It was a question that inspired the latest project in the Toyota Prius Projects campaign at www.toyotapriusprojects.com, a dedicated website for Prius owners and enthusiasts to interact with the brand.
“The site serves as an incubator for ideas that go beyond traditional advertising and tap into the passions of the multiple and diverse Prius enthusiast communities,” explains Saatchi LA executive creative director, Chris Adams.
In search of an answer to their question, Toyota and Saatchi enlisted the help of Boston-based Parlee Cycles, a leading manufacturer specialising in custom carbon-fibre bicycles, and innovation studio Deeplocal to create the Prius by Parlee (PXP).
“Parlee Cycles was selected because of its innovative designs, renowned expertise and preferred building material. Carbon is both light and dynamic, making it an extremely efficient material to experiment and ultimately build with. We then enlisted the creative engineers at Deeplocal to push the boundaries of cycling technology,” says Adams.
The goal of the project, according to Adams, was to build a bicycle that adhered to the Prius philosophies of efficiency, technology, innovation and community. Just as the Prius – the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, launched in 2000 – is an optimised version of the car, similarly the PXP had to be an optimised version of the bicycle.
“We were approached a while back to develop a bike that has the same mindset as the Toyota Prius,” says Bob Parlee, owner at Parlee Cycles. “It had to have the aerodynamics and the same sort of qualities that the Prius has. I’m a big fan of seeing what’s around the corner and it’s fun to work on a project like this.”
The project team was given just 10 weeks to build their concept. “We felt there was no reason to drag it out,” explains Adams. “We had the idea, got some amazing partners on board and just went full speed ahead.
We didn’t have time to over think it or second guess ourselves. Sometimes moving quickly can be very liberating creatively.”
Starting from a clean slate, the design process at Parlee began with sketching. As their ideas developed, they realised that although this bike had to be forward thinking, it couldn’t be too conceptual, as the Prius isn’t a conceptual car. So, in the end, they decided to create what they called an ‘aero road bike’ – blending the characteristics of an aerodynamic trial bike with the comfort and efficiency of a road bike.
Like the Prius it would use cutting-edge design and materials to create greater efficiency, so there were details, like integrated lighting and the brake cables, all contained within the bike frame to increase aerodynamics. And, much like the Prius, with its streamlined surfaces and rounded edges, the PXP would feature similar styling.
Parlee then set about creating a carbon-fibre prototype frame in-house. The advantages of using carbon fibre is that it results in not only a very lightweight bicycle but also a very strong and durable one. In order to test the aerodynamics the prototype was then taken to a nearby wind tunnel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With these calculations, the PXP team then tweaked and refined the design.
In the meantime, Deeplocal came over to Parlee’s site to apply its innovative, forward-thinking technology to the PXP. “Their never-before-seen neurotransmission helmet is designed to allow the rider to shift gears simply by thinking about it,” explains Adams.
This may sound extremely futuristic and technical but Deeplocal claim that they’ve only used readily accessible technologies. “What we did was take some off-the-shelf technologies – a neuro-headset that is freely available and an electronic shifting system,” says Patrick Miller, Deeplocal’s senior creative engineer. “Really it’s a hack, a mash up.”
Essentially, the rider has a short training session with a neurotransmitter-packed helmet, which monitors their brain waves distinguishing between their thoughts from shifting up the gears to shifting down. The helmet will then send the signal wirelessly to the PXP’s electric derailleur, which shifts the gears. Deeplocal also created a built-in dock for a smartphone, enabling riders to view information about their speed, cadence and heart rate.
With the technology ready, it was time for the Parlee team rider, who had been training with the helmet, to test it out. All the PXP project team members looked on in amazement when the gears began to shift.
“I love the overall concept of the bike: the notion of applying the Prius philosophy to other products opens up a whole world of incredibly exciting opportunities. But if I had to pick one feature that really blows me away, it would be the neuro-headset and shifters,” admits Adams.
Toyota and Saatchi were really pleased with the end result. “Each stage in the process brought a unique set of problems for us to overcome, and it allowed us to flex our brains in different ways than we typically get to do when putting together advertising campaigns,” says Adams. “And that’s what Toyota Prius Projects is all about – connecting with people in fun, inventive ways that go way beyond what you’re likely to find in traditional advertising.”
Unfortunately for cycling enthusiasts, the PXP concept bike was only intended as a design exploration and, as such, it won’t be manufactured. Recently on show at the Eurobike design competition in Germany, it will now go on tour and be integrated into Toyota’s worldwide events.
“Ultimately,” says Adams, “we hope the learnings from this concept exploration will expand the conversation around the future of bike design.”