Posted by erika rae
| 10 Apr 2014
The only stand-out memory I have of a lawnmower is the one time my father decided to take a short-cut down our neighborhood's hill—"Killer Hill," as we affectionately call it—on his way to groom a vacationing neighbor's lawn. Ask him about it today and he still pales at the memory. (His brakes locked and he flew down that hill at the mercy of the wind and his semi-steady grip on the steering wheel.) Lucky for him—or maybe not—he wasn't riding Honda's Mean Mower, with was recently named "fastest lawnmower in the world." They're not messing around—last March, the machine reached a speed of 116 MPH. I can't possibly think of a reason when you'd have to go that fast using the lawnmower for what it was actually created for, but for the sake of engine hacking and whatnot, this is pretty rad. Check out this slightly dramatic video of the Mean Mower in action:
Volvo's recently introduced a trio of concept cars: The Concept Coupe, the Concept XC Coupe and the Concept Estate. It is the latter that has most caught our eye because it is, quite oddly to us Yanks, a two-door station wagon. In America, the station wagon has always been about families, but by omitting rear doors, Volvo seems to be aiming this concept at the childless couple that likes to ski.
The Concept Estate brings with it Volvo's bold new styling direction, both inside and out, that's a million miles (er, kilometers) away from the Swedish carmaker's designed-by-Etch-a-Sketch look that we grew up with:
How is it that such a miserable experience can look so beautiful from afar? The UK's National Air Traffic Service, a.k.a. NATS, helps some 2.2 million flights each year get through UK airspace—and with access to all of that international flight data, they turned 24 hours' worth of flights into a gorgeous video animation:
One of the most satisfying things in an NYC motorist's life is coming over the Queensboro Bridge and heading south on 2nd Avenue late on a weekday night. Through proper timing and judicious use of the accelerator, you can catch a wave of green lights for three miles, from 59th Street all the way down to Houston.
Audi's Smart City Traffic Light Assistance System, if realized, could convey this sensation to millions—while cutting a car's emissions by some 15%. While it's not designed to let you beat lights per se, what the system does is receive information beamed from surrounding traffic lights, then crunches that data with your car's location and speed to present the precise timing between lights. Check it out:
Don't you hate it when the view through your rearview mirror is obscured by the rear seat headrests, or that hitchhiking drifter that you picked up? Back when I still owned a car, I pulled the rear headrests out of my '01 Golf just so I could get a clear view. Then there's this ridiculous design trend we have now for absurdly chunky C-pillars, which completely obscure your view of whatever's behind your car's rear quarters.
Nissan is addressing this with their forthcoming Smart Rearview Mirror, which they're unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show:
HeliGraphix is the name of a Germany-based collective of RC helicopter enthusiasts who document their stunts online. The group's latest project, H.U.L.C.—that's "Heavy Ultra-Lifter Crane"F—sought to achieve what no one yet had: The ability to lift and carry a human being around using two small RC copters. I am so deathly afraid of heights that just watching this video made me want to get off of my office chair and lie down on the floor to feel safe.
While they make it look simple, it's hard to overstate how complicated it is to pull something like this off. The 'copters have to be strong enough to carry the woman (not to mention those crazy boots), and it's not like they're just lifting straight up; since there's two of them, they've got to pull sideways as well. Not to mention the pilots have to be precise enough to avoid dropping or jerking their payload. You'd think they'd try this over a body of water or something soft, so it's a testament to their skills and preparation that they did this over a concrete patio.
The group isn't shy about their accomplishment, having spent four months and "several thousand Euros" in preparation: They're touting it as "Clearly a world-record and one of the most monumental actions in the history of R/C model aviation: THE WORLD'S FIRST MANNED R/C FLIGHT!"
For tech geeks who are interested in the hardware, it's all documented in painstaking detail right here; for those with a passing interest in how they pulled this off, hit the jump to see the explanatory video.
Once upon a time bicycles were made from tube stock. These days it seems they may go 3D-printed. But until they get there, there are guys like California-based Brent Foes, whose Foes Racing USA company uses a hybrid of old and new technologies, like having a waterjet cut aluminum sheets into components that are then hydraulic-pressed and welded to create incredibly strong bike frames.
The Prolly is not Probably bike blog was allowed into Foes' shop, where they treated us to these shots:
[Images via Prolly is Not Probably]
Posted by Ray
| 21 Feb 2014
Maybe I should have known better, but I sort of expected a discussion board thread entitled "Greatest Wheels" to be a survey of forumites' favorite automobiles, but—this being an industrial design discussion—it actually refers to the wheels themselves (taking wheels to mean a car is an example of synecdoche, by the way). I'll be the first to admit that automotive design is far beyond my experience, but I must say that I'm weirdly nostalgic about Saab's distinctive tri-spokes, since a 900 was my first car. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but those wheels definitely have a special place in my memory... and I imagine that fellow non-gearheads can appreciate wheels as a design element.
But while we're on the topic of cars, I was interested to learn that new research on shared autonomous vehicles (SAVs) suggests, among other things, that just because we won't own cars, the auto industry may actually benefit from the paradigm shift. The University of Austin team determined that "each SAV in the Austin model replaced about 11 conventional household vehicles," with the usual host of benefits of on-demand sharing, saving time, money and energy across the entire system.
...vehicle-miles traveled doesn't go down in the Austin model. In fact, it goes up about 10 percent. That's because not only are SAVs making all the trips people used to make on their own, but they're repositioning themselves in between trips to reduce wait times. The additional wear also means manufacturers produce about the same number of cars, too, though each new fleet is no doubt a bit smaller and cleaner than the last.
Where cars might have had a 10–20 year lifespan in the past, shared vehicles will putatively be replaced every 18–24 months or so, which means highly accelerated product development cycles of iterative innovation. Given the fact that "less than 17 percent of U.S. household vehicles are in use at a time," new models would be adopted upwards of six times as quickly—assuming, of course, that the number of car trips (and the average distance of those trips) remains constant.
We've seen 3D-printed bike parts before, but now two British firms have advanced into printing out the entire frame (albeit not in a single piece, presumably because no laser sintering machine yet has that kind of footprint). Additive manufacturing firm Renishaw has joined forces with Empire Cycles to create a one-off version of Empire's MX6-EVO, which typically comes in aluminum; the one-off, however, was done with titanium alloy, and the duo reckon this is the world's first to be 3D-printed.
Posted by Ray
| 13 Feb 2014
Photos via Getty, which may or may not be working with Google on a 'special collection' of robot images
The jury's still out on the new remake of Robocop, which hit theaters yesterday, but it so happens that the stalwart police force of Kinshasa has had a couple of automata on duty for at least a few weeks now. The stationary 'bots have been installed in a busy intersection in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital city as a pilot program to replace the all-too-fallible humans who take shifts directing traffic on the ostensibly chaotic streets of Africa's third-largest city.
Designed by Isaie Therese of the Kinshasa Advanced Institute of Applied Techniques, the robots are essentially anthropomorphic semaphores (yeah, that term isn't catching on any time soon) that look something like cousins of Chinese DIYer Wu Yulu's homegrown mechas; in addition to the LED panels on each side of the solar-powered robots, they're also equipped with traffic cameras and have reportedly been more issuing tickets to scofflaws. Although the upshot is twofold—increased compliance and revenue for the local DOT—others note that the tradeoff is that a mechanized approach to law enforcement may not account for exceptions, i.e. first responders in case of an accident.
Francophones can learn more in this this video; "le vert" and "passé facilement" are easy enough, but unfortunately my French is not nearly good enough to understand what they're saying. Still, I was interested to hear the crossing-guard-o-tron's matter-of-fact baritone at 2:48 and again at 4:20, though it's not clear if they also pipe out muzak for pedestrians' dubious enjoyment.
Posted by erika rae
| 13 Feb 2014
For those of us who rely on the MTA to get to our day jobs, this morning is probably the worst of the worst, and commiserating with fellow straphangers on drafty platforms and sputtering trains is (literally) cold comfort as we collectively brave the blizzard that is pummelling the New York City this morning. We all have our commute rituals—reading the paper, listening to music entirely too loud, making small talk with the tourists, dodging bodies for a handhold; the list goes on. Let's face it, we're not at our best on public transportation.
Here are a couple of projects that transform that at-times dreaded daily routine into a creative exercise. Who knows, you may even be a part of their work without even knowing it.
"How to Pass Time on the Train"
Joe Butcher, an illustrator based in the UK, may have the most productive (and creative) 35-minute trip to work out of all of us. For two years, Butcher has been turning the people around him into cartoon characters with Post-It notes and a few markers while sharing his creations via Twitter. From Mickey Mouse to The Incredible Hulk, it seems that anyone with their back to the artist is a potential candidate.
I can imagine that the exaggerated faces of the cartoons aren't far off from the actual facial expressions of the subjects, which is probably my favorite part of this series. Check out the full collection of drawings here.
Yesterday it snowed in NYC, and as always happens, today you can see which parts of the street have been plowed and driven through and which parts are still snowbanks. And recently a movement has begun that claims we can use those snowbanks to help determine urban road construction.
Photo via This Old City
Way back in 2001 Transportation Alternatives Magazine suggested that the untouched snow on city roads are where "neckdowns"—i.e. curb extensions—ought to be installed, to slow traffic at intersections for the greater safety of pedestrians. Here in 2014, that suggestion has really caught fire, with news organizations and urban activist blogs now referring to the phenomenon as "sneckdowns" ("snow" + "neckdowns).
The BBC ran an article called "Sneckdown: Using snow to design safer streets," stating that "snow can be helpful in pointing out traffic patterns and changing street composition for the better." To bolster their argument they interviewed Clarence Eckerson Jr., whose StreetFilms organization creates short films on smart transportation design and policy. "The snow is almost like nature's tracing paper," Eckerson explained. "When you dump some snow on this giant grid of streets, now you can see, visually, how people can better use the streets."
The thinking is that curbs should be made to reach towards each other at the corners of intersections and shorten the crosswalks, with three goals:
- While crossing, pedestrians spend less time in the actual street
- Since cars cannot now park close to the corners, turning visibility is improved for drivers
- The narrower space means cars must take corners more slowly, and presumably more safely
Here's a video from Eckerson himself explaining the concept of sneckdowns:
Posted by erika rae
| 31 Jan 2014
It's been too long since we've visited Chris Labrooy and his ultra realistic/completely improbable 3D graphics. You may remember his far-fetched work from when we gushed over his typography posters a couple of years ago. At the time, we described his style as "overly perfect"—which is still a perfect description for his work.
Much like our previous coverage of Fabian Oefner's exploded exotic cars, Labrooy's "Auto Aerobics" series features cars in his signature puzzle-like positions.
Here in NYC, it's against the law to block bike lanes with your car. Then again it's also against the law to murder people, and we haven't quite got a hold on that one either. Ironically, the place I most often see the bike lane law skirted is down by the NYC Supreme Court Building, which has "The True Adminstration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government" inscribed in its cornice; the opposite side of the street is a dangerous obstacle course of double-parked vehicles completely blocking the bike lane.
One solution for preventing cars from entering bike lanes is the Armadillo, a design put forth by bicycle infrastructure company Cyclehoop. Made from 100% recycled PVC and covered in reflective stripes, these cat-sized lumps are spaced such that cyclists can enter or exit lanes mid-stream as needed, and are large enough to serve as a deterrent to driving a car over (though emergency services vehicles can of course traverse them in a pinch).
An on-board makeup table, push-button transmissions, a simple knob attached to the steering wheel: These were the outside-of-the-box features that auto designers dreamed up to thrill consumers in the 1950s and '60s.
Let's take a closer look at that retractable hardtop on the Fairlane, which Ford reportedly spent a staggering $400 million developing, here sold by Lucille Ball and a disbelieving Ricky Ricardo:
Even though I live in America, I never saw as many monster trucks anywhere in the 'States as I did in Reyjkavik. For drivers who need to navigate the Icelandic hinterlands, owning a pickup truck converted to drive man-height tires is more practical concern than pissing contest. Sure, they looked silly and inconvenient in the city, but it was a trade-off everyone was apparently fine with.
So I wonder if the Track N Go would gain any traction in Iceland. This has to be the coolest off-road conversion I've ever seen, because it's completely reversible and only takes fifteen minutes. Check out how it drives:
Before we get to how they put them on, the following video, narrated in French, gives you a good look at an individual Track N Go (and gives you a sense of how heavy it is):
When I was still a motorist, I always owned small cars, and if I were to return to that mode of transportation, I probably will again. Maneuverability in NYC traffic and the all-important parallel-parkability are important to me, as is the fuel economy. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is revealing some ugly facts that I don't want to confront.
I suppose it's common sense that a smaller car has less mass and oughtn't do as well as a larger car in a crash test, but seeing the actual footage is freaking terrifying. In the overlap crash test, where the barrier is offest and allows force to be concentrated on one corner of the car rather than distributed across the entirety of the front structure, the results look pretty grim:
If you've got a small car and want to see how your specific model did, the IIHS has posted their analysis and safety chart here, and they've broken the videos out individually here. Just be warned that you may not want to watch the latter.
Inspired by the hoverboard Michael J. Fox cruises around on in Back to the Future Part II, ex-IDEO'er Kyle Doerksen created the Onewheel. A self-balancing electric monowheel skateboard, the Onewheel seemingly replicates the feeling of riding around on a hoverboard (if not the form factor), and even a novice can purportedly pick up how to ride one in less than a minute; in addition to the self-balancing feature, riders can accelerate by leaning forward and slow down by leaning back, as with a Segway.
The 25-pound device will do 12 m.p.h., with a range of four to six miles. Charging the lithium battery takes from 20 minutes to two hours, depending on what type of charger you use. And the monowheel design means that maintenance is a lot simpler than it would be for a bicycle: "There's literally only one moving part—the wheel," writes Doerksen. "No gears, belts or chains to maintain."
And yes, the Onewheel is real, not just a concept; Doerksen and his team have it up on Kickstarter, where it's already tripled its $100,000 goal. Check out the video:
This is the "before" shot, peep the "after" in the video below
Photo by John Pickard
Once upon a time, sawmills were located exclusively on rivers. Being next to water had multiple advantages: Trees felled upstream were simply floated down the river to the mill, easing transport; a backlog (pardon the pun) of logs could be left floating in the water as temporary storage; a waterwheel in the river could power the actual sawblade; and boats could easily access the sawmill to take the finished lumber away.
It's been a long time since lumberjacks routinely floated logs down a river, but waterborne vessels are of course still used to transport lumber. This week an amazing video surfaced of the Seaspan Harvester, a timber barge designed to unload its cargo in a crazy way—by tilting sideways to dump it into the water:
Posted by erika rae
| 10 Jan 2014
Much like the life-saving iPhone app we featured last March, the Gabriel car set was created in a bit of an unconventional way. Similarly so, the idea that was unveiled can help prevent a multitude of accidental deaths for years to come. Last July, Opel—a car manufacturer based in Germany—conducted a competition calling for designers and car drivers to come up with ideas for new options to be hosted in Opel's cars. One designer came up with a concept that helps drivers keep tabs on the car's interior temperature in case a child is left inside.
The statistics are scary—an average of 20 children in Europe die from car-induced heatstroke every year, according to Opel. Add that to the 38 deaths on average in the U.S. each year, and we've got a problem long overdue for a solution.
They received over 1,350 ideas and cut that list down to 70 designs. The winner: Kenny de Vlieger, proud father of two sons. His design features a keychain that's wirelessly connected to a pressure- and temperature-sensitive pad inside the car. In a collaboration with LDV United, Zenso and Achilles Design, de Vlieger and Opel made his design a reality.
Kenny de Vlieger and his family
de Vlieger calls his device a guardian angel of sorts—and rightly so, considering the lives it can save. This video goes more in-depth on the ins and outs of the design:
Many American cities have this problem, but it's most obvious in sprawling Los Angeles: When you're trapped in bumper-to-bumper on the 405, you look around and observe the brutal 1:1 ratio of cars to drivers, as far as the eye can see. The absurdity of lone humans each ensconced in their own two-ton rectangle of steel, and the space each person's vehicle consumes relative to the drivers' size, is difficult to find unremarkable. Four wheels, one driver, and from one to five empty seats.
That's how it's turned out, but in the 1950s German engineer Carl Jurisch had a different vision. According to the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum, Jurisch "became convinced that the future of transportation lay in a personal single-seat vehicle" and so, using a motorcycle sidecar as his starting point, he designed his single-occupancy Motoplan.
A globetrotting Japanese expat once told me he believed there was a Japanese expat pecking order. "The coolest kids move to London," he explained, "the second coolest, to New York. The third coolest move to L.A." (This last one delivered with an undertone of scorn.)
If his theorem can also be applied to Japanese automobiles, then Nissan is in pretty good shape. Their boxy NV200 won NYC's "Taxi of Tomorrow" competition (albeit amidst resistance) last year; now it's just won the "Taxi for London" title, and will begin rolling out there later this year.
Remember our Car Studio Photography Set-Ups entry? That gave you a pretty good look at the insane amount of equipment required to shoot automobiles. But of course it didn't cover every possible situation; most of the earlier set-ups we saw were all about diffusing the overhead light, like this:
Australia-based Easton Chang, on the other hand, used unfiltered tungsten lighting while capturing a Holden VF Commodore, resulting in one of the "hotter" shoots of his career:
"All the lights were (boiling!) hot tungsten lights," Chang writes. "There were a total of 84 lights, including the ones lighting the front of the car which you can't see in the shot.
"The results? Absolutely boiling hot conditions, the paint (which was one off and uber expensive) started to bubble and the metal on my tripod was too hot to touch with your bare hands."
Chang, by the way, may just have one of the coolest jobs in the world: He travels the globe photographing exotic cars, capturing shots like these:
Talk about doing more with less. Honda's boxy little contribution to the tiny kei car category is the N Box +, which has at least four awesome design features: A telescoping load ramp, an internal power winch, hideaway trunk shelving, and the ability for the entire interior to flatten into a bed nearly two meters long. The features are best seen in video, and this particular version of their Japanese-TV-market commercial is great for the utter translation fail:
Alas, as with some of the best things to be designed and produced in Japan, this dimunitive vehicle will never make its way to U.S. shores.
Soon to be obsolete?
Whether you drive a Ferrari or a Fiesta, your car has windshield wipers. And they operate on the same principle as they have for over a hundred years: A piece of rubber on an arm is dragged across glass to squeegee it clean.
British supercar manufacturer McLaren is moving away from that antiquated system, looking to technology for a better solution. As McLaren Chief Designer Frank Stephenson told the UK's Sunday Times, "I asked [a military source] why you don't see wipers on some aircraft on when they are coming in at very low levels for landing... I was told that it's not a coating on the surface but a high frequency electronic system that never fails and is constantly active. Nothing will attach to the windscreen."
Following that revelation, Stephenson has cooked something up that will reportedly be on McLaren's 2015 models. Unfortunately he's not saying exactly what it is, only that it will replace wipers altogether. The article speculates that:
It is expected to use high-frequency sound waves similar to those used by dentists for removing plaque from teeth and by doctors for scanning unborn babies. By in effect creating a force field, water, insects, mud and other debris will be repelled from the screen.
The Daily Mail claims that "The system... once perfected could be produced for the mass market for as little as £10." I'm not sure how they know that since no one knows what the system really is, but if they're right and this feature goes mass-market, there are at least two bodies this is really going to piss off: 1.) Bosch, which has the largest windshield wiper factory in the world and produces some 350,000 blades per day; and 2.) Those jerks who canvass parking lots with commercial flyers.
When I read that production on Volkswagen's iconic "magic bus" is about to cease, I thought the same thing as you: They still make the magic bus?
Well, they do in the land of bossa nova. The Type 2, as it's officially called (the Beetle being VW's Type 1) has been produced for over half a century in Brazil, where it's known as the kombi. It's managed to hang on so long due to Brazil's automotive safety laws being more lax than in the rest of the world; everyone else has foregone the kombi due to its dangerous design, which places the driver forward of the front axle. (In a head-on collision, all you've got between you and whatever you're gonna hit is sheet metal.)
With a recent revision to Brazil's safety laws, VW's plant in Sao Bernardo de Campo will shortly be ratcheting kombi production down from 250 a day to zero.