Visionary designer Hartmut Esslinger talks about future tech trends in the context of smart devices, but these trends may well also be relevant for motorcycles
Remember the Frog 750, the Yamaha FZ750-based concept bike which ‘inspired’ the production-spec Honda Hurricane CBR600F? Hartmut Esslinger, the man responsible for the Frog 750, is a hotshot designer who’s also done some significant work for the likes of Sony, Apple and Louis Vuitton. Here at Faster and Faster, we like and respect Esslinger’s work, even though he hasn’t really tried his hand at designing motorcycles after the mid-1980s Frog 750 concept bike.
In a recent story on Wired, Esslinger talks about looming tech trends which he says will soon change the way we interact with devices like tablets and smartphones etc. Currently an industrial design instructor at the DeTao Masters Academy in Shanghai, Esslinger advises his students to work in the context of tomorrow. “Today is what’s thought about long ago. Now today we have to project, think, experiment and prototype the future,” he says. “The future is accelerating, we know that. Look back 40-50 years and make a model of what happened from then, until today. That’s what compresses into the next 10 years. Then, you know what to expect,” he adds.
In the story on Wired, Esslinger goes on to explain the four big trends in technology which he thinks will shape our smart devices – and the way we interact with those – in the near future. While he talks about computers and smart devices, we think some of these trends might also be applicable to motorcycles. So, let’s take a quick look at what the man has to say.
Trend 1: Flexible Hardware
Esslinger says that flexible components will lead to new form factors, some of which may not be possible with components and materials available today. “Instead of hardbody cases, I think flexible, more organic housings will be possible,” he says, adding that there might be new materials that are like the bottom of a sneaker – rugged, durable, not prone to breakage and can be bent and tweaked.
What’s the implication for motorcycles, here? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is bodywork – instead of regular plastic bodywork that breaks and splinters when you crash, motorcycles in the near future might get inexpensive, super-light, flexible bodywork – fairings, fuel tanks, tails sections and even side and top panniers – that will bend and twist during an impact, but instead of breaking, will spring back into its original shape.
Trend 2: More Human Devices
Esslinger says that smart devices of the future will go beyond simply being easy to use – they will also be able to read and analyse streams of data to ultimately adapt to our habits, temperaments and personalities. Esslinger foresees a more human bond with our electronics, based on long-term familiarity.
This one should definitely have major implications for motorcycles, which already have a significant chunk of on-board electronics that govern everything from how the bike accelerates (ride-by-wire throttle), handles (multi-level traction control and electronically adjustable suspension) and brakes (ABS). In the future, bikes might be able to actually develop a human-type understanding of the way you ride and adjust all variables accordingly.
Trend 3: Smarter Software
“Hardware is very complicated to make and has this huge supply chain behind it. Software on the other hand is like an infinite, living animal you can never kill,” says Esslinger, referring to the excess baggage that software often comes with, which stems from issues of backwards-compatibility, legacy versions, outdated drivers and bloated code etc. “All this crap creeps up on you, it slows down the system,” he adds.
In the future, Esslinger expects reduced deficiencies and smarter software, which bodes particularly well for bikes, which already have critical functions like acceleration, handling and braking controlled by software. People anyway don’t expect the braking or traction control modules from a Panigale to also work on an 1198R, so bike software isn’t saddled with excess baggage issues to start with. And in the future, you might expect more software updates to your top-of-the-line superbike for on-the-limit performance that just keeps improving.
Trend 4: 3D Interfaces
“3D interfaces are more natural because we live in a 3D world. All the interfaces today are more like a sheet of paper, which doesn’t give you orientation in the third dimension,” says Esslinger, who expects rapid development in the area of 3D interfaces for apps, system screens and menus. “I think the third dimension will be an important opportunity and the point is, small computers are powerful enough to handle that,” he adds.
For motorcycles that are already equipped with digital instrument panels, 3D menus might just be more than mere gimmick. With 3D control menus (which might even provide some tactile feedback?), riders may well be able to better adjust braking, traction control and suspension parameters in accordance with their riding needs and requirements. Plus, apart from the utility factor, a high-resolution 3D digital display for the instrument panel on your Aprilia RSV4 Factory or BMW HP4 would be just so cool…