Text: Jens Persson
Few industries are undergoing as profound a transformation
as the world of transportation. The industry's parallel
paradigm shifts towards sustainable-, autonomous- and shared
mobility will radically alter the vehicle landscape in decades to
come. Part of the challenge for emerging designers is to look
beyond form and aesthetics, the beating heart of the business over
the past century. Honing a holistic mindset, where function and
strategy become equally central pillars in the designer toolbox,
will be vital to staying ahead of the curve.
Demian Horst, Head of Umeå Institute of Design and previous
director for the TD programme, set the challenge for the students
using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guiding
"Students were introduced to all seventeen SDGs during the
research and concept formulation phases of the course. In parallel,
they analyzed the values, strengths and challenges of three
different brands within the portfolio of our collaboration partner,
Polaris. The students then selected the SDGs that seemed more
relevant for each company and used these both as guidance and
inspiration to propose mobility solutions and vehicle concepts that
could support a new strategic direction for the company".
From cars to boats - making use of inner-city waterways
Polaris proposed its brands Goupil, Aixam and Taylor-Dunn for a
strategic re-evaluation. Teams of students were challenged to
develop vehicle line-ups that could revitalize each of the brands
within the scope of sustainability. The overarching mission was to
present a concept that could stand the test of time, from an
environmental standpoint as well as from a business one. From the
outset, students assumed the role of design strategists, navigating
different stakeholders while staying in close contact with business
professionals from different areas within the Polaris
The student team of Weihao Shao, Mario Schaffeld and Christoffer
Weinrich were tasked with the make-over of GOUPIL, a company
specialized in utility electric vehicles suited for watering, waste
collection and deliveries. Focusing on SDGs 9 (industry, innovation
and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities & communities), 12
(responsible consumption & production) and 15 (life on land),
they developed a concept for an autonomous network of vehicles,
including boats, to help offload logistic operations currently
performed using roads in the big cities.
"In the future, utilizing waterways in cities can effectively
help us decrease congestion by moving tasks mainly reserved by
road-based vehicles today onto water. It could have a massive
impact on our carbon footprint", says Mario Schaffeld.
The C4 driverless
catamaran designed for deliveries using inner-city
One of the vehicles, the C4, is a driverless catamaran
performing parcel delivery, waste management and maintenance tasks
in urban environments. The C4 connects to a sharing ecosystem, the
Goupil HUB, with the other two vehicles developed by the group. The
second vehicle is the G2-S, a utility vehicle that is activated
through a mobile app able to carry out professional and private
assignments. When tasks are finished, the G2-S goes back to the
Goupil HUB, loading cargo modules and switching batteries for the
next trip. Finally, G0 is a small-size autonomous robot, a smart
co-worker able to carry heavy objects around, collecting waste or
hand over tools to make the customer's life a little easier. The
Goupil network of vehicles operate inside the city, becoming an
integrated part of the urban environment.
The interactive factory vehicle - a new approach to shared,
The group responsible for modernizing the Taylor-Dunn brand
created two alternate concepts. One, called Collective Industry, is
an approachable industry vehicle and the other, titled Tactical
Urbanism, acts as temporary urban furniture to promote social
interaction in city areas.
The Collective Industry concept connects people from different
businesses allowing them to work closer and in more interactive
ways. In one design example a craft beer company uses the
Collective Industry Pixel Buggy as an agile logistic vehicle for
transporting boxes and barrels. In another case, a music festival
company uses the Pixel Buggy with a robotic arm add-on, allowing it
to support work in preparing modular festival stages.
from the developmental phase of the Collective Industry
The Tactical Urbanism concept includes low-cost, temporary
changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to
improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places.
The strategic direction of the concepts developed by the
Taylor-Dunn student group align with sustainability in differen
ways; through sharing services, safety measures, interactive
efficiency and the digitization of the vehicle fleet.
Greg Brew, Vice-President of Industrial Design at Polaris,
believed that all three student design teams executed the challenge
in a strong way.
"All the teams more than fulfilled our hopes and there has been
a lot of interest and follow-up conversations after the
presentations. The concepts emphasized the overall design
solutions, packaging solutions and brand proposals. They felt very
fresh and straightforward, I was very impressed"
A human-powered vehicle promoting physical and mental
The student team tasked with updating the Aixam vehicle
portfolio saw an opportunity to develop a mobility sharing
platform, Aixam Connect, that could appeal to a broader target
group in the license-free vehicle market. An extensive research
phase, followed by ideation and prototyping led to three distinct
vehicle types, all connected via the Aixam Connect app.
The three vehicles - Flex, Companion and Active - are all made
with reproduced and recycled materials. These waterproof reproduced
plastic fabrics also reduce the overall weight of the vehicle, thus
helping decrease the cost and the energy of driving.
The Aixam Flex, as the name suggests, is all about flexibility.
This is an all-terrain vehicle that can compete with SUV's, ATV's
and camper vans, all at once. Flex allows you to go for outings in
the countryside, explore nature or just unwind from the hectic city
life. It's a license-free vehicle made to fulfil everyday purposes
during weekdays and a vessel for adventure backpacking during
The Aixam Companion is, in short, a smart trailer. Rather
uniquely, it autonomously connects to and follows a lead-vehicle
through city traffic, without any physical link. The front and back
panels are designed as interactive touch screens. After recording
and saving your voice commands, it's just a matter of seconds
before you can start performing basic functions like opening the
side door, which is especially useful when your hands are full
While charging in your backyard, the Aixam Companion turns into
a hang-out space as the back part of the vehicle extends into a
lounge area and the integrated speakers are activated.
Finally, the Aixam Active is all about promoting physical and
mental health. It's a human-powered vehicle acting as a bridge
between the car and the e-bike. The experience is meant to be
engaging, fun and empowering. It is designed for people conscious
about their own health and the environment.
The Aixam Active is a a
human-powered license-free vehicle promoting physical and
The group behind Aixam Active hopes that it can create a new
standard for hybrid vehicles in the small mobility segment. The
concept, whose design has taken inspiration from the exoskeleton
and the wingsuit, combines the encapsulating protection and
stability of the license-free car and the augmented, activating
aspects of the e-bike.
The vehicle also has interactive elements via its app-based
digital point system, connected to the level of resistance you
choose while pedaling, or by sharing and connecting with other
users. Through the point system you are able to unlock new
interfaces, discounts for the newest software updates or receive
custom storage options. By updating the vehicle software over time,
the idea is to keep it in use longer, thus making it more