Muji’s Gacha is unsexy and boring

Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 126

Design powerhouse Muji released a widely reported minibus concept, in collaboration with Sensible4.

The good things first:

  • The bus will start testing in Finnish cities by Q1/2019 – a larger national rollout is planned for 2020. That goes much further than most other autonomous concepts these days (including mine).
  • Sensible4 is also a great technology partner for a design company like Muji, because they specialize in nordic weather conditions for autonomy – and even coined their own unique marketing term for it: Snowtonomous.

However, I’m much more interested in the design of the vehicle and how it works, and here is where I have a few question marks – given that this is one of the first times an actual design company has laid their outside view onto an emerging autonomy use case.

Let’s get into it.

Why is this design better suited for cold weather than others?

Imagine heavy snowfall and windy conditions, which seem to be pretty common in Finland. How is this lady supported in any better way than with a traditional bus?

  • The praised „round“ design of the exterior creates angles on the sides of the bus that expose a lot of the interior when the doors are open. Imagine just a straight rain shower, and at least half a meter of the interior floor gets wet, making entry for an elderly lady even harder.
  • The doors open so widely that, in a snow storm, the cold weather would easily impact the interior climate for the, let’s say, 20 seconds the doors are open for the lady to step in. My estimate is that the open doors create a six squaremeter hole into the bus.
  • Lastly, one of the first thoughts of a „weather-proof“ vehicle would be an expanding roof that spans over the entrance when the doors are open and a person gets in. I truly miss these kinds of special features in a concept for nordic conditions.

How does the interior differ from any other bus?

The dominating handle bars, the uninspiring blue cushions of the seats, the the ambient lighting, the screens on top — how are these design decisions different than any other bus?

Having big windows is a good choice, not that it’s new, but isn’t that one of the things you’d reconsiders when designing for the icy cold? How is the bus sufficiently heated, again thinking of the amount of cold coming in and heat going out through the ceiling-high door openings?

I can’t find any of the praised simplistic choices, or inspiring designs in these renderings. Maybe it’s different when it actually moves, but so far this concept is boring, unsexy and unfriendly to my eyes.

Finally, the name. Don’t call it Gacha. It doesn’t work, especially in different languages.