Back to the Forwards, Past and Future

Remarkably it’s been 30 years since Back to the Future was first shown in cinemas helping to launch the career of Michael J. Fox and, more importantly, put the DeLorean on the map. In many ways the DeLorean was ahead of its time, for instance its wind-cheating body and extensive use of light-weight materials. So what happens if we look back at previous design engineering advances, harness that information and used it with next generation design tools?

I have always been quite open that I am a complete car enthusiast, my knowledge of classic cars, the designers and engineers that helped form them is verging on the unhealthy side. What I find interesting about the classic car world is how much has already been tried. What about the Lohner-Porsche Electromobile with electric motors in each wheel made between 1900-1905? Or maybe the narrow angle Lancia V4 engine, 35 years before the narrow angle W12 of VW? Or the Matra Rancho of 1977 before the term SUV had even been invented? Ok, so all I am doing is proving how much of a geek I am, but it demonstrates how much legacy we have to draw on as futurists of the automobile. Just before we go any further though, I would like to make it very clear, I am simply not interested in making a retro pastiche of something that has been before for my other passion is modern technology. We have the most amazing technology available, both for digital design and for manufacturing, making a retro car should be confined to the shed (and as a fellow shed dweller I have no issue with this). What about if rather than just using today’s technology, what would happen if we started using next-generation technology? Technology such as Dreamcatcher, where you go from CAD documentation (today’s technology) to a truly design supporting system, taking a bunch of inputs and let the infinite power of the cloud crunch through millions of problems and give us multiple result. Then we can move sliders up and down depending on how we see the result.

If we set the following design goals – External visual beauty of a Jaguar E-Type, the Interior technology of a Tesla, the mechanical build quality of all the loss making Lancia Aurelia’s, the production efficiency of VW, the distribution of Hyundai with the technology from Apple? What sort of a car would we get then? Take the benefits of old with the advancements of the new? If we didn’t like the result move the Jaguar slider up a bit more, slide the production down to increase the final price, more technology? Slide the Apple one up to 11… What excites me is that we are not far from this, then just imagine what could be done, because all you will need to do is imagine!

Profile photo of Michael Russell
Michael Russell is the Automotive Industry Business Line Manager working within Autodesk’s Major Account Team.

After finishing his degree in Automotive Design Michael has spent the last 18 years in the creation, visualisation and management software industry. With a big passion for automotive design and an unhealthy knowledge of it’s history I am also driven by new technology, the innovation it can offer and how it will effect our industry. At the weekends you can also find me racing classic motorcycles reminding me the beauty of mechanical devices.

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