Venice Design Week Chapter 4: meet Next Future Transportation and Its Groundbreaking Modular Mobility


Venice Design Week Chapter 4: meet Next Future Transportation

Venice Design Week Chapter 4: meet Next Future Transportation and Its Groundbreaking Modular Mobility

New York Style Guide is writing a series of articles listed in chapters, dedicated to the 11th edition of Venice Design Week, held in October 2020.

Despite the limitations of the pandemic, this event has been daring, new, vital and visionary and to befriend its many aspects, we decided to focus on each of them, from to more traditional to the most innovative, in individual pieces, giving our readers the opportunity to see them in chapters, and learn about Venice, Italian design, the excellence of the Made In Italy, the Venetian style and a bit of why all of that is done as it’s done.

If you missed the first three articles here are the links:

  1. VDW Chapter 1
  2. VDW Chapter 2
  3. VDW Chapter 3

This festival targets a wide range of concepts that live under the big umbrella of design, as the very definition of it includes an articulated variety of topics. Chapter four changes perspective and moves into green technology, mobility, and industrial design’s advanced research. This is also the first time Venice Design Week approaches this topic, but there are many reasons why. Notably, that with this subject we are as close as one could be to ‘the future is now’, and hence it’s informations you ought to know.

So, with no further ados, let us introduce you to a fascinating new scenario and, through the unique experience of Venice Design Week, guide you into the discovery of Next Future Transportation [it will be just Next from here on out – ed]: the advanced smart transportation system made in Padua.

NEXT FUTURE TRANSPORTATION: THE CONFERENCE

In a mild and sunny afternoon of mid fall, behind the doors of the Chamber Of Commerce in Mestre, engineer and professor Lucio Bonafede interviewed Co-Founder of Next, artist, scientist and designer Tommaso Gecchelin. Tommaso is the brain behind Next.

The approach was interesting, as professor Bonafede decided to start from the end. Interesting, but understandable initiative. This choice depends much likely on the fact that the content of the conference might sound somewhat futuristic, while on the contrary it is something actually happening. Hence, if you want to hold people to their seats (or, better, connected, as the conference was streamed via zoom), a good working method is to state immediately that: “yes, this happened”.

The same way, NYSG will guide you into the understanding of what Next is and what it does, starting from the end: id est, by showing a picture of what the buzz is all about.  Not a mock-up, not a rendering: the real thing in the rich environment of the city of Dubai. Remember this location, the reason is to be discovered later on.

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Let’s adopt the same words used by professor Bonafede to define what you are looking at: this conference was about a new transportation system [two connected vehicles in the picture – ed], that lives inside the set of all electric means of transportation, but that presents a completely new concept regarding the act of moving people [spoiler: and goods – ed] on a large scale. The conference aimed to explain how it is possible to design new vehicles with innovative ideas and intuitions, thinking outside the box.

Another spoiler. The conference was about this. This article won’t be just about this: familiarise with Next as it was presented at Venice Design Week, then what we have in store for you, is our own exclusive interview with Tommaso Gecchelin. So stay on the scene, and we save the best for last.

In order to avoid excessive technicalities, let’s try to sum up the focus of the conference by breaking the content in blocks.

INSIDE THE VEHICLES

You have seen the outside of two connected vehicles, or pods. How do they look inside? Like this [no rendering, again, that’s the real thing – ed]:

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There are actually 6 seats and room for four standing passengers. Every pod is around 2.5 meters long [=~ 8.2 feet – ed], and they are just as wide and as high as a regular electric bus. Doors are placed on the front and back of each vehicle. Keep this on mind.

THE ISSUES TO SOLVE

If the main subject is means of transportation, it’s easy to figure out that the issues to solve are traffic, specifically in rush hours, commuters’ stress, optimisation of time, and fluidity of movement (if you guessed pollution you are absolutely right). And it is indeed studying the traditional conditions of traffic, that Tommaso analysed repeating patterns and the paradox of natural clusters.

Eventually, in several research papers, the New York University has studied and verified the advantages in terms of optimisation and savings as in Tommaso’s conclusions [references: Nick Caros, NYU Tandon’s Researchers, C2SMART]

Unnecessary to scare you with algorithms and forecasting of traffic flows, as commuters, we are all familiar with at least one of these two most common scenarios:

1) cars: drivers start their journeys from different locations (home or office) and end up stuck in traffic in rush hours, all on the same roads. The comfort of a vehicle that takes you door to door home to office to and fro, vanishes the moment you bump into hundreds of cars converging straight into your same path, exactly at the same time;

2) public transportation: commuters might have the commodity of subways and buses, but none of them picks you up right in front of your door. It’s a time consuming solution, it is stressful, requires changes, adapting to timetables and intermediate stops, walking from one station to the other, and from the stations to your home and/or office. Public transportation is cheap but not particularly comfortable and time consuming;

HOW NEXT SOLVES IT

This is the solution that Tommaso brought to the table: these pods can be booked from the comfort of your home (or office) through an interactive app, as you do with Uber, wherever Uber is available, or taxis. Let me use a practical example: imagine you live in a suburb of a big city, and you need to go to the part of the city where your office is located. You place your order using the dedicated app, and as soon as the order is received, a vehicle will come pick you up straight in front of your door. You get on the vehicle, and take your seat.

The pod will drive you, much like a taxi, to the main road that connects your suburb to the city. At that point you can imagine there will be other pods on the same road carrying other passengers. Your pod will connect to one or some of them, in a bus-like shape.

Opting for this solution, wherever possible, instead of driving your car on your own, ending up clogging the roads together with other cars, can you imagine the fluidity of traffic? And instead of the stress of buses and subways, can you envision how easier commuting would be?

Now, there is a reason why I told you that doors are on front and back, as here is where the novelty happens. Bear with me.

THE INNOVATIVE CHOICE

Modularity in industrial design is a fundamental subject, and hence relevant for an event as Venice Design Week. Generally speaking, modularity is considered the degree to which a system’s components may be separated and recombined for the sake of the variety of use [source: wikipedia]. In terms of automotive, the experimentations are focusing, so far, on the modularity of the vehicles, id est separate the base from the cabins.

In Tommaso’s pods the modularity is different: the vehicles couple together, and once connected, they create spaces that can be opened, corridors. That is why doors on front and back are meaningful. Because we are switching from modularity of the vehicles (base and cabins split), to something user friendly: if, when vehicles are connected, they create corridors, then passengers are the ones that can move from one module to the other, it’s enough to place doors in between.

Let’s go back to the example where you ordered your seat and you are on the way to your office.  Imagine you need to leave the main road at a specific exit to reach your office, let’s say City Center.

We have left your pod while it was connecting to others in a bus-like shape. The same app you used to place your order, once your vehicle has coupled with others, will send you a notification to inform you that you have to move to the pod that’s headed to City Center, where there will likely be other passengers. You get up, doors will open, and you can comfortably reach your new seat. The pod you left is now empty and free to collect another passenger.

Even the pod carrying you and all passengers to City Center, will split at the right time, heading to its destination, and that’s it. For what concerns you, at that point the pod is taking you straight to your office’s entrance.

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A necessary note: this is just one of the many scenarios on the functionality of this modular service, transiting from suburban to urban realities, but of course the flexibility of this system allows for so many more traffic solutions and contexts. You will find links to deepen your knowledge further ahead.

THE BEGINNING

Tommaso graduated in both Physics and Industrial Design and the first idea about what became Next, took life inside the academy of Physics, in statistics classes, studying macro-systems. Later on, while still being a student in Industrial Design, Tommaso had the opportunity to develop this idea, during his traineeship. Done with the traineeship, he was allowed to keep the better shaped idea to work on it on his own. And this is how the story begins.

It continues with a partnership with Roman Emmanuele Spera, in Silicon Valley. Emmanuele and Tommaso joined forces to give Next more opportunities to develop. Emmanuele, hence co-founder of Next, had already settled in California, so the two decided to move their first steps from what’s the American headquarter of Next. Despite Silicon Valley is not the first choice for hardware developers, being most known for the melting pot of ideas into softwares, Next kept on growing.

Although, in 2017, Tommaso decided to open a headquarter in Padua, Italy, where the offices of engineering and manufacturing, including the workshops are still today. The ambition, Tommaso being from beautiful Venice, is to keep Next an Italian concept, produced in his native region.

THE BREAKTHROUGH

As you can guess, at the very beginning, the way to success for such an ambitious vision was no bed of roses. Even the company where Tommaso was doing his traineeship, that commissioned the project, labeled it as too advanced and futuristic, and the search for lenders was tough. Every attempt to get a quote turned into ridiculously expensive, but this is not the kind of people that lets adversities dictate the boundaries.

Tommaso and his team answered to all hesitations and doubts by creating a fully working 1:10 scaled prototype on their own. 

It’s on April the 25th 2016 that the wind changes [oddly, it’s Liberation Day in Italy – ed]. 

That day His Highness the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Sheikh of Dubai, posted a tweet where he stated a declaration of intentions, quote:

“Today we launched Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy, by 2030, 25% of all trips in Dubai will be driverless”

and as a meta-comment he added this picture:

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Which is, yes a rendering of Tommaso’s idea. Actually, his own rendering, and his own property. You can guess the sense of disorientation and excitement, as there was no formal request to use it. 

At that point the group decided to ride the wave and participated to all start-ups competitions open in the area, wherever it made sense to, and eventually winning one.

I know, you do really want to see His Highness and the prototypes that Tommaso and his team made on their own, together. Seeing is believing, so wait no more, here’s how the story goes, in pictures:

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Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, center left

The rest is history: the team sold two pods that got tested at Dubai World Government Summit in 2018. Fully functional, less ‘way too expensive to be done’, and finally a fact: Next’s vehicles will be part of Dubai Expo 2021 (as Dubai Expo 2020 was postponed, due to the pandemic). 

No more words needed, now you can enjoy the video of the presentation, and final spoiler for this part, you won’t just see the pods on the streets of Dubai, you’ll get a glimpse of Tommaso too.

One last image before closing this part, is due deed to the core of the wonder-team that with tenacity, determination, wit, and commitment has made this happen.

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WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

The opportunities for these pods are potentially endless. Tommaso and his team are exploring the Next Retail/Mall in Motion options with relevant partners.

 Additionally, in this video you can visualise how the transportation of goods and parcels deliveries would look like:

If you are familiar with our articles, you know that the B2C experience eg for luxury fashion is strongly connected to the in-shop experience. This is where Covid19 accelerated the re-thinking around delivering the right experience to returning and new customers. It is likely to envision the use of these pods as a substitute of the physical shop, or an extended version of it, that will come to your home, pretty much like Amazon does, and will allow you to have an evolution of retailing as you know it. 

Not far from that, even the opportunities for coffee shops and restaurants in motion, touristic experiences, or tastings are doable.

It’s added value that the project is Italian, because Italy has very old damaged streets that require extra attention. If it works here, it can seriously work everywhere, and these pods’ suspensions and shock absorbers are fully equipped to face and beat even the infamously notorious holes in the old streets of Rome. Which, in case you have seen Rome, is more than impressive.

The idea of sightseeing for tourists that offers more comfort than the traditional buses is  hence worth a consideration.

The Next team is working, as you read, with brands and partners on these solutions: so you will see and read more about this in the coming future, that is why we are particularly proud and excited for the invitation to this conference and for presenting Next to our readers.

And as we are done with the content of Venice Design Week’s conference, it’s time to deliver our own interview with Tommaso.

INTERVIEW: 5 QUESTIONS FOR TOMMASO GECCHELIN

Yours truly was incredibly honoured for the opportunity to interview Tommaso and for once, since there is really a lot that can be found on Next everywhere on the internet, and I really don’t know what we can possibly ask that hasn’t been answered before, given the luxurious occasion to meet such a unique person, yours truly decided to use it to take our readers on an addictive joyride inside an -amazingly- beautiful mind.

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 1 – First of all, thank you for agreeing to this interview, it is a real joy to get to know you in a one to one conversation. My first question for you is about how you became the person you are today. Where does your passion begin and specifically, how did it end into Physics and Industrial Design? How do they connect, if they do?

Well, since I was a kid I enjoyed drawing objects like cars, or even shoes, so I can say that the passion for design has always been there. But for sure there has been a teacher that passed me the interest for science and physics.

Both physics and maths became a fil rouge in my personal research, even as a designer, as it awoke that necessity to learn and be curious about everything that was there to know. 

While I developed my artistic side more or less as self-taught, science could not be mastered and deepened without a proper education. This is how I chose Physics, but once I was done with my bachelor degree, I felt that the idea of following an academic lead, and to focus on sets of specific subjects into a more theoretical reality was not my path. 

Instead, I wanted to broaden my competences in practical subjects, and the connection came naturally: the first passion was always the world of design. Industrial design seemed to be the best choice, able to guide me in the right direction. But I have a debt of gratitude with physics in the sense that since it is a science based on pragmatism, it taught me to be pragmatic, and pragmatism becomes fundamental in the creative process.

[Tommaso mentions drawing from childhood, I would like to underline he is not an amateur, he’s a fully developed artist. His paintings were exhibited in galleries in Venice. Click on the following link, to discover some of his personal works: https://tommasogecchelin.com/2012/05/09/artworks/ -ed]

2 – How do talent and passion work together?

I don’t know for sure, I just can tell something about my attitude. When I see that somebody is good at doing something that I can’t do, and that something passionates me, I commit until I meet a specific level of freedom in that skill. The challenge is, to begin with, in the mere satisfaction of learning something new, and learn it well.  Although, there is always a reason behind every goal that I set. Whatever I feel is necessary to learn, I give my 100% to it, in order to obtain the best results I can get. 

To give you a specific example, when working on Next, I realised that if I wanted people to easily understand what I was trying to convey, then I had to learn how to create very good videos. Since I had to simplify something complex, I needed a level of competence in video making that gave the right freedom. And it was hours and hours of tutorials until I felt I was mastering the skill.

3 – Since you mention Next, I have a question about it, which is about the approach to the brainstorming in a team. Maybe the question is stupid, but how does it start? And about starts, then, which was the moment you consider the actual birth of Next, and where are you at now?

It is not a stupid question. But really, it’s quite easy. You start from a simple observation: you have to design something that has specific constraints. Example: people must be able to move from one vehicle to the other, so let’s start with the doors. Evidently it would not work if we place them on the left and right sides, so let’s put the doors on front and back. And so forth.

If you want a more generic answer, I’d say: put yourself into a creative mode and try to answer a generation of hypothesis, just oriented on factuality. Once you have a series of good choices, pick those that look more doable and develop the content until you get to a sort of trade off.

This is very important: all your most promising options must undergo a critical process that would lead you to compromises. This is absolutely a keyword: compromise. What you must do to succeed in the creative process is: inside a list of credible parameters, find the right compromise. It’s crucial to understand that you never have a perfect solution, as perfect does not exist: what you do is choosing the compromise that is the most acceptable among all compromises.

Moving on, the moment we showed the prototypes to His Highness the Sheikh of Dubai is what I consider the actual birth of Next. As with everything, once it’s born it is not independent. Just like a baby, as it were, it’s moving its first steps, now I have to follow its development until it reaches its maturity and adulthood: there is still work to do until I can consider it effectively done and completed.

4- So Next is still a work in progress, your toddler, but do you have any other idea or project that you’d like to share with us?

I do, and once again, the inspiration comes from my years as a student. One of our professors told us “find something that does not work, and think of a possible solution”. 

What I thought back then, was that the way we make our choices when we vote is not optimal, in the sense that people do not always have the same degree of knowledge and every time we are called to decide on matters of public importance, we tend to rely on what parties and direct references tell us to do, but that does not necessarily mean that those people have the truth in their pockets. 

What I am thinking of, is a sort of gamification that helps people get involved in their active choices. An initiative to educate themselves into understanding the basics that they may lack for whatever reason. 

Think of simple tests, imagine you have to decide on lithium batteries, question is, do you know what lithium is? Where does it come from? And so forth. Using the solution I am thinking of, you can test your knowledge answering questions about lithium batteries: you just have to pick an A, B or C answer, and if you’re wrong, the point is not to penalise you, but to give you the opportunity to learn how things works and so forth.

This is still in an embryonal phase, though [there’s a rendering of a prototype, a name, “ReVote”, and an almost 12 minutes long video that presents the idea in a very exhaustive way. Unfortunately we cannot share it as so far it plays in Italian only -ed] .

Anyhow, what I am thinking of, is basically a platform of e-learning that tries to complete the traditional education, in a structural way, in order to consolidate people’s awareness when they take their own decisions, with no coercive intentions. This tests include a system of personal evaluation of people’s knowledge: every individual gets a value in numbers that is somehow the strength of their opinion in terms of competence according to the subject.

That sounds very ambitious, like trying to re-educate the world by filling the holes of the traditional education.

Allow me to be picky: yes it’s an ambitious idea, but understand that there is no intention to change the world. No new creation has the power to change everything in one fell swoop, in a single strike. I’d be well aware that not everyone will be interested in using it [ReVote -ed], it’s fine. Everything that’s created is moved by the intention to solve some problems and change what does not work, making it somewhat better. 

Every solution carries some issues, and solves others. Perfect does not exist, nor it is possible to change everyone’s mind, even when intentions are good. That [ReVote -ed] would make a big difference for some, some difference for others and no difference at all for the rest.

5- Thank you for this clarification, Tommaso. Now, this will be my last question for you: among my readers there are students that are trying to follow your path, there are startup owners, there are parents of kids they dream to see becoming the new Tommaso. Is there any advice that you want to share with all of them?

Don’t take your potential for granted. Don’t take a still picture of who you are at any moment in your life or of what you learned at university, and think, this is what my cultural background tells I should do and that’s all I can do, because this is nonsense. We are always in a process of learning, right in the moment when you face a problem to solve, moreso if complex, embrace that it will naturally lead you into learning new things.

Just interacting with other people, you will naturally need to develop new skills, even just to share your thoughts. Finally, if you have a goal, a mission to fulfil in which you strongly believe, don’t let the frames of what you know in every given moment, be the limit to your personal development. Conversely, use your goal as an excuse to learn more things, as many as possible.

This way, in case your project fails, as that can happen too, in the end you still used that moment in your life as a moment of growth. Even personal growth. Let me offer a cut of my experience: it is only thanks to the opportunities with Next, that I was allowed to see the world and travel in so many countries, invited to talk at just this many conferences, but truth to be told, at the very beginning I was even shy, and I had to win over shyness. I could not let that state at that moment in my life be the limit to my growth and the obstacle to my goals.

This is a very wise advise and a generous cut on your personal experience, thank you Tommaso for the time dedicated to NYSG and our readers! 

Finally, we are really not leaving our readers without one last treat. It’s in the air that you do really want to have your own Next tour, and here is what we have for you:  your opportunity for a VR experience to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai on Next modular vehicles [best experienced on your mobile phone – ed]: enjoy!

 

The whole team at New York Style Guide wishes to thank Tommaso Gecchelin for the irreplaceable support and patience, for the inspirational and generous interview, but also for the hours dedicated into making all of this possible, by guiding us in our efforts to make this approachable for our readers. We, and the author above everyone, are humbled and honoured for the precious time given to our report on Venice Design Week’s conference.

Useful links:

Learn more about Next on the following link: Next Future Transportation 

Next on Instagram: @Next_futuretransportation

Next on Facebook: Next.Future.Transportation

Next on LinkedIn: Next-Future-Transportation

Follow Tommaso:

Website: Tommaso Gecchelin

Tommaso on Instagram: @tommaso_gecchelin

Tommaso on LinkedIn: Tommaso Gecchelin 

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