Yamaha’s Alternative to Driverless Cars: Robot-Driven Cars, Starting with Motobot

Tesla rolled out their autopilot feature this month, and it seems a sure bet we're headed towards a future filled with driverless cars. But Yamaha's working on an alternative: Robot-driven cars. The company's thinking is that for driverless cars to become pervasive, well, everyone must purchase one. Rather than making the millions of cars already on the road obsolete, Yamaha thinks you should just get a humanoid robot to drive your car for you.They've started down this road by producing Motobot, which apparently can drive one of their motorcycles, though they sure don't show the thing getting on and off:So let's assume Yamaha takes the next step and creates a 'bot that can actually drive a car. The all-important factor they haven't explained is what you do with the robot when he's not driving:- After he drops you off at the bar, does he stomp off to find and kill John Connor, or does he hang out in the car listening to the radio? – If I run into four friends when I'm out and want to give all of them a ride, do I kick the robot out and make him walk home? – To free up space, does he fold up and fit in the trunk, or can I tow him from the back like he's water skiing? – And do I want this metal creep sitting next to me all day when I'm stuck in traffic?For their part, Yamaha is making no bones about this robot's self-awareness and eventual desired position in the food chain. Listen to it narrate its own Prime Directives, which were clearly not written by Isaac Asimov:How creepy is that last bit, where he goes "I am Motobot. I was created to surpass you." You're going to surpass me, tough guy? I'd like to see you navigate a McDonald's drive-through without crushing the french fries in your lousy metal mitts.

ERNIT: A Piggy Bank for the 21st Century

The idea of gathering savings at home in a slotted container has been around for a long time—the first such example we have is a miniature Greek temple with a slot in the pediment and a locked opening in the back, dating back to the 1st century BC. But it turns out the beloved pig form, which has become a symbol of financial education around the world, was the result of a linguistic accident. In the Middle Ages, people collected their savings in clay pots and jars, made out of an inexpensive, orange-colored clay called pygg (pronounced "pug"). After the Great Vowel Shift of the 14th-18th centuries, the pronunciation of English vowels evolved, changing the "pug" sound into its modern-day pronunciation, "pig." After a time, the pygg clay was no longer widely used, but the "pig pot" had a ring to it and artisans began crafting the porcine vessels we are all too familiar with. Early examples of piggy banks. The removable plug element wasn't added until the 19th century and destruction was a necessity, so very few of these remain. [Image courtesy of]Now that we're historically up-to-date, the question of the day is: What does the modern piggy bank look like? More often than not, we end up handling intangible money—studies have shown that since 2010 annual mobile transactions have increased from $52.9 billion to $431.1 projected for 2015. And without a real grasp of where (or how quickly) it's going, financial literacy is more complex than ever. How do we instill good habits and a sense of value in kids without the physical exchange of currency? This is precisely what 3 dads-to-be were contemplating while celebrating New Year's Eve a few years ago—a "what if" chat over a bottle of wine that would become ERNIT, a piggy bank for the modern family. "I believe designers have a responsibility for delivering improved solutions and this also includes cultivating everyday habits," says ERNIT's lead designer Lars Larsen of the motivation behind the product. ERNIT's curly tail and snout are reinterpretations of the classical features of a piggy bank. Visualizations of the saving progress in ERNIT's app. The new piggy bank typology that they've devised is a digital system composed of a wi-fi enabled interactive "piggy bank" and accompanying app. Kids are invited to set different goals for both large and small purchases, a new bike or a new soccer ball, for example. Once a goal is set, family members can begin sending money (or bitcoins) to the ERNIT app. In order to do so, adults have to set up a bank account and connect it to the app—so ERNIT isn't actually holding any of the money itself, just reading the balance in the account. A ring of LED lights around the pig's snout serves as a reminder of progress; when it lights up all the way around, the goal has been reached. A main concern of the design was finding a way for it to "bridge between parents and children," as ERNIT CEO (and former editor-in-chief of Denmark's largest financial magazine, Penge & Privatøkonomi) Soren Nielsen recently told us. "The design invites families to talk and interact. I see ERNIT as much more than just a toy for kids. It is made to start a conversation between generations both online and offline." The focus with ERNIT is really on the learning experience, not the object itself or even the money. In order to make the intangible tangible, the design mixes tactile, visual and aural experiences to create different ways of interacting with the product and understanding the distinct actions taking place. "That is why the buttons on the snout are big, the eyes are animated to show emotions and the piggy bank has an organic touchable shape and a soft surface," explained Lars Larsen, the founder of Kilo, and the lead behind ERNIT's design.With just about 3 days left in their Kickstarter campaign, the team is just a few ERNITs away from their funding goal. Watch their video below to see the little pig in action:

Father Studies Special Effects Online, Learns to Build Awesome Wheelchair-Based Halloween Costumes

Oregon-based Ryan & Lana Weimer have five children, three of whom have Muscular Dystrophy and require the use of wheelchairs. So several years ago Ryan began taking online courses at the Stan Winston School of Character Arts, in order to learn the modelmaking skills necessary to create costumes large enough to incorporate wheelchairs.So successful were Ryan and Lana's subsequent costume designs that they formed Magic Wheelchair, a nonprofit dedicated to producing wheelchair-friendly costumes for families across the country. "Our vision is to put a smile on the face of every child in a wheelchair," they write, "by transforming their wheelchairs into awesomeness."Here's Ryan and brother-in-law Daniel Saunders cranking the costumes out in the Weimer's garage, and the work will undoubtedly remind ID students of your hours in the studio:They face a seemingly impossible task: While they estimate there are "more than 121,000 children under the age of 15 confined to wheelchairs," this year the organization could produce just eight costumes. That's because each takes roughly 120 man-hours (not to mention $2,000 to $4,000 in materials) to craft. Here's Ryan walking you through one of the builds, giving you a sense of what goes into it:Again, I'm struck by how much this resembles ID school studio time. Which makes me wonder if industrial design students and departments couldn't do something to help Magic Wheelchair expand their capabilities. While materials costs are fixed, perhaps the processes could be improved? Fabricating bespoke items like these costumes requires the same shop-based problem-solving skills as your standard Prototypes class. Could the articulating mechanism for those wings be standardized and speedily produced, for instance? And/or could the sheer manpower of ID students already learning to build things be brought to bear?If you're a design educator or student, consider bringing Magic Wheelchair to the attention of your program. If every ID school's Modelmaking class was producing costumes and/or devising more efficient fabrication solutions, perhaps the gap between eight and 121,000 would start to close.

Hans Peder Sahl’s Beautiful Water-Cooled Workstations

Most objects we design and interact with, whether blenders, cars or computers, are enclosed. Meaning we can't see the mechanically marvelous operations happening inside them. That's why cutaway drawings, functional steampunk contraptions and Toyota's KIKAI concept are so fun to look at. So, too, are the "case mods" performed by the subculture of tinkerers who rig their computers up with robust liquid-cooling solutions, the better to deal with the high temperatures generated by the heavy processor use of intense gaming.Denmark-based Hans Peder Sahl is one such case modder, and with his background—he studied "engineering specialized in Integrated Design," according to his bio—he's able to skillfully combine what works well with what looks darned purty. Check out his liquid-cooled R40 Engineering Workstation project, where the simple act of adding liquid dye adds visual pop to his elaborate plumbing set-up:Sahl's earlier Project N.V. build introduced hard angles into the tubing and utilized milky-colored fluid, giving the piece a colder, more Tron-like aesthetic:It's amazing how much difference the color and the geometry of the plumbing has on the overall aesthetic. And if his color mixing experiments, below, are any indication, hopefully we'll see more variants from Sahl in the future.Check out the rest of his work here.

A Clever Way to Get a Heads-Up Display in Your Car—for Just $49

Heads-up displays keep your eyes on the windshield, which is a lot safer than constantly glancing down to check your speed or your phone. They're also expensive. But inventor Ivan Kablukov made the clever observation that everything required to power a heads-up display exists in the modern-day smartphones many of us already have, meaning it could be quite simple—and cheap—for all smartphone owners to install heads-up technology in their cars.Check out the HUDWAY Glass device he came up with: Assuming it works as advertised, the ridiculously inexpensive $49 device would serve as a great example of using simple design to neatly solve a problem using what's already available to the end user. I also like that the set-up requires you to keep your phone on the dashboard, eliminating the urge to glance down and check it. The HUDWAY Glass is up on Kickstarter, but this one doesn't need your help; at press time it was at $482,421 on a $100,000 goal. If you want one, you'd better hurry—there's only four days left to pledge.

Video of Wood Being Friction-Welded Together

Friction welding is a process whereby two pieces of like material, typically plastic or metal, are rubbed together at high speeds. The resultant heat essentially melts the adjoining surfaces together. Surprisingly, someone figured out that this process can also be used with wood:According to the Laboratory for Timber Construction at Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, what's happening here is…… the interface between two timber boards is heated by a fast and short oscillating frictional movement combined with pressure. The introduction of heat energy leads to a thermal decomposition of the polymeric compounds in the wood cell material. The chemical products of this degradation process form a viscous layer of thermally softened material, which hardens when the friction movement is stopped and the interface is cooling down, while a certain cooling pressure is applied.The video above was shot by UK-based The Welding Institute. Though the video itself is fairly recent, the technique is not, and may not offer much in the way of practical applications; in an article called "Timber Welding," TWI researchers wrote that "The world of furniture manufacture could be turned on its head shortly…" That was in 2006.While another article from the Tennessee Forest Products Center claims that "the technology is most promising for interior joinery and furniture," it seems unlikely it will replace glue and clamps anytime soon; the machines are not cheap, and whatever time efficiencies are gained by not having to wait for glue to dry would likely be offset by the complicated clamping and jigging required to fasten two parts that weren't small milled boards. Nor is the process suitable for exterior construction, as the earlier EPFL article reports that "The relatively brittle bond is highly sensitive to swelling and shrinkage movements of the wood. Changing climatic conditions can lead to cracks within the interface."Those of you who work with wood, particularly on an industrial scale: Can you think of any applications for this technology, given its limitations, that would lead to greater uptake? If so, you'd be cracking a puzzle they haven't been able to solve for roughly a decade.

How to Build Your Own Supercar

It's every car-designer's dream—to design and build a supercar from scratch, with no constraints. Talking with Carlos Salaff, ex-Mazda exterior designer, I realize he is living that dream—he's the master of his own creation. And what a creation: Project Caden is a supercar with voluptuous surfaces formed by hand, flowing together to create the ultimate visceral driving experience.Prototyping Project CadenSalaff worked at Mazda's Southern California design studio for a decade, and was part of the exterior design team for the Ryuga, Nagare and Furai concept cars, as well as production vehicles such as CX-7, Mazda 3 and new MX-5. In 2012, he formed his own car company, SALAFF. I spoke to Carlos from his base In Cleveland, Ohio.Carlos Salaff: I started thinking about this project seriously in 2008 at Mazda. It was around the time we were working on the Furai—a big inspiration—and it made me want to continue that level of design excitement. Working on that kind of project, and then seeing the concept go away, I remember thinking: 'Wow, this could be a production car!' But that's the nature of a big car company—to always bring in the bread and butter. I wanted to dive into something more exciting."It was a gut thing and something that just evolved. I always wanted to have that emotional impact with my design—this artistic impact—and I realized I had to take a more independent path to create my vision."While the auto industry prepares us for a future where we no longer engage in the driving experience, there is a groundswell of designers, engineers and innovators keen to celebrate the tactile, man-machine interface. Honda's 2&4 concept shown at Frankfurt was an example of this raw, interactive analogue machinery—and Project Caden was born with the same philosophy.Honda's 2&4 concept car"The extremes are becoming more apparent—the more society moves towards a digital future, the more we will want 'connectedness,' and the more we'll crave that special union with the machine. That's what we're seeing more and more, and it's fascinating. I definitely have nothing against autonomous vehicles—I've been stuck in Los Angeles traffic many times! I love the idea of getting in a very sleek smooth architectural space that can whisk me to my destination and I can do something productive in the meantime. But I also think there's a need for the human soul to create these very tactile experiences and for us to not lose sight of that as a society. That's the place I want to play in; I've always been a tactile guy—Star Wars over Star Trek for that reason! Ed Stubbs: So, how does that manifest itself in Project Caden?Salaff: The interior will be about the feel—a manual shifter, toggle switches—combined with progressive forms and authentic materials; there's just something about aged leather, saddle-leather, that really enhances the interior experience.I'm following the race-car paradigm with a central driving-position. Passengers offset to the rear, a central driving position, like the McLaren F1. I started with a traditional seating position, but it's a natural thing to put the driver in the middle to enhance the experience. The doors will be half-door gull-wings. I want to take complexity out of the car; keep things simple. Caden will be powered by a BMW V10 engine. I felt that the sound and response of a naturally aspirated powerplant was key to creating a connected and timeless experience.Craftsmen Rodney Roeder and Peter Jackson attaching body panels to the metal shaping buck. Caden's body is being shaped at Pete's Custom Coachbuilding in Cleveland, Ohio. What are your plans for the finished car?Well, I obviously don't have the OEM budget, so I have to think very strategically about what matters most. My plan is to build this prototype, and to continue making Project Caden in small numbers, focusing on the artistry, the quality. Logging the design and build process is key—with so many supercars you get this 'ta-da!' moment, but you don't see the story behind it, the creative story—I think it is important to establish that relationship with people.Did you have any cars that were key to the inspiration behind the project?The cars that really excite me all seem to fall into the 1960s-80s era of racing, such as Group C racing in the '80s, and Formula 1 in the '60s. Boiling it down is tricky, but the Tyrell Ford of Jackie Stewart in the '70s: mechanical, beautiful in its purity. And Formula1 BRMs—they have a purity of form, like a fuselage with wheels…You studied at Art Center—when you look back at your time there, what would you do differently and what advice would you give your younger self?I'd say: 'Learn a lot more than what's expected right now in the industry. Learn everything about a car, from the engineering to the business side. You have a limited time as a student and you can't do it all, but when I think back to my final projects I'd look more at how to integrate the engineering and aesthetics in a better way.And think about how to create a business plan that's outside of the mold. Because now design students are much more empowered than we were—rapid prototyping tools for instance: that ability to micro-prototype and manufacture, and to create more personal vehicles, is opening up exciting new ways of doing business."Project Caden is modeled digitally – Carlos designed every element himself before starting the build: exterior and interior, engineering and chassis design. The aluminum tub under construction at Metcalf Racing in Garland, Texas. Metcalf managed structural and suspension engineering for Caden, as well as chassis construction. Digital gave me the ability to fail a lot, before I actually built a physical model. And to run it by experts in the field—it gave me the ability to use design iterations. I did at least 100 different designs before landing on the one.________________________________________________________________________The melding of old and new technologies is something that Carlos is keen to explore. He has a CNC milling machine, which he's used to mill windshield glass-molds, interior surfaces and door-skins. At the other end of the chronological scale is a metal-forming English wheel, used to create the exquisite aluminum curves that form the exterior skin (using the Italian Superleggera method pioneered in the mid 1930s). Laser cut pieces, assembled together to form a traditional metalshaping tool—the buck The complete buckMetal craftsman Rodney Roeder on the English Wheel This juxtaposition between digital design and analogue construction methods is key, and reflects a real movement. We're entering an age where the digital design-canvas offers enormous scope for new forms of personalization and new ways of expressing aesthetic personality, yet we still covet and value products created by artisans, craftsmen skilled at hand-beating metals, stitching leather with a needle and thread.For more on Project Caden or follow SALAFF on Instagram.

Bird-Biology-Inspired Bionic Boots

In your opinion, which of these animals is more majestic?To an American the choice is obvious, and there's a reason Don Henley didn't co-found The Ostriches. But as far as which animal we humans have more in common with, it's the latter bird.That's because ostriches run on two legs, like we do. Unlike us, however, ostriches can reach speeds of over 40 miles per hour. Take a look at the gams on this thing:Pretty impressive quads, considering they don't do CrossFit. But an ostrich's speed also has much to do with their tendon structure. After studying this, obsessive inventor Keahi Seymour has spent nearly two decades tweaking prototypes of his Bionic Boots, which are based on ostrich anatomy:Pretty impressive. And from a biomimetic design perspective, it seems that in contrast, eagles simply don't have much to offer us.

Classic Workwear with Contemporary Appeal

The new Fall/Winter collection is in! With it comes high-quality textiles, cozy layers, and classic cuts. These distinctive pieces hail from England, Germany, France, the U.S., and more, and are all made for the long haul. There are tough new chambrays and brushed cotton button downs, wool skirts, outerwear, raw denim, and tons more. To test it all out we spent a day exploring with two Portland creatives, musician Mike Rich and ceramicist Ashley Rose Hardy. From the studio to the streets, these Fall-friendly pieces keep pace with an active life and do it with comfortable style. Check out the lookbook with Ashley and Mike, and see the full collection here!

Impressive Demonstration of the “Incremental Launching Method” of Bridge Building

Commenting on the efficacy of levers, Archimedes reportedly said "If I had a place to stand, I could move the Earth." That "place to stand" is a key consideration in the building of bridges and elevated roadways. In modern construction, pylons are created at ground level, each a fixed distance apart from the rest. Pre-fab spans are then trucked in and lifted into place by a crane. But this assumes that the crane has a place to stand, a staging area. When spans must traverse deep valleys, water crossings, unfirm soil or roadways incapable of supporting the load, a crane alternative is needed.In 1907 the Canadian Pacific Railway solved this problem by devising the Incremental Launching Method: They created a 415-foot steel span on the north embankment of a river crossing in Ontario, and "launched" the entire thing from one side to the other between two massive pulley blocks, using steel cable and a pretty darn powerful hoisting machine. By the 1960s Venezuela had pulled it off with a concrete span, and in the 1970s we Americans developed a way of launching half-spans from both sides at once and getting them to meet up in the middle.I'd love to see YouTube video of these erections (yeah, I said it), particularly of the 1907 feat, but surprisingly they do not exist. We do have, however, footage of a modern-day Chinese construction company using the 21st-Century version of ILM. It is an incredible feat of engineering:Here's an animation that lets you more clearly see how the process works, and also reveals the pick-up phase back at the staging yard:Today the ILM is used around the world, from Scandinavia to Europe, Russia to India, Australia to Asia, with more than 1,000 bridges worldwide constructed via the technique. But it doesn't seem to be prevalent in the U.S., which prompted the National Cooperative Highway Research Program to launch a 2007 study [PDF] to find out why. Alas, it seems the study's answers are terribly American, related to everything from the obfuscation of financial details, a lack of education on the part of construction firms, and a difficulty with securing required permits for this type of construction. Being an American, I suspect it's more to do with money than anything else. "As is often the case in the highly-competitive construction industry," the report states, "the cost of these specialized bridge construction bid items are not widely published and are not available without considerable research into each specific project. Therefore, the projects presented in the following case studies do not present this information." It's no wonder we don't use the method much when we can't even figure out how much it will cost. Who'd have thought bridge-building would be like healthcare?