Each year, around 50 people get together in Switzerland to create the next year’s most innovative, cutting-edge concept car – the Rinspeed. One of them is Auckland industrial designer Alain Brideson.
Alain’s speciality is the ‘look’ of the car – the exterior and the interior.
“When I know all the technology and features the car is going to contain, it’s my job to bring it all together into a simple design – integrating the technology in a way that is harmonious, innovative and beautiful.”
Since the early 1980s, the annual Rinspeed concept car has brought together products, technology, engineering and creativity to showcase the possibilities of the future. Many of the products, materials and technology that are used are still in the development phase.
Over the years, Bugatti, Porsche, VW, BMW, Nissan and other car bodies have been transformed by Rinspeed and shown off to the world. They have included a hydroplane ‘diving’ car, bi-fuel, electric and autonomous cars.
Alain has been working with Rinspeed since 2010. The 2016 Rinspeed ‘Etos’ was based on a BMWi8 body. “But we changed it because we were looking for a more traditional, older Le Mans look. The i8 body has lots of surfaces, it’s very complex and super-expressive. For the concept car we toned this down and you can really only recognise the doors, front fender and windscreen as being an i8.”
He says the 2016 concept was a simple sports car with a traditional silhouette but packed with modern connectivity and technology – including a drone landing pad.
The 2017 concept car is top secret but it will be shown to the world at CES in Las Vegas in January. He has recently returned from Switzerland where he joined the Rinspeed team for a couple of weeks on physical aspects of the design. He does the rest of the work on his computer in his Auckland office.
It takes a surprisingly short time to pull together each year’s concept car – about four months. His favourite Rinspeed was the 2013 microMAX. The vehicle has a chassis the length of a Mini but an interior with a head height of 2.2m.
“It was quite revolutionary, it wasn’t trying to be a car, it was a mode of transport. Conceptually it was really strong and the idea has been copied in other parts of the world. Local Motors in Arizona are doing work to develop it as a self-driving taxi. I hear that it’s also being developed further in China.”
The concept behind the microMAX was a networked ‘swarm’ transport system – with vehicles connected via data networks so that potential passengers simply enter their pick up and destination coordinates to catch a ride. The concept car was electric, and could carry 3-4 passengers who stand rather than sit.
Alain has been fascinated by cars since he was young and he learned German so he could do his Master in Transportation degree at the University of Applied Science in Pforzheim, Germany in 2006-2008. He went on to work at Audi and then to Designwerk GmbH in Switzerland where he started his association with Rinspeed. Designwerk specialises in making electric vehicles and hybrids.
“The package of a traditional car is changing dramatically as technology advances. Batteries are more compressed, there’s no transmission tunnel in an electric car, the interior can be completely flat. It allows car designers so much more freedom. Basically your base is a skateboard and with so much more space, a car becomes a living room. Autonomous, or self-driving cars, open up so many new possibilities for using your time in a car.”
Alain can see steering wheels remaining a feature in most cars, to allow people the option of driving. “But driving is digital rather than analogue these days. The fun of driving isn’t going to disappear but it will be different.”
He noted that the BMWi8 comes with an optional sound system that pumps out the audio of a V6 – for drivers who want the power of an electric engine but not the silence.
New Zealand has always been home. He returned in 2015 and since then has been making products as varied as golf clubs to spa pools. It’s his work with oDocs Eye Care (a New Zealand social enterprise supplying portable ophthalmic tools for use with a smart phone) that may be one of his most personally satisfying projects. The products are intended for use in the field by doctors needing to identify eye conditions that could lead to blindness.
“The two tools I’ve helped design transform an iPhone into a portable eye clinic. I had seen an early version of the visoClip and visoScope demonstrated on a TED talk and could see the potential for making them much more simple and easy to use. Quite by chance, months later I met someone from the oDocs company and they were looking for an industrial designer to do some more work on the design. We teamed up in November and are going through all the approvals processes now for the products to be accepted by the medical community.”
Day to day, Alain gets round Auckland on a push bike but in the underground garage at his office he keeps his 1979 Porsche 924 which he is slowly bringing back to its original glory. He loves his Porsche but it is a Datsun 240Z that is his dream car.
“I really love the Datsun 240Z. It’s a car with a really beautiful form and I guess I fell in love with it as an eight year-old. I used to wash cars at the place my parents worked and one of the guys had a 240Z. I never forgot it. It has an amazing sounding motor and unique story. Sadly, it’s very rare and expensive. But my Porsche 924 is an affordable car that has the same cool factor.”