It’s a covered bike that you can’t push over, on account of it having Segway-style balancing smarts… though personally, I think I’d have just added another wheel, so a) there’s more room and b) it won’t fall over when the battery dies.
I’d make it a full Aptera in other words.
Looks pretty cool though – not quite a teapot car… though possibly a teapot-car designed by Apple, cut in half.
Looks like they’re semi-crowdfunding as well… or at least there’s an option to pre-order… though from the look of the glossy pics, they’ve got a fair bit of money behind them already.
They’ve also got Amory Lovins on the board… so there’s a pretty good chance this one could go off. If they take my advice though (and they won’t, no one ever does), they should pilot it somewhere like Niue…
… because innovation on this scale in first-world countries happens in spite of our governments, not because of them – and to launch something like this you’ll need about a billion dollars to get through the red tape. Launch in a Favela somewhere (not that Niue is that exactly… it’s a low-crime-zone) and your biggest problem is slowness of supply-chain. What you won’t have though, are regulations set up so only massive corporations can play.
So that’s my advice. Similar to tax-havens, I’m 1/2-expecting the emergence of innovation-havens, where govt/corporate sclerosis, and the mental-illness known as “IP” is deliberately held at bay.
Someone, somewhere else said that a possible future pattern is a drift away from “nations” (which are a relatively new phenomena in any case) back to City States… so I’m kindof imagining a city-state on an island.
It’s hard to imagine this ending well actually… though maybe islands of sanity will catalyse sanity elsewhere.
The trouble with the speed of light is that it’s dismayingly slow. Get in a spaceship… head up… you’ll be old by the time you get to anywhere interesting.
We have a funny relationship with space… and space travel. We know what it’s supposed to be… what it’s supposed to be like – we just can’t do it. We’ve got a whole (massively popular) genre of entertainment based on something we can’t (for one reason or another) do. Part of it is that our political systems are too corrupted by wealthy interests – so more is spent on air-conditioning in war-zones, than on NASA. But part of it is that the laws of physics simply ain’t allowing it. We’re kindof stuck.
But this post isn’t about that, it’s about solar – which seems to be taking a fucking eternity to get here. At least once a month, some amazing new breakthrough happens… like this:
That’s a solar-cell array printed on paper using vapor-deposition (low-temp in a vacuum etc), in a way that is so robust that it’s foldable… up to about 1000 times (it ain’t indestructible, but still…). It’s from MIT (for all you people who think that only corporations innovate).
Currently running at about 1% efficiency – which they say they can improve… the crystalline cells are approaching 29% these days.
So what’s going to happen? Fuck all I bet. It’ll get tied up with patents so no one gets to use it except massive corporations, who don’t really want to use it and would rather sell incremental improvements to existing products, or whatever.
Konarka seem to be quite close to… changing the world, but they’ve seemed that way for years now – and the only thing that I’ve seen that I can actually buy, is a fucking solar-powered backpack, which is extremely underwhelming. Their web site has pictures of things that look like this
But danged if I can find something that I can actually buy and chuck up on the roof. If I want solar, I have to fall back on the clunky glass variety, or…
… actually, scratch that, these things ARE starting to turn up on Ebay.
$240 for a 68W flexible strip – that’s a fuck of a lot cheaper than it was last time I looked. $240 is less than I spend on a drunken night out. I spend over $3000 a year on fucking latte. Instead of buying more nuke power plants, the Japanese should just buy millions of these and drop them from helicopters over Tokyo. It’ll be cheaper than re-nuking – and more resilient. Trouble is… their govt already invested in nuke, so now they’ve got a $70-$250bn cleanup bill (The Belarus govt estimated Chernobyl to be over $250bn… and really, that disaster is still going on, which is why the Russian Govt is asking for financial help from the British to re-build the containment on the fucked reactor)
And for the same £ that the UK pisses up the wall on storage of nuke-waste created by people in the 1970s, it could buy about 6.3 MILLION of these panels a year, and just give them away. And that doesn’t account for bulk buying, or Moore’s law, which does alseo apply to solar, albeit at a slower rate.
But they can’t because they’re committed to waste.
Which naturally leads to this : Solar-uptake from the favela, or more accurately, the faveloid farm. People in India not bothering for major institutions to provide the infrastructure, and instead (like they did with cellphones) going straight for the (semi) off-grid option.
I think we’re going to see more and more of this – the innovations that really matter are slum-driven… or… favela-chic driven… or… places where lack of “governance” (which is expressly designed to create corporate monopolies) grants freedom to create solutions that are actually people-based, rather than serving some capitalist aim.
I see in Ebay, adverts for solar cells are accompanied by photos of scantily-clad women… and by scantily-clad, I mean really, budget-level, pirated stock-photography scantily-clad.
And I see this as a good sign, because it means that the market has hit drek-bottom and is competing on every desperate angle it can possibly find – which means the prices aren’t artificially high, because some toss-weed corporation is charging a monopoly rent on patents that it bought.
Ignoring that though… I think there’s another interesting angle that comes from uptake of off-grid solar – and that is that people will become aware of what electricity they’re actually using… which naturally feeds into and multiplies with a revolution in home-automation, which is coming, I promise you. Being able to play your power-consumption like a computer game, will massively reduce the amount we use.
Cos for all your beautifully designed… “stuff”, and for all your earnest, striving, well-meaning, TED-headed (standing ovation-earning) world-savingness… the future doesn’t belong to you, or even people like you. The only vitality that “Chic” has is from money… and if you don’t have that, where do you go? You sit around in your bubble of refined niceness, group-thinking contentedly away with other bubbles – and then one day you wake up to find that the world outside has gone on without you, and a new generation has arrived.
Anyway, this video/act could have come from anywhere – if I didn’t know it was Afrikaans I would have said somewhere in the Wild East of Europe… where the wave of the property boom finally broke (and rolled back), beyond it an eternity of Soviet Era housing blocks with fucked pipes and playgrounds with weeds growing through the concrete.
Reminds me of this thing that came courtesy of one Brian Limmond a while back.
As the devil once said, “what gives me the edge, is that they never see me coming”.
Or maybe they do. We’ve had Favela Punk in Scotland forever.
Leaving aside the general principle, “If a headline ends with a question-mark, the answer is always ‘No’”, it’s kindof an irrelevant question anyway. It’s about as relevant as asking “Is the Model-T the Brewster of Cars”.
No… because the (demographic) market for carriages was rendered irrelevant by the market for cars… and the same thing will apply (I suspect) in turn, for the horseless-carriages we now know and love.
It isn’t about Western consumers. Western consumers are irrelevant… it’s about the massively growing middle class of countries like India, China and possibly various parts of South America. If you’re still designing vehicles for people who can afford $40,000 then you belong to the past.
As an aside, when I was looking for names of famous carriage-makers, I came across this:
Studebaker, who started out making carriages, actually made an electric car slightly over 100 years ago… and while it is a bit teapotty, it isn’t that much more teapotty than the timid offerings that are turning up today.
So. Main-stream car-designers have lost it. Do any of them even drive?
Here are a couple of fundamental truths that they all seem to miss with a studious vengeance:
1) Cars don’t (just) solve a transport problem, they solve a privacy problem.
2) Cars also solve an identity problem – generally where sex meets territoriality.
A car is a piece of territory… and (similarly to the way single people in the west all now sleep in double beds) it is a piece of territory that says “I am big and strong enough to share with a mate”. To sleep in a single bed is infantalising… to drive in a one-seater car? People aren’t going to do it… and that is why the new offering from VW probably isn’t going to catch on:
Not just because it looks like a death-trap which has considerately been designed to double as a coffin, but because your imaginary girlfriend will have to sit behind you (carrying a pot on her head). They hate that. I know.
Go stand at the side of a motorway… preferably one of those ones where there’s a special lane for people who have more than one person in the car… how many of those cars look like teapots? How many cars aren’t using the fast lane because there is only one person in the car?
Think that’s an accident?
It’s not… it’s a deliberate behaviour. Being in the car is the only time an awful lot of people get to be themselves… get to be on their own. They can sing, they can talk to themselves… and so on. Go sit on a London tube in the commute-time (assuming you can sit, which you can’t). What’s the worst thing about being there? It’s being too close to too many other people… and it’s etched into the lines of every single face you see.
So anyway… this is how I see this going. This:
Crossed with this:
ie: favela-chic meets 21st Century design, with echos of the 1920s… but with a radically different business-model because Americans are no longer the market.
Something that says “Sex”. Something that says “21st Century”.
It needs to be
1) Car as Platform. It’s not a finished product, it’s a set of techniques, materials, designs, philosophies that people can adapt to local conditions, using local materials. For this to happen…
2) The individual subsystems need to be de-coupled. It needs to be electric-capable. Pedal-capable. “burning stuff” capable. Increased efficiency means the ability to eliminate entire subsystems… and the ability to do so without rebuilding every single part of the machine is crucial
3) Detachable brain. ie: Your iPhone is the dashboard.
Or your netbook, or whatever. The point is to create a possibility for turning as many problems as possible into software problems… because we’re pretty good at software, and the barriers to entry are very low.
4) It will probably need to be a 3 wheeler to get around laws that favour big corporations.
5) Easily sourceable, swappable parts. I’m talking bicycle wheels. Crap is better. The line of fastest propagation… a bit like the reprap approach – minimum vitamin parts.
There have been some tantalizingly close passes at this… nearly. Almost. We’re gradually inching towards it, but no one that I’m aware of has approached this with anything like direct-intent. Here are a bunch of random examples etc.
Pros: Complete elimination of various subsystems, eg: gears, brakes, axels
Cons: looks like a teapot. Also bigger than the doors of the building that it was built inside. Engineering students as well. Bless. I imagine they’ll probably teach that in the second year.
Dutch Recumbent bicycle with electric assist variant.
Pros: Looks pretty cool. Made of bike parts. Electric capable, pedalable
Cons: Single-seater so there’s no room for your imaginary girlfriend, Big invisible sign saying “EAT ME” to trucks etc.
Closer though. The company website has all the hallmarks of a company that’s like, died though. Notices saying “coming soon” from last year don’t bode well.
So there you go. I’ve got to cut this short now because someone’s shouting at me… there are various other examples in varying states of repair. I’m going on about Bamboo Apteras again though, because it’s getting quite close to Lottery Winning Day etc… so I think I’ll take the proceeds of that, and put it into this.. Someone’s got to.
In fact, I think it’s more than cool… I think it’s the future, of a kind.
If web-designers designed cars…
…and we do know a bit about design do we web-designers. We live in a vicariously-Darwinian, fast-breeder hot-house. Evolution is really sped up in the crucible of the market. We share. We recombine. We move on.
Video-recorder controls aren’t designed by web-designers; iPhone interfaces are – and it’s not to say that the real genius of design isn’t happening somewhere else, or that we’re not still cocking it up a lot but… there are sets of principles that we design to, like:
1) separate style from content/function
2) manual-free simplicity
3) de-couple systems so different parts can be swapped in an out easily
4) design for resilience, flexibility, robustness, speed, scalability, under-the-hood clarity
5) platforms rather than control-systems
Traditional product design doesn’t do these – in fact it often does the opposite, and profits from doing the opposite – creating fake scarcities, and micro-monopolies. There is (for example) a special part of hell where designers of laptops are strangled forever with the non-standardised power cables. Every 5 years (or whatever it is) the average Westerner spends about a year’s worth of wages buying a ton of steel and glass, that is used to carry around a single person… who doesn’t (in spite of their best efforts to the contrary) weigh a ton.
But that’s shite, it’s dying and it deserves to. The symbol (and often reality) of 20th century freedom and independence has turned into a millstone, and it belongs in a museum (and in a genre of K-for-cool movies like Two Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point) That spirit is gone. A car is now a series of monthly payments.
So anyway, if web-designers designed cars, the chassis, engine, body, control-systems, electronics etc etc would all be discrete and swappable sub-systems. You could reskin your car, rather than having to buy a new one every 5 years… only you probably WOULD buy a new one every 5 years anyway, because as I say, we operate in a fast-breeder evolutionary hot-house. We don’t do what the car-industry does – which is produce basically the same car, but with minor (diminishing-return-on-R&D) enhancements… since the 70s.
I mean take a look at this:
Now that, My Learned Colleagues, is a poster-child for an industry that has run out of ideas. The preposterousness of monument-building always peaks just before the fall of an empire. I think it’s over. I think they’re finished.
The Zambikes and Zambulances on the other hand, are just beginning – and I think they’re the mammals that will survive where the dinosaurs can’t… and I think this because they’re the beginnings of a design that is modular, decoupled… the Early Vehicular HTML under the hood etc etc. When open-source cars start kicking in big-time (and they will) this is how they will start. They won’t come from the big car manufacturers
If you turn that around the other way, put a little engine on it, give it the aerodynamics of a plane, then you’ve got a home-made Aptera.
A long shot you reckon? Remember, legally, an Aptera is a type of bike… and that’s another reason why innovation is probably going to happen around 3-wheelers, rather than 4. Less Industrial-Giant-Friendly regulation.
Admittedly, an Aptera is an answer to a particularly Western set of needs… but that’s ok, because if you’re starting with a design where the sub-systems are decoupled, then you can adapt it to do whatever suits the local conditions.
A little compost/grey-water recycler with built-in plants etc. They’d probably work in people’s back-yards in London as well… if you could get the rocks. Or the dirt. Table-height gardening is quite a good idea I think – the back fuckery of ground-level gardening is a bit of a killer… well, eventually. The ground happens to be where most of the dirt is though.
It’s a well-known fact that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon weren’t an expression of Babylonian Imperial Grandeur but rather came about because The Babylonian economy had crashed so people began to grow their own food… and there wasn’t a lot of space, so it tended to be up walls etc. And they couldn’t be arsed weeding so it was like… weedy.
And so it is at the dawn of the 21st Century.
There have been a lot of hopeful twitterings (I mean that in the brand-agnostic sense) about Urban Agriculture… especially in Detroit… in the ruins of the unsustainable.
And some are trying to paint it as a political thing… and maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t…
… because as I’ve said previously, the biggest vampire-pipe draining blood out of you and your family’s jugulars isn’t to do with food… it’s the FIRE industries… Finance, Insurance, Real-Estate… and if you’re American, you can add Military to that as well. Until these get sorted (and by that I mean radically localised), growing your own food is just a gesture.
But gestures are good. Statements of possibility and intent. You’ve got to start somewhere… and the difference between 0 and 1 is far greater than that between 1 and 2.
I must confess a huge fascination with this stuff because I’m a geek, and geek’s love self-contained life-support systems… hence the photo at the top… and inspired by the Swedish box thing… I’ve grown my own high-rise strawberry farm.
See, it’s got a crafty drip-feed mechanism that requires endless fiddling to get an even distribution. There’s got to be an easier way.
So far it’s blown down once, and I think I’m going to have to make white or silver inserts… because the sun does get most ferocious hot in these parts and the bin-lining will act like an oven. It was inspired in part by the Rube Goldberg Garden I was on about earlier
In an urban context, space is the thing, so the errr… Internet, has a fascination for things grown vertically. This next one is a double win because it’s a closed (nearly) system AND it’s vertical:
Aquaponics. Marvelous… although the one doing all the talking says the word “poop” (pron “Pee-oop”) about 4 times more than is strictly necessary IMHO.
The greeny blogs love vertical farms to the extent that they’ll publish drawings of them and rave about them, pretending they’re real. This one does seem to be real… and isn’t from a greeny blog.
But these things need constant care, attention and luck…
Things don’t always work out.
About a year ago I came across this article in an NZ magazine… where a school in Scary South Auckland (Once Were Warriors-land) was having huge success growing vegetables… and the transformational effect it had on the kids… and the entire neighbourhood in fact. One of the most inspiring pieces I’ve read… especially the bit that goes:
“I was told it couldn’t work, because people would steal, but I don’t call it stealing or raiding, I call it helping themselves, and that’s great because that’s what it’s for. Those gardens belong to everybody at the school and in the community. We leave our gates open in the day and people come and go and we’ve never had damage in our garden. One measure of the project’s success is that they value what we’ve done.”
Unfortunately, the same thing was tried in my home town here – and a couple of days ago, vandals turned up and destroyed the lot. You can’t fuckwit-proof the world.
Maybe there’s a genetically-engineered angle on this… because (hearkening back to the Ancient Babylonian’s reluctance to weed)…
From Detroit again. You can’t stop mother nature etc.
That bottom photo is a classic – a beautiful old house but “someone (ie: a bank) owns it” so no one can live there and eventually it becomes uninhabitable. When I was a kid I once broke into a prospective squat in London (through the front window with a brick. It’s easy when you know how) – it had been empty for 8 years… and it was fucked. There were trees (literally) growing through the floor-boards… on the second floor!
There was nothing we could do… it was too far gone to live in… nature had won. It took 8 years of neglect.
So there you go. There’s no actual point to this blog-post to be honest… just a selection of links and photos etc around a theme… which I suspect may be something to do with vertical farming.
And in case you don’t want to farm plants… someone’s made a vertical bird-farm, which to me looks as scary as hell… the nesting place of Minions of Doom…
Which I really like… although harbouring the sneaking suspish, that randomly placed and sized windows might be better on the outside than the inside.
Still…. cool, and another example of how our new frontier is the Ruins of the Unsustainable might not necessarily be bad… in fact it might be so good, that we wind up creating more unsustainability just so we can “recycle” it and turn it into something really cool, before it’s had a chance to go through it’s initial incarnation.
Faux-cycling. Or something.
Anyway, I also like this because the people who made it also made those crapalot bags for emergency sanitation etc, and their website is a) bright orange, b) about 3 inches wide, and c) is about 80,000 pixels taller than it needs to be… all of which is cool. And D) everything seems to be pretty much on the same page. That’s cool as well.
What I love about this, is that these people look like… hipsters
from photographer Tod Seelie, who’s website is truly great. (via). These photos are from Indonesia.
This is Favela Chic done right – this is the future, because as Cameron Sinclair points out in this TED talk, the future isn’t high-rise buildings
I think this is cool because – with a bit of empowerment, we have powerhouses of innovation waiting to happen. What we see with traditional established industries is the milking of “incremental innovation”. The Drag-Coefficient Syndrome – where minor changes are milked forever, for money. We heard recently that efficiency in American cars since the Model T Ford have improved by… all of 3mpg.
That’s what happens when corporations innovate.
There was a buzz of breathless excitement when a sneak-peak of BMW’s new “concept car” was snapped recently
That’s what passes for innovation in the established, for-market car industry. Sorry, I drive a late 80s Honda that looks a lot like that. That isn’t innovation, that’s playing it safe. That’s an industry bringing out the same product as before, but altered slightly so people with last year’s model will feel dissatisfied with it.
But back to the hipsters… the favela chick…
It’s bothered me slightly for quite a while… all this breathless excitement about a DIY explosion brought about by cheap fabbing machines… doesn’t quite ring true, because, I come from a generation (and country) when most of the clothes that kids wore, were hand-made. By their mothers.
See… that’s me:
I used to be blonde.
Anyway… kids these days? (bah)… Well, I’ve managed to get the impression that they wouldn’t be seen dead in anything other than “labels”.
There are already cheap machines for crowd-sourced innovation available, and people aren’t using them. They’d rather be wandering round with someone else’s name on their shirts.
This needs to change. It’s boring. It’s 80s. The 80s was when things started turning ugly. The 80s was when the cunts took over the world, and really that’s doing a real disservice to cunts. A can’t believe they named an aircraft carrier after Ronald Reagan. The guy was a fucking torturer. The 80s was when Derivative Colonialism really started to turn the screws – and abominations like making it illegal for impoverished Bolivians to collect their own rainwater, so they’d buy it off foreign corporations started to come into force.
One of the major themes of the 21st Century will be recovering from the 20th Century…
…and the 80s was when the real socio-psychological damage (payed for by the likes of scum like Scaife et al) was embarked upon as a real, serious, well-funded project.
I hated the 80s, and not just for that.
Anyway, back to the 00s (3.5 months away from becoming the 10s) : these tall bikes seem to be popping up all over the place.
So yea… there are loads of people all over the place who are all “oooh and aaah”, “it’s going to be great. Everyone’s going to be able to design and build their own stuff”.
I’m not sure what they have in mind exactly… everyone adhering to web standards? That this utterly unprecedented explosion in human expressive capability is somehow going to translate into creative capability?
Maybe (and here’s a nasty thought) the people with enough talent to make anything that isn’t a horrifying aesthetic atrocity already are. Maybe The Long Tail isn’t long and thin because of a niche thing, but rather a quality thing.
Maybe the 20% (or whatever it is) of people who are capable of making things that “could be in a shop”…
… are balanced out by a similar number of people who are capable of making things that are frighteningly dangerous and appalling?
Just a thought like.
Anyway, there’s this website that’s turned up called http://thereifixedit.com with lots of brilliant examples of Favela Chic gone wrong. It’s like MySpace Leakage without the glitter.