a large decline it is my guess that this is a trend that will continue for some time to come. If the high gas prices last as long as many are saying they will, those declines in driving may become permanent lifestyle changes.