SCIENCE AND TECH
Charles Bombardier Sees the Future of Vehicles – And It's Virtual
Bombardier scion takes his futuristic recreational-transport ideas – yachts, off-roaders, theme park rides – and turns them into virtual reality, for the public and for potential investors
Charles Bombardier, the grandson of Bombardier Inc. founder Joseph-Armand Bombardier, has spent his entire life around transportation machinery. After a seven-year stint working as an engineer for Bombardier Recreational Projects (BRP), Charles Bombardier decided to leave the company pursue his own ideas. In 2013, he launched Imaginactive, a Montreal-based not-for-profit organization, where he publishes a collection of designs that could very well be a vision of what recreational transport will look like in the future.
Bombardier’s collection of spage-age apparatus include the Seataci, a sleek yacht that uses a biomimetic propulsion system to mimic the motion of whale’s tail, the Shogun, a six-wheel-drive beach SUV that can cross both sand and small rivers and Sfear Mountain, a new kind of amusement park ride that mixes “electromagnetic acceleration, propulsion, free falls and untethered jumps into water.”
But what will Bombardier and his team do with all of these radical transport concepts? Right now, they’re converting the designs into a virtual-reality (VR) holodeck that will eventually be viewed and experienced by the public.
Amid a jam-packed schedule converting 2D designs into VR with Imaginactive, writing a column for WIRED magazine, and completing a PhD in mechanical engineering and product development at the University of Sherbrooke, Bombardier managed to sit down with Billy to chat about about the importance of sharing ideas, VR as the next big thing in product design and his most recent role as the 2016 honorary chair of Toronto’s Design Exchange museum.
Q: Where did Imaginactive come from?
A: I’d been working at BRP as a project manager, designing vehicles, and one thing that came to mind was that we have a lot of ideas, but we didn’t have the time to test if there was a market for them. I mean, if you have an idea, you have to design it, you have to show it to the public and you have to do market studies. So I said, why don’t we just publish the idea to the public and get feedback from them in real time. If there are products that people prefer, then we’ll be able to push for those projects. It’s a way to test your market and test your idea rapidly. That’s what I had in mind when I started the concept and organization.
Why is it important for you to share ideas?
The most important thing is to get feedback from other inventors, and other potential customers. The goal is to measure that feedback with data; it helps me develop an idea faster. There’s been a lot of hype about Kickstarter and all those crowdfunding campaigns over the last six or seven years. What’s great about them is that you can test an idea, get feedback and if it works, you reduce your risk when you invest in a product. You’d rather invest it in a product that people have liked, compared to a product that only a few people liked, because you don’t know the outcome. It’s a way to reduce risk.
What are the benefits of virtual reality?
If you like product design, it’s simple: the first thing you have is an idea in your head. When you show people an image, they can look at it and visualize what you have in mind. Imagine now that you go a step further [with virtual reality], and you can actually show them the vehicle, they can look around it, [people] can climb into it, and they can even examine the dashboard. You can even have the vehicle animate; they can ride the vehicle if they want. People cannot touch it, but at least they can interact with it. Then people will be able to give you even more feedback on the concept. [VR] is the next step in design. It’s being able to live the experience a bit more fully.
Courtesy Paul Alexander
How long will it take to get to that stage where we’re buying products that we’ve tested via VR?
I don’t think it’s going to be long because I’m already doing it at my lab. So within the next four to five years, we’ll be able to look at products in VR and then buy them with a system like Amazon.
So the idea behind Imaginactive and turning those ideas into VR is all about product development and having a means to get feedback...
Imagine I was able to have a partnership with design museums across the world. I would be able to publish a vehicle every week, so kids attending those museums would see new vehicles every week. And then I would be able to measure if they like it or not, what they like about it and all that. I’d be able to develop new products in real time by showcasing the work of individual designers inside those VR museums.
And that’s why you got involved with Design Exchange...
Design Exchange gave me the opportunity to explore these types of ideas. In the coming months, I want to set up a partnership to feature Canadian designers and push new technologies. Let’s say a Canadian university student has an idea—I take his idea, I design it with a designer, then I publish it into a VR room that would be showcased at Design Exchange. We’d get feedback, which would go to the student to help start his business. The point is to kick start business in Canada by converting ideas into design.