Rethinking how things ought to work, should lead to a reformat of products.
If it lacks common sense, hi-tech might as well be Alchemy 2.0. Hi-tech tends to rearrange reality according to its own desired image. Great example: self-driving vehicles. If traffic’s innate complexity and fluidity can’t be tackled, then traffic itself and infrastructure need to be rearranged, is what developers will be pushing for. The same goes for Uber’s ride-hail business. Not Uber, but governments, legislation, chauffeurs need to adapt. Not the other way around, Uber thinks. ‘Whizkid ingenuity’ is overvalued, in my opinion. Some of 20th century’s best ideas were actually based on plain common sense. Good to know, before you start throwing away dollars into a dotcom 2.0, or should I say Alchemy 2.0.
For instance, did you know that the idea of using swept wings — setting the wing at an angle instead of perpendicular to the airplane’s fuselage — to reduce high-speed drag, was first developed in Germany in the 1930's? About thirty years after the Wright Brothers took to the sky for the very first time. Next came making wings thinner than the usual airfoil. Now we say: wasn’t that obvious? Why didn’t they come up with that sooner? Left: Messerschmitt ME-262, one of the first swept-wing (fighter) planes.
Moshe Safdie, the Israeli architect of the Marina Bay Sands Casino in Singapore, once told that someone had put a shelf on top of a mock-up of skyscrapers and left it there, probably while he was cleaning the office. That inspired Moshe to top tall buildings with a horizontal element. It dawned on him that high rise forced planners, architects, builders and office people to think and work vertically, in stead of laterally, which is the more natural, down-to-earth way of doing things. The landmark Casino was completed in 2010. You might say that high-rise constructing came full circle more than a century after the first skyscraper, basically a bridge built vertically, was introduced.
Shipping containers — weren’t those obvious? Haven’t we been mass-transporting goods for the better part of the 20th century? Yes, we have. Nonetheless, it took until way after WW2 before trucking company owner Malcolm McLean came up with the intermodal container. Containerization dramatically lowered transport costs, changed the face of international trade, formed a major contribution to globalization. It did away with the manual sorting of most shipments and the need for warehousing. Containers have standardized dimensions. They can be loaded, unloaded, stacked, carried efficiently over long distances, transferred from one transport mode to another — container ships, rail transport flatcars, semi-trailer trucks — without being opened.
Did you know that sloped armor — armor plating ‘angled’ backwards — was first used in WW2? Sloping an armor plate makes it harder for an anti-tank projectile to penetrate. Hitting a plate at an angle other than 90° the projectile also has to travel a greater thickness, compared to hitting the same plate at a right-angle, and has a greater chance that it will get deflected. A simple idea, but the mighty German Tiger tank didn’t have sloped armor. The Russian T-34 tank you see on the left did.
The notion of geostationary orbit — objects flying at a predetermined altitude and velocity that keep them within the earth’s gravitational pull in a fixed position — was first disseminated on a wide scale in 1945 by SF- writer Arthur C. Clarke. Yep, that is the same man who co-wrote on Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001 — A Space Odyssey’ movie. Without satellites circling the planet, worldwide communication and broadcasting would have been unthinkable .
More than sixty years after the first car made its appearance, Alec Issigonis’ Mini debuted, primarily because of a fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis. Petrol was rationed in the UK and car sales slumped. The Mini broke away from the usual setup by having the engine mounted transversely and by employing front-wheel drive. To optimize cabin space the wheels were pushed to the corners, which gave the Mini go kart-like handling. Almost all hatchbacks with FWD developed since have used the same layout.
Like the Mini, Smart For Three is a concept that brings together many new elements. To be able to create a sleek shape (one of the biggest contributing factors to boost economy) whilst maintaining safety standards, passengers don’t sit next to each other. The old Romans already knew that arches make for a stress-resistant construction. Smart For Three has a Da Vinci-inspired frame underneath the outer panels and a dual-purpose rear cowling, covering the twin wheels and integrating a flush-mounted rear bumper (which is a safety feature too). Lighter materials can be used. Besides, a vehicle that hinges on its (clustered) rear-wheels displays virtually no flex, contrary to a box resting on its four wheels. Space-efficient use of the present road and parking infrastructure is a nice bonus too.
Bottom line, as long as we’re not capable of “beam me up Scotty” from A to B, the transport mode will be a physical thing. It better be as space- and energy- efficient as possible, given the huge climate change challenges, particularly since a car’s average occupancy is somewhere between 1.1 and 1.6 person, dependent on whether you’re commuting or using the car for other purposes.
Ralph Panhuyzen | email@example.com | @NextGenEV