Flying “ALTO” design concept wins the Lexus RCA Mentorship Programme

A Lexus design challenge to envision how luxury mobility might evolve in the year 2040 has been won by “ALTO”, a radical concept for a personal, globe-like flying vehicle.

The work of young designer Richard Newman  was selected from among six finalists in the Lexus 2040: the Soul of Future Premium programme. Presented by Lexus with the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, the project challenged postgraduate students at the college’s Intelligent Mobility Design Centre (IMDC) to explore new vehicle architectures to meet changes in European city life and society and to re-imagine the role Lexus might play as a luxury mobility brand.

“ALTO,” is a hydrogen-powered VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicle, its pendant shape inspired by hot air balloons and plant terrariums. Newman looks to a future where technology will become so commonplace, it will no longer be considered a luxury; instead, people will value “celebration of the everyday” as premium experiences. He describes the vehicle as “jewellery in the sky – like a cloud’s earring,” with an exterior that can be personalised. The design’s functionality also allows for seamless docking onto the side of buildings.

“I wanted to create something that is quite challenging, that would raise a few eyebrows, but which would also make people smile,” said Richard, from Coventry, UK. “It proved to be quite an organic design process and the changes I needed to make became quite evident as the programme progressed, with the input from the Lexus designers.”

The six-month programme included mentoring and assessment sessions with Ian Cartabiano and Lance Scott, respectively President and Senior Manager at Lexus’ European design studio, ED2, together with Prof Dale Harrow, Chair of the IMDC, and Dr Chris Thorpe, the RCA’s Intelligent Mobility Head of Programme. They were joined on the judging panel by design author and commentator Nargess Banks and senior representatives from Lexus Europe to select the winner. 

The designers presented their work in person to the judges at a ceremony at the IMDC on 15 March. In addition to the winner, there were commendations for two runners-up:  Zhenyu Kong (China) for ”Lexus #Units” and Ben Miller (Canada) for “Crucible”.

Lexus #Units’ unique design takes its inspiration from the shape of coastal barriers. It is highly flexible and can reduce its footprint to adapt to narrow roads. The interior can be personalised using blockchain technology, so NFT artworks can be brought on a journey. Lexus #Units caters for Generation Alpha’s desire for diversity in self-expression, tapping into the popularity of social media for sharing of opinions and emotions. The vehicle can link to other vehicles and be used as a projector device, e.g. to join concerts or parties virtually.

The Crucible is a hydrogen-fuelled escape vehicle that divides itself to meet different use scenarios and contexts.  It separates the owned luxury cabin from the technology to create a service that is both carefree and personalised. The morphing interior can adapt to any configuration for seamless comfort and could even be put inside a house. Users could choose a different vehicle for weekdays and for weekends when they want to explore and meet others. In reference to Lexus design cues, Miller reinterpreted the Lexus spindle grille and created a light and airy vehicle that is easy to get in and out of, and that can be reclined for comfort.

Lance Scott said: “All the designers impressed us with their thinking, their ideation and the breadth of their imagination. What they produced was not just fantasy, but based on factual study of what ‘premium’ might mean in a future society, and they extrapolated this to create something very forward-thinking. With Richard Newman’s winning project, everything was well-thought-out and executed. His positive, optimistic view of the future of Lexus is very much what we want for our brand, something that can bring a smile to everyone’s face.” 

Prof Dale Harrow commented: “This has been a very rewarding project for everyone involved, and with Lexus we have been able to explore profound issues surrounding mobility in terms of future lifestyles and products. The results show how young designers are thinking deeply about mobility issues and bringing their day-to-day experiences to the project, from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.”

Etienne Plas, Senior Manager, Lexus Product Communications, said: “As a brand, we actively encourage and support the development of new design talent and thinking. This project has delivered intriguing and exciting new ideas about how Lexus might evolve as a brand to address changing mobility requirements and perceptions of what ‘premium’ means.”

Royal College of Art: the shortlisted projects:

2040 Lexus Vision In-season, by Bangning An

Royal College of Art

This project creates a vision of future luxury mobility that is highly in sync with the season. It centres on the Japanese proposition ‘Ichi-Go, Ichi-E’, which is about paying attention to everyday moments. To help Generation Z rediscover seasonal changes in urban areas, the vehicle’s intelligent crafted roof controls the intensity of daylight coming into the interior to achieve an immersive seasonal experience and better energy efficiency. The vehicle’s colour scheme would also change with the seasons.

Crucible, by Benjamin Miller

Royal College of Art

The Crucible is a hydrogen-fuelled escape vehicle that divides itself along user trends. It separates the owned luxury cabin from the technology to create a service that is both carefree and personalised.

Miller combined a shared ownership concept with the flexibility of an owned vehicle interior, as people will reconsider where they live and work in 2040. The morphing interior can adapt to any configuration for seamless comfort and could even be put inside your house. Users could choose a different vehicle for weekdays and for weekends when they want to explore and meet others. In a nod to Lexus design cues, Miller unbundled the Lexus spindle grille and created a light and airy vehicle that is easy to get in and out of, and that can be reclined for comfort.

ALTO, by Richard Newman

Royal College of Art

ALTO is a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicle. It is designed for a time when a premium experience will mean the ‘celebration of the everyday,’ as an antidote to a future that will be overloaded with tech that will no longer be seen as a luxury. Newman’s distinctive hydrogen-fuelled, pendant-style airborne vehicle is described as ‘like jewellery in the sky – like a cloud’s earring,’ and is a cross between a plant terrarium and a hot air balloon. The top of the vehicle could be personalised like a ring, to feature different ‘stones.’ Its architecture would include common cladding so that the vehicle could dock onto the side of buildings.

Lexus UrbanSwarm, by Maxime Gauthier

Royal College of Art

UrbanSwarm gives a sense of luxury to an everyday urban mobility experience to ensure transportation with more fluidity. This modular and seamless way to travel provides the flexibility and convenience of micro-mobility with the efficiency of mass transportation systems through its tessellation feature in which it can link with other ‘pods’, while ensuring full inclusivity for all.

Lexus NEKO, by Jan Niehues

Royal College of Art

Lexus NEKO is a micro-mobility concept that delivers a great experience on demand, inspired by Japanese culture and by nature, with an insect-like exoskeleton. It is a BEV with

sensor cameras and an intelligent recording device. It can operate in two modes: one for conventional driving as an independent vehicle; the other a sharing mode where the occupants can view scenery recorded on previous journeys for an Instagram experience on a grand scale. It uses 4D technology for optimised ergonomics and Lexus branding opportunities. For example, the vehicle can perform traditional Japanese bowing, while microbots allow complete flexibility for speed in urban areas.

Lexus #Units, by Zhenyu Kong

In the context of digital personalisation as a future social space, #Units not only expands the connection between individuals and groups, it also explores what sharing luxury might be, using digital technology. It caters for Generation Alpha’s desire for diversity in self-expression, tapping into the popularity of social media for sharing of opinions and emotions. It is a luxury sharing space, as on arrival at a destination the vehicle can link virtually to other vehicles where it can be used as a projector device, eg to join concerts or parties virtually. The vehicle’s unique design takes its inspiration from the shape of coastal barriers. It is also highly flexible and can reduce its footprint to adapt to narrow roads. The interior can also be personalised using blockchain technology, so NFT artworks can be brought on a journey.

Finalists’ exhibition

The Lexus design challenge inspired original work from 20 postgraduate students at the Royal College of Art’s Intelligent Mobility Design Centre, an interdisciplinary centre of design and research excellence. The students have been mentored by Ian Cartabiano and Lance Scott, respectively President and General Design Manager at ED2, Lexus’ European design centre, together with Prof Dale Harrow, Chair of the IMDC, and Dr Chris Thorpe, the Intelligent Mobility Head of Programme.

Each of the six finalists will now develop and refine their concept with the benefit of the judges’ professional advice. On 15 March, their work and the other students’ presentations will go on public display in an exhibition at the Royal College of Art’s new landmark Battersea campus in London, where the three winning projects will be announced.

President of ED2 Ian Cartabiano said: “We were very impressed by the breadth of creativity and innovation shown by all the designers. They demonstrated skill and imagination in bringing together their ideas for future mobility and vision of how the concept of Lexus premium quality might evolve.”

Prof Harrow commented: “The staff and students from Royal College of Art Intelligent Mobility are delighted to have collaborated with Lexus on The Soul of Future Premium. The project has provided an exciting and challenging context in which to explore future mobility with a premium global brand.

Read more: Could these five concepts be the taxis of the future?

5 comments

  1. i hope this new style luxury car can deliver a higher expectation for electric cars specially on battery range

  2. Looks phenomenal. Can count on Lexus to deliver the Intelligent technical and efficiency abilities to match the exterior. Wow can’t wait for the concept to road… Love it Lexus.

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