Revisiting the Aerodynamics question
This blog is mostly about Apple Car’s design, and although we touch on other things like business and technology, I keep coming back to the basic principles of industrial design for mobility.
One of those cornerstones is the question of aerodynamics and what role they really play.
When I started blogging, one of the first articles was about that question:
In it, I made the case that the vehicles most depending on efficiency – trucks and trains – don’t have great aerodynamics.
Digging deeper over the years, there are conflicting theories making rounds. One key statement I found interesting is the following:
With the appropriate time and tools for the job, you can aerodynamically optimize just about any shape.
It’s taken from this Forbes report on the design fundamentals in electric vehicles, making the case how important any optimisation is for battery range.
Electric Car Design Tricks That Make Them Go Farther
Why do EVs often look funny? It's because designers employ all kinds of techniques to improve aerodynamics. A 10 percent…
Another comparison of performance factors came to the conclusion that:
[A]erodynamics is more important for efficiency in electric vehicles.
Renault: When It Comes to EV Efficiency, Aerodynamics Are More Important Than Weight
DEC 23 2013 BY ERIC LOVEDAY Renault head of research, advanced studies and materials, Remi Bastien, doesn't think that…
Both stories reflect the thinking behind legacy car design: That the looks and safety features of a car, plus its aerodynamics, are two sides of the same coin, destined to work together how we’ve known for decades. Auto design after WW2 set the framework that is still being used today – despite being born to look like airplanes. Each century’s Zeitgeist had a major influence on design, obviously.
I make the case that we’re entering a new decade and a new zeitgeist, that will serve as a mental model for future mobility modes to come. They will be born from a framework of constant connectivity, shared ownership, and a user experience focused on everything else but driving. As a consequence, the design of a car will change dramatically. And we have just not seen this with the examples in the aerodynamics reports above. Tesla themselves say that their current design language is not that of the future:
Tesla designer: „We have NOT built the car of the future (so far)“
Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 14
How does a totally different car look like?
If the user experience is not about driving and focussed much more on the interior, the exterior becomes less about features that represent aggressive driving (compare today’s SUVs).
Look at the idea of Friendly Cars, with their soft shell. They understand that their exterior is not about self expression but interaction with the surrounding environment. Terreform has written extensively about their idea:
S.O.F.T. - Terreform ONE
DYNAMIC CABIN AND S-FRAME TRUSS This project comprises the design and build of a concept car which re-invents the car as…
In the art world, Erwin Wurm dreamt up Fat Car. Since the iPod era, he regularly creates sculptures that play with the decadence of motor vehicles. They too featured a soft surface and a shape breaking with tradition.
ERWIN WURM | FAT CAR, 2001-04 | Swiss Made UNLOCKED2020 | Sotheby's
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED SWISS PRIVATE COLLECTIONERWIN WURMb. 1954FAT CAR, 2001-04Metallic paint, Styrofoam and…
So, we’re looking at the possibility to change the appearance of cars altogether, we know that aerodynamics don’t play a role in many commercial vehicles – let’s combine what we know and apply it to Apple Car.
I except Apple Car to be a box design, four equal length sides, with round corners just like the device you currently look at while reading this.
A box isn’t really aerodynamic, but it doesn’t have to be, as most miles will be travelled in cities at low speed. When velocity increases on intercity travel, usually cars need better aerodynamics to be able to travel further with more efficient use of their energy supply. Current cars have the shape they have because of that usage scenario. Also for higher speeds they need to be safer, so the whole thing is designed along the driving direction.
But this will change. Since Apple Car can change direction to any direction during driving, it can switch to a diagonal driving direction, cutting into headwinds like a boat would cut into water.
And on interstate travel, multiple cars would get together to optimise efficiency further:
I have scribbled this concept a few years back.
And it’s how we designed Apple Car since then.