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The car of the future will float

Maglev vehicle concept wins Renault and Central Saint Martins student design competition

Mark Moran
25 September 2017
The Float concept would use Maglev technology
The Float concept would use Maglev technology
Yuchen Cai
Yuchen Cai


A floating car concept was named best future concept at designjunction 2017, which took place in London last week.

Yuchen Cai was announced as the winning student during designjunction 2017’s opening evening. Cai created ‘The Float’, a vision of a Maglev vehicle car that will provide a new way of connecting with people, a new form of mobility and portrays an idea of how drivers can be more open and social to the outside world as autonomy becomes ever popular.

The Float won a collaborative design competition between Renault and Central Saint Martins, UAL.

The competition was part of a challenge by Renault to encourage the students of MA Industrial Design to think about the future of autonomous, modular car design, and how infrastructure and services might support it.

Renault expects affordable, autonomous, connected, electric vehicles to be on the roads from the early 2020s. The car-maker tasked the MA Industrial Design students to focus on a transport landscape that is changing quickly and dramatically.

The competition was judged by two of Renault’s senior design team – Anthony Lo, vice-president of exterior design and François Leboine, chief exterior designer – as well as Nick Rhodes, Central Saint Martins programme director, product, ceramic and industrial design and Nick Clinton, creative director of Fusion 2K Ltd.

The competition was whittled down from 15 students to three semi-finalists over the summer.

  • Stephanie Chang Liu for her ‘Flo’ design, which included three different sized vehicles for three different uses
  • Tuna Yenici for his emotive vehicle named ‘Vue’
  • Yuchen Cai for her vision of vehicles moving around using Maglev technology, called ‘The Float’.

The finalists were shown for the first time at designjunction 2017, which ran in London from 21-24 September.

Renault’s Anthony Lo said: “This is the second time we have run a design competition with Central Saint Martins and once again our eyes have been opened to the extraordinary talent and imagination of the students and to the ways in which humans could travel in the future. Renault is focussed on creating autonomous, connected electric vehicles and it’s great to see that Central Saint Martins’ Industrial Design students really took this on board when creating their vision of the future.

“Yuchen’s winning design was particularly interesting thanks to its use of Maglev technology and its tessellated design. It was a pleasure to have her at the Renault design studios and see her vision come to life.”

Central Saint Martins’ Nick Rhodes added: “From a technological viewpoint, the prospect of vehicle autonomy is fascinating, but it's also critical to hold in mind that such opportunities also present significant challenges to how people interact and their experience of future cities. Recognition of the success of the projects here lies in their ability to describe broader conceptions of what driverless vehicles might become and how we may come to live with them."


The Float

Yuchen Cai is 23 and hails from Shanghai. She studied at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering in Industrial Design. Her design is named ‘The Float’ on account of its form and function.

Cai’s vision of the vehicle of the future looks like a bubble when in transit. Rather than moving on wheels, the vehicle uses magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology. Made with transparent glass on the exterior and with silver seats, it has a futuristic design aesthetic.

The concept of the design is based around the car becoming more of a social space. In Cai’s design, the car of the future provides a new way of connecting with people through tessellation, connecting with the outside world more thanks to the application of large swathes of glass and will also be ‘non-directional’ with the ability to move in any direction at any time without the need to turn around.

 Cai’s autonomous vehicle concept allows pods for either one or two people to be made. Through the geometry of these designs, numerous pods can be attached via a magnetic belt that runs around the exterior so more than two people can travel together.

Ingress and egress is via swivelling bucket seats coupled with sliding doors, akin to those found on the London Underground. A control on the seats enables the passenger to rotate their seat, open up a sound system to speak with passengers in pods connected to theirs and change the opacity of the glass – providing exclusivity or inclusivity according to the passenger’s requirements.

As the winner, Cai spent two weeks at Renault’s design studios in Paris over the summer, working with senior designers to hone her idea. Whilst there, she experienced cutting-edge technology such as a full-size virtual reality suite, which puts the designer right inside the car.

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