Imagine it’s around 1989, and you’re inside a weird-looking leaky building that purports to be a design school. You’re all sitting around a studio on the paint-covered steel stools in your high-top white Reeboks when the instructor walks in to lay out the week’s project. You hit PAUSE on your Echo and the Bunnymen cassette in the Walkman to listen. Here it is:
“Take an animal and make it into a purpose-built vehicle.”
As GenXers, we readily admit to having been influenced by MTV, arcade video games, and images of the excesses of the ’80s. Still, there is one part of our upbringing that we don’t discuss quite as much. Most of our educators (and even parents) reached their formative years during the hippie decade of “free thinkers.”
If you went to an art and design school in the Reagan/Bush era (Editor’s note: Didn’t everyone? –PG), you would absolutely have been taught by instructors with, well, unique viewpoints. We would often get rather bizarre assignments from early on, and the results were even stranger. “I really want to get my girlfriend on my back and fly through your sculpture” is how one teacher commented on my roommate’s completed project. Actually, many of their comments would get them fired and canceled today, but you get the picture. Crazy was right on the surface with these people.
Back to the assignment: what animal to choose? I am really not a big bug person, but for some reason, I chose a big bug: the Goliath Beetle. It’s impressive since it’s just so damn big, and you can really see some of the shape details that you miss on the ‘standard’ sized insects.
source: Wikipedia /Fir002 and Wikimedia/Fungus Guy
A closer look at a beetle reveals a number of things. One, it’s a pretty clean shape that can lend itself to some kind of vehicle relatively easily. Second, the shape really does NOT look that much like the Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle that stole this insect’s name. In fact, I think a Tatra T87 bears a stronger resemblance to said insect.
Regardless, we weren’t supposed to make a car out of this animal anyway, so this vehicle might as well fly. It is possible that I was subliminally influenced by the sleeve for Journey’s Escape which was likely lying around our apartment (but we were now art students and too cool to listen to that shit anymore).
That vehicle on the cover of this corporate arena rock magnum opus appears to be beetle-influenced (Scarab Beetle?) but functionally I never knew what the vehicle was supposed to do, other than help Steve Perry and his bandmates break out of some tiny glass ball that they inexplicably got trapped inside of by REO Speedwagon or something. Hard to tell.
source: Wikipedia (Columbia Records) and etsy (for sale listing)
Purpose is the big problem here. This is a design project that runs counter to the form-follows-function mantra you often hear since you’re essentially doing the opposite: finding something that this animal/vehicle might do. This big-ass beetle apparently lives on tree sap and can go for long periods of time without food, so I figured something that worked in the woods might make sense.
I’d seen Return of the Jedi years before, and while that Ewok crap was a nightmare, the speeder that flew through the jungle seemed rather cool.
Someone has even tried to replicate that will a small hovercraft you can see in this video.
Also, I knew from reading about the insane journey where three Corvairs drove through the rugged Darien Gap in Panama that there’s plenty of undisturbed, unpassable forest in the world:
Why not change that by violating these precious woodlands with a giant bug-shaped flying machine? Something that can go over any surface and even be able to clear the way if necessary?
Seriously, this is what I did in school while you were gaining, say, useful financial or medical knowledge. Plus, we paid tuition to do this shit.
Anyway, trying to get through rough terrain is best done, if at all possible, without wheels. Mechanically, as design students and not engineers our solutions here were often of the pull-out-of-our-ass variety, as you’ll see. The giant bug vehicle would be a hovercraft, with four fans or jets underneath to provide lift (if it’s fans it would likely need a hovercraft ‘skirt’). The openings would be able to pivot side to side or front to back like on the hovercraft you see in that forest video above, or even like the single jet with multiple outlets on a Harrier Jump Jet (I had no idea it worked with ONE big engine):
source: Wikipedia/Alan Wilson
I like the jet idea but that might catch the forest on fire…but it’s a RAIN forest so a little warm air might do it well, right? Well, fan or jet-powered, this type of lifting system would allow for easy helicopter-like movement in any direction, and travel up to a certain speed. If you’re on a long, clear surface (like a body of water or plains) and want to cover ground much faster (like triple-digit speeds), there’s a jet on the tail at the back that can turn side to side for steering. Also, small retractable wings extend from the sides for additional stability at speed. Or something like that.
To get through tight areas and to make space for more vehicles to pass, we’ll need some forestry-related capabilities. There are machines we know of that can chop down trees like toothpicks with saw-fitted arms. That object being held in the picture below is just one of the teeth that go onto the big rotating saw blades:
sources: Komatsu and The Bishop
At least two of the flying bug’s six legs would feature some kind of cutting tools. The legs also can grab objects and act as landing gear for the bug to sit on.
In school, we didn’t have time beyond the two renderings to determine what the inside of this thing would look like, and I figured it was high time I did. We know that up front in the ‘bridge,’ there will be controls for a crew of up to three, with the center one piloting it and the side crew able to manipulate the legs and saws.
However, where would the crew stay if they were on a long-term task where they didn’t leave? Needed fuel and supplies would be brought by other vehicles through the path they just cut, but they would stay in the bug so it needs to be like a mini motorhome as well.
Behind the ‘bridge’ in front, there would be a space with a table, chairs, and monitor, flanked by wall cabinets for storage and a small kitchen area. There would be a tiny bathroom on the side as well:
Further back, there are three bunks with the center-mounted one raised up over the storage area, fuel tanks, or engine. Raising this bunk also helps separate the bunks for additional privacy (but there are sliding partitions/curtains on the openings to each of them).
It’s a difficult job trying to make answers to questions that nobody asked, but it challenges you to find answers that at least make sense on some level. I mean, even the Millenium Falcon has toilets designed into it as well as other Star Wars ships.
What kind of vehicle would you turn a Goliath Beetle into? As odd as these assignments were, in retrospect some of them really did stretch our creativity, force us to think differently and work to bring some sense of reality to the oddest concepts. It’s not unlike what I do now with the Daydreaming Designer exercises; it certainly it helped me thirty years later to interact with Torch and his odd requests for impossibly dumb vehicle concepts.
I honestly don’t know if this is a good thing.
All illustrations by The Bishop
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Okay, flying or not, I want a vehicle with that cab/dashboard design. I’m going to see if I make this happen during the Centurion diesel swap.
teamtestbot- I mean, with the small LCD screens you can get today it should be easy to get anything you want in terms of gauges and readouts if you can find a way to get the screens to retrofit your stock gauges.
This looks and sounds very “Flight of the Navigator” to me. I love it.
Oh wow, thanks for including a couple of hi-res images of the original project, these will be wonderful as desktop wallpapers. Amazing illustrations.
Ah, design school.
One of my fellow students, seeking to suck up to our main instructor, made him a rubber stamp that read “CRAP” in block letters.
It did make going through a stack of thumbnail sketches very efficient, and you always knew which ideas he didn’t like.
StillNotATony- actually when I was teaching to pay for my masters degree, most of the students made exactly the same mistakes at the beginning so it was pretty easy to critique en masse.
I do like what one transportation design teacher said about early students; “They get the proportions all wrong but it’s kind of fun to see…like, they’ll draw a car and it ends up looking like my crazy 1986 Civic wagon…their early sketches are far more interesting than what they come up with when they are ‘trained’ later”
‘when I was teaching to pay for my masters degree’
Ah graduate school. The only job I ever had where my employer forced me to pay for the privilege to park on their lot.
My wife teaches at the local university and parking is something like $700. It is absolutely insane. They keep asking all academic departments to trim budgets every year but add highly paid V.P. level positions for the stupidest shit.
I had grand plans to go the professor route and maybe get a chemical reaction named after me. I peaced out of school and have never looked back.
..and be sure to set the motion detection alarm when you shut down for the night, lest Jawas steal parts of your machine and try to sell them back to you.
Number one, thank you for this entertaining article. Tons of fun! Number two, thank you for saying, “…that Ewok crap was a nightmare.” After all these years I shake my head at biped beavers fighting space Nazis.
Iwannadrive- tell me about it…still can’t decide if “Yub Nub (Ewok Celebration)” should take the World’s Most Annoying Song title or “1 800 Cars For Kids” jingle
It’s “Kars for Kids”, I wish I didn’t know that.
It is by far the most annoying “song” ever.
And curse anyone who ever brings it up in anything I’m ever exposed to again.
Biped Beavers Fighting Space Nazis… Sounds like a bad porn movie.
And, after much thought and deliberation, and expensive educational assistance you came up with Thunderbird 2 ?
Nic- It gets worse. I did some architectural schooling as well where you spend montns of study and justification to come up with a cube.
Product Design school grad from ’88 here… Same memories of dank, leaky, musty buildings used by Design department & recall laughing at Graphic Degree majors obsessing over letter spacing… and cocky Architecture students.
Insect derived design? Timber harvesting?
I was thinking that I knew where this was going but I was wrong.
I mean, just look at this, cooler than a Unimog with all the attachments https://m.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=92&v=CD2V8GFqk_Y&embeds_euri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F&source_ve_path=MzY4NDIsMzY4NDIsMzY4NDIsMzY4NDI&feature=emb_logo
Yes, a company we know is doing promotional work for these kinds of forestry things which reminded me of this project from years back. You can see that sawtooth being held in the picture is just one of many that goes on a wheel about 18 inches wide that spins; talk about some serious cutting.
Always loved the Mach 5 and other vehicles that had saw and boring extensions. Even if it was possibly to cut through trees or dig dirt at a high rate of speed they never accounted for the extraneous trees and dirt and where it would go.
WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE EXTRANEOUS ?
Oh I do!
I had the same problem with Star Trek. Red shirt get hit by beam weapon, the body vaporizes, where does the vaporized matter go? It can’t just disappear! Shouldn’t there be at least a cloud? Wouldn’t the explosion of a vaporizing body in the closed confines of a ship be more dangerous than a projectile weapon? Why don’t the internal ship walls vaporize when they get hit? If they are invulnerable to beam weapon hits why aren’t the red shirts using that for body armor? Why does ANYBODY willingly wear a red shirt in that show?
Or how about the transporter? Does it exchange the volume of the destination with the passenger? If not why isn’t there at least a gust of wind as the materializing passenger displaces that volume? And why isn’t that transporter the ultimate medical device? The bio-filter alone should eliminate any and all communicable diseases. Hell the industrial version it should be able to resurrect a vaporized phaser victim – or at least whatever pattern the device had stored in the medical memory bank.
Sooo much extraneous!
I’m more perplexed by space ship explosions that make a sound that can be heard by another space ship miles away.
Transporter episodes were the worst. People stuck in the pattern buffer, Riker’s transporter clone, etc. I think they tried too hard to explain how it worked and the more they explained, the less plausible it got. It is easier to suspend disbelief if they say ‘magic’ rather than clumsy explanations of destroying a person and recreating them from raw atoms but somehow having memory intact.
Interesting that you cite Star Wars as partial inspiration, but the final design fits in well with Star Trek, especially early TNG era. This thing looks like it could have been carried on the Enterprise-C.
I am seeing more of a Flash Gordon universe. Looks a lot like Ming the Merciless’s deathship.
Kakairo- it does sort of look like that, but if I recall (it was a LONG time ago) the real challenge was to be sure it looked enough like the animal you chose. For example, I remember some classmates getting dinged by essentially making the typical aero/supercar sketch of the day and saying it was a ‘cheetah’ or some such shit. Instructor was not buying it.
Finally, FINALLY a flying vehicle with the potential to be built-out as an overlander!
Time for me to subscribe to Autopian with cash money.
I guess my art teachers were from a different generation. I can remember one that would yell at us in front of the class if whatever we created in anyway resembled and animal or a face or even a cloud.
10001010- you aren’t wrong; this project was a special case. During critiques where we all pinned our sketches of products/vehicles to the wall, we were told to NEVER say ‘that looks like a (insert object here)’ because then the instructor and the rest of the class would ONLY be able to see that object. He was right. Here the connection was deliberate.
I guess i was a decade ahead. Used to smoke dope do a hit of acid spend $20 on 50 cent hiball nite. I r opened our minds.
Now we are talking! Flying car, who cares? We have helicopters for that. HOVERING car, that is where it is at. No worrying about roads, no worrying about tires… There is true value to that.
Yeah, man! Then we can go bullseye womprats in our T-16s back home! As long as they aren’t much bigger than 2 meters.
I want a world with more ekranoplans and zeppelins in it. No, I don’t care about the reasons it’s a bad idea. I just want it.
Vinc- I mean, you kinda have to worry about stopping, but I guess if you stop hovering that will stop you real good.