Motonium Design, Inc. – Timothy Prentice, President
Mission R Electric Superbike
Mission R Electric Superbike
The Mission R is a high performance electric motorcycle for international racing competition. It was designed as the prototype for a high-end ultra high performance street motorcycle that embodies unique electrical and mechanical technologies to achieve new levels of performance and efficiency for electric vehicles.
Motonium Design, Inc. – Timothy Prentice, President James Parker – Chassis design and engineering Mission Motors – EV Power-train systems
The electric motorcycle design is driven by performance sports. Hopefully aspirational sports can drive a new green business – as such it brings more to the game than just a new toy. The electric parts are visible, honest and replaceable. It was a relief that the electric parts were not yet again cladded and hidden away. It is desirable design, built on classic racing motorcycle traditions, forming a sustainable racing category. We really enjoyed the excellent finish. We believe the design needs more of its own specificity – for instance, like the other notable motorcycle from the same company has – and over time to better adapt to the nature of a new technology.
Mission R Electric Superbike
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
The challenges in designing the Mission R were twofold: 1) to design a motorcycle bike with very high performance with proper rider ergonomics, aerodynamics, and access for engineers, and 2) to make a compelling and dynamic Industrial Design statement for potential customers and clients in order to re-establish Mission Motors’ identity.
In general, motorcycle design is all about how to package the components in an extremely limited and dynamic envelope, while maintaining highly functional ergonomics combined with efficient aerodynamics. The challenge to designing an electric motorcycle primarily stems from how to incorporate a completely new and unique electric power-train system into a highly functional and exciting product. The largest of the new electrical system components is the battery pack, which is flat sided box. Being a large featureless box is very problematic for ergonomics, not to mention it is the most non dynamic shape.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Many times we can see designs that attempt to be something very new, yet disregard the systems that they are made of. This ‘form over function’ approach sees the capabilities of the motorcycle reduced for the sake of being ‘new’ or novel. To me this has never been the goal of Industrial Design.
There is little knowledge of the unique components in electric vehicles that are different to internal combustion powered vehicles and how those components can affect the design. I believe it was very important to make sure to tell this story in the design of the Mission R. It was very intentional to incorporate and expose the unique components and structure so people can see how they integrate to establish this new design. The understanding of alternative energy vehicle design can improve the perception of these vehicles and help push their development forward.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
As a design consultant, there are typically two main groups to design for: the end customer and the client. My client Mission Motors is a small, forward thinking electric power-train company looking to progress and grow into the world of alternative vehicles power systems. It is critically important for them to have a product that represents not only their technical vision, but also to represent themselves as an emerging and long-term brand.
The customers in this case are core motorcycle enthusiasts looking for compelling design that incorporates new and ‘green’ technology. The goal was to make a bike that was exciting and desirable to these individuals and have the bike visually compete head to head with the best and most advanced motorcycles in the world.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Design of the Mission R relied heavily on my experience designing motorcycles for OEMs, and also as a rider/enthusiast for most of my life. Motorcycles are very specific products that require intimate knowledge of that industry and its customers. We began with discussion of where exactly this motorcycle needed to fit: in the world of motorcycles, the high-tech ‘green’ world, or some combination of the two. Clearly we wanted to make a motorcycle that could sit next to other world class designs and hold its own or even stand out. This was done to give the Mission R a level of familiarity and a way that allows core enthusiasts some point of reference to understand the Mission R as a new type of motorcycle. At the same time it was important that this motorcycle was visibly unique while telling the story of how it was different and why that mattered.
Following our discussions of how to position the Mission R design, I set off making 2D drawings based on a fairly tight engineering package, making a number of iterations while working closely with the chassis designer James Parker and the engineers at Mission. Then the selected drawings were created in surfacing software, and finally these surfaces were handed back to the engineers to make tools for the body. In most cases with OEMs, material selection is very limited due to cost. However in this case, the overriding priority was track performance, so we had the chance to use more exotic materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, and CNC aluminum.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
It is not completely clear yet what the ‘image’ of alternative fuel vehicles is to our society. Some believe alternative energy vehicles can (and should) look completely different to internal combustion vehicles, yet the drive train is only one of many factors which coalesce to determine the ‘look’ of a vehicle. We can see many examples of people forcing their vehicle to look different but inevitably we can also see serious compromises in functionality, cost, ability to manufacture, etc.
If we are to create alternative energy vehicles that benefit our society, we are faced with the challenge of finding that balance of familiar and new, moving forward with reason and passion, to create vehicles that are desirable and compelling aesthetically and functionally. The design goal of the Mission R was to design an alternative energy motorcycle that told the story about itself and its differences while also making it look dynamic and compelling to core motorcycle enthusiasts. It is not enough to have the technology. It must be made desirable to that core customer or it simply won’t be considered a potential alternative.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
Although I am very pleased with the results, I would have preferred to have the time to develop the design using a full scale clay model – to be able to really get the surface development and ergonomics as good as possible. Typically on a project like this there is a significant portion of time given to developing a full size clay model to allow some flexibility in packaging and to refine the design to a much higher level. This step in clay ensures the investment will have the best chance for success. The Mission R design went from 2D images to 3D CAD for hard tooling all in a very short two month time frame. This can be highly risky but is sometimes the only option available, and therefore is important that the team is exceptionally skilled – and don’t mind a few sleepless nights!