Archive for the 'Crazy Wednesday' Category



Look at this absolute beauty. I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. Designed by Benjamin Bowden, this bike has a dynamo which stores the energy generated when travelling downhill and releases it to help the cyclist going uphill. I’m buying one!

Amazingly, I’m actually sixty years or so too late. The “Spacelander” bike has come to notice on the blogs recently as it’s a recent new old find from the wonderful site Modern Mechanix, which is so often a brilliant reminder of how old some of our new ideas are. My best source of inspiration for how to “reduce, re-use and recycle” is my grandmother, since her generation did these things all the time out of necessity. In our comparatively wasteful modern society, it’s surprising how often it isn’t a futuristic solution we need, but – to coin a term – a “past-istic” solution.

I was delighted to see this lovely bike surface again, since, as it happens, I have seen it before, albeit only as a postcard – but fell in love with the design there and then. I’m afraid I can’t establish the copyright – the postcard is made by, and is of an exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum, New York. I just so wanted to show you the beauty in her full-colour glory, that I hope this counts as “fair use”. Interestingly, just about everyone quotes that only 522 were ever made, and apparently this figure comes from the mind-blowingly and awe-inspiringly dedicated research of Leon Dixon. Since the inventor had no idea how many were made, he literally counted them from the manufacturer’s shipping list – which he still has, and includes where they were shipped to and in what colours! His website, The National Bicycle History Archive of America has the most amazing load of information on Benjamin Bowden, and the Spacelander, as well as loads of other wonderful, historic bikes.


Benjamin Bowden himself was born in 1906, in London, and died in Fort Worth, Florida on March 6th, 1998. He designed for the British sports car company, Healey, and later, in Ontario, helped improve the performance of the Ford Thunderbird.

I so want somebody to re-make this lovely machine – perhaps we can start a campaign. I’ve highlighted other bike designs I like before, in particular my main attraction to what I now call the “Plike” – Andrew Maynard’s Plywood Bicycle, was a slight echo of the Spacelander in its design. Phil contributed some very interesting comments on that, and I will be following up on them very soon – thanks.





So said of course on of the great philosophers of our generation, Winnie the Pooh, and how right he was. This one, the Manned Cloud, is a new design of airship, by French designer Jean-Marie Massaud.

Its proposed use is as a flying hotel, with restaurant, library, spa and fitness suite. The luxury, double helium-filled envelopes will even be topped with a sun deck for the 40 passengers. The hotel will have space for 15 staff, and will cruise at a speed of 130 kilometers per hour, over a range of 5000 kilometers. Massaud believes that his airship design “permits man to explore the world without a trace: to re-experience traveling, timelessness and enhance the consciousness of the beauty of the world – and to experience spectacular and exotic places without being intrusive or exploitative.”


Research and development of Manned Cloud is being taken forward by the French national aerospace reasearch body, ONERA, who will assess its viability. I’ve talked about airship designs on here before, and the amount of innovation currently ongoing in this field is staggering. As I said before, I really believe that these wonderful creations will see commercial use in my lifetime. Part of the design inspiration for Manned Cloud comes from the way whales swim, and this whale (or is it more like a ray?) shape is what has resulted. Other designers are also turning to the oceans for inspiration, which allows me to show you this wonderful proof-of-principle demonstration of a manta-ray shaped craft, the Festo Air-Ray:




Whilst this year’s

Since 2008 is the UN International Year of the Potato, this brilliant idea comes just at the right time. The humble spud has earned its place as a highly important crop in so many ways, as this promotional video illustrates.



Now here’s something really crazy. Designer Rob Lovegrove has a concept of a “car on a stick” – a sort of cross between a car and a lamp-post.

The little bubble-shaped vehicle, with its strange, flower-like interior design, carries up to four passengers and their shopping around the mall, taking voice commands and using satellite navigation.

It’s solar powered, and completely electric, and when you’ve had enough of it, you just park it up. But there’s more – instead of taking up space and languishing unused at night, the little car somehow gets elevated on a telescopic pole, and lights up to become a street lamp.


Quite how it achieves this, I’m not sure, and if the process is automated, exactly how it ensures all the passengers have got out is also a mystery. As a person who is prone to falling asleep at inconvenient moments, it conjures visions of waking up and finding myself trapped inside the street architecture, waiting for someone to want to go shopping so that I can get out.


Don’t worry – it’s all just a concept, and I don’t think we’ll be seeing any in the near future. It’s interesting, though. It’s the design equivalent of a thought-experiment, and elements of the design might just be worth taking further. Besides, it’s a shiny pretty thing, which the world needs more of.




Increasingly it seems to me that a lot of the innovative ideas that appear here and in other green blogs, whilst aimed at saving the planet, actually involve us getting up and using more human energy. This must be a good thing, at least in the US and the UK, where obesity is an increasing problem. Of course, the more walking we do, the less motorised transport we use, and the more time spent outdoors is time that the heating and lighting at home can be switched off.

I’m rationalising, of course, but only because I so desparately want to introduce you to one of the craziest ideas I’ve seen in a long time, and I need to justify including it. That’s not to say the above arguments don’t hold water – it’s just that Lindo Hip Office walking desk probably isn’t a logical progression from this line of thinking. This concept, by HK-ergonomics, is designed to address the alarming situation described on their website: “monotonous sitting at screen jobs leads to serious damages to health !”. Aaaghh! Help me!


Perhaps this is just the ticket. It is supposed to fit anyone, and to slip on easily requiring no further adjustment. The user can then walk, bend, kneel or sit – or whatever else they want – with their laptop perfectly and ergonomically positioned.


There is something rather funny about it, and the action photographs don’t help much. What is it? I think perhaps there’s something a little bit “Gilbert and George” about it. I guess the Lindo could equally well support a small easel – is this what they have been missing? For those who haven’t yet had the delight, Gilbert and George are a pair of London based, sharp-suited artists, who style themselves as “living sculptures” since the late 1960s, and who have produced many performance artworks. It’s their “Bend-it” dance that the Lindo particularly reminds me of – see what you think.




For those of us a little wary of electricity, “ZAP” may not be the best name for an electric appliance of any kind.

In this case, however, ZAP stands for Zero Air Pollution, and is the name of the automotive designers behind the “Alias” electric car, which might be available sometime in 2009.


It’s striking to look at – I rather like it from the front. Most electric vehicles seem to be the design equivalent of government supplied medical prosthetics, so anything that looks remotely sporty has a market edge straight away. I did say I liked it from the front – it was more difficult to find a rear view in my searches, and I can see why it’s not the main publicity shot. It does look a bit as though you’ve driven off and left the rear wheel behind.

Rear wheel – singular – brings me to something else interesting about the Alias’s design. It’s a three-wheeler, which has interesting issues in the UK, and maybe elsewhere. Another ZAP design, the Xebra-2 has already passed the VOSA tests, required before any vehicle is allowed to be driven on public roads, and is also a three-wheeler. This one has two rear and one front wheel, and looks a little like a modern rendering of the Reliant Robin, whereas the Alias has two front and one rear wheel, as did the now highly collectable Isetta.


The Isetta did not become very popular in the UK until this three-wheeled version was introduced – previous models had four wheels, with two small wheels at the back close together. UK motorists took to the tricycle version because it could be driven on a motorcycle licence, and attracted a much lower rate of road tax, which is determined in part by the number of wheels.

ZAP, based in California, have been designing and selling their electric vehicles since 1994, and have a good range of vehicles for different needs. What makes them different from other makes is partly this proven track record, and partly that the cars are rather well designed. Their range includes an the stylish Obvio, and an impressive collaboration with Lotus, to create the ZAP-X.


Their website has all the technical details, and a pre-order form, but there’s an excellent synopsis of the company’s current and new ranges at Fuel-Efficient-Vehicles.




This great contraption looks like a mash-up of children’s toys – a wonderful merry-go-round dragged round by kites, but actually it’s a really promising idea from a group of researchers in Italy. Called the Kite Wind Generator, or KiteGen, they actually believe that it might be able to produce as much energy as a nuclear power plant.

Maybe that’s a bit hard to swallow, but on their great website it was refreshing to be able to access well written, peer reviewed papers detailing the basis of their optimism. Kites spring from the ends of long poles in response to being hit by wind, each kite having a pair of high-resistance cables that control the direction and the angle to the wind. The kites are large – about the size of a windsurfer, and are made light and strong enough to fly at up to 2,000 meters.

As the kites twirl in the wind, KiteGen’s core is set in motion, which in turn activates large alternators, which then produce electric current. the whole system is linked to a special computer which is programmed to optimise the configuration automatically 24 hours a day, enabling the most possible energy to be generated at all times. A radar system scans for any obstacles – planes for instance – and repositions the kites within seconds if anything is detected.


Sequoia Automation, near Turin, who have developed KiteGen, have some really fascinating projections – including an output of one gigaWatt of power costing only 1.5 euros per megaWatt-hour. The current average cost in Europe for power generation is 43 euros per megawatt hour, over 30 times the estimated cost of KiteGen. As well as this, the carousel itself takes up only a fraction of the space that would be needed for conventional win turbines, and costs only 360,000 euros. If you think about it, that’s only the price of a family house in the UK – which is quite incredible for effectively an entire power station.

Sequoia expect to be able to build their first full-scale facility, probably in Italy, in about two years’ time. Unbelievable as the whole thing may sound, their website actually contains a real wealth of information, which seems pretty solid, scientifically. When I first saw it, I was sceptical, but I actually think it might work, and it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.