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RCA Partners with British Airways

The Royal College of Art (RCA) has collaborated with British Airways to explore the next 100 years of aviation. An exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, London, 1–26 August 2019, will showcase collaborative projects from students across the College that imagine the flight of the future, based on an in depth research report commissioned by British Airways to mark their centenary.

The exhibition BA 2119: Flight of the Future, puts forward imaginative ideas that explore how future generations will circumvent the globe, taking into consideration advanced jet propulsion, hyper personalisation, automation, AI, modular transport, sustainability, health and entertainment. Concepts from over forty MA, MRes and PhD students engage expertise across Intelligent Mobility, Service Design, Textiles, Fashion, Architecture, Interior Design, Design Products and Innovation Design Engineering. The exhibition covers many aspects of the future of flight, but also presents compelling visions for how we might inhabit the earth in 100 years time. 

‘The exhibition brings together some of the RCA’s brightest minds across a range of nationalities and creative disciplines, with aviation experts to explore the future of flying’ explained Professor Ashley Hall, Professor of Design Innovation in the School of Design. ‘Working with British Airways, we’ve applied design research and innovation thinking to develop this inspirational exhibition. We hope to show a few surprises for what might be in store for travellers over the next 100 years to map out the future of flight.’

BA 2119: Flight of the Future exhibition
Aerium, BA 2119: Flight of the Future exhibition
The RCA students spent three months developing concepts that build on insights from the BA 2119: Flight of the Future Report, which was carried out in collaboration with the leading data-led trends agency Foresight Factory. The report is one of the largest global consumer travel studies of its kind – surveying 13,000 consumers across ten countries and consultations with leading sector experts and futurologists to offers a picture of what flying will look like in 20, 40, 60 and even 100 years into the future.

The RCA students' concepts are underpinned by inputs from industry experts, including RCA alumni Tibor Balint, Principal Human Centered Designer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Ian Scoley, Vice President of Safran Cabin Innovation and Design Studio. This expertise and guidance helped the students to refine their initial concepts with feedback on practical restrictions such as the economics of the industry and manufacturing restraints.

The exhibition was launched on 30 July with a panel discussion chaired by technology journalist Georgie Barrat and featuring: Alex Cruz, Chairman and CEO, British Airways; Alison FitzGerald, Chief Operating Officer, London City Airport; Anab Jain, Director & Co-founder, Superflux and RCA alumna; Dupsy Abiola, Head of Global Innovation, International Airlines Group; and project guest Ian Scoley. 

During the panel discussion, Alison FitzGerald commented that the exhibition ‘challenges the mind, with what might be available’ and discussed the need for cross industry collaborations to solve future challenges within aviation. Dupsey Abiola described the student projects as ‘amazing concepts’, and spoke about a positive future enabled through collaborations with young designers and innovators. Ian Scoley discussed how the industry is reaching the end of iterative development and the need to ‘get on a whole new curve’ in terms of innovation. He suggested that RCA designers in the capacity as outsiders, can ‘shake things up’ providing an energising input to the industry.

BA 2119: Flight of the Future exhibition
Tastenation, BA 2119: Flight of the Future exhibition
Three concepts were awarded prizes in three categories:

Innovative British Airways Customer Experience: Tastenation –  a concept that proposes using passengers’ DNA to create 3D printed food bespoke to each traveller that would deliver health benefits, as well as reduce food wastage.

Inspiring Creative Future Vision: Curio – a hypersonic modular aircraft with zero emissions, that would connect future mega cities. Passengers would board numerous smaller modular craft that would interlock in different configurations to create flexible interiors adaptable to different traveller needs.

Disruptive Innovation: AVII (Avy) delivers a hyper personalised service to passengers through AI in collaboration with cabin crew. Using data submitted by passengers, AVII would understand what individuals want and need based on physiological data and emotional analysis. 

A recurring topic in the exhibition and panel discussion was sustainability and the future of emission free flight. One of the student concepts, Aerium, proposes ‘bioavionics’ – integrating synthetic biological entities with electromechanical systems on aircraft to create clean water and generate electricity while flying. S-LOW DOWN imagines a future flight that addresses sustainable living as well as wellness, with a slow, immersive experience that places value on the journey. 

Part of the challenge the students faced was imagining the world we will inhabit in 100 years time. While many ideas in the exhibition might seem far fetched they are based on technology currently under development. 

BA 2119: Flight of the Future exhibition
Aer, BA 2119: Flight of the Future exhibition
This includes: Aer a shape changing smart luggage transportation concept that adapts and levitates uses nanotechnology, soft robotics and bio tech; Airware a future wearable airplane seat that can adjust to support the passenger’s comfort, wellbeing and freedom of movement while flying; and The Future of Luggage, which predicts the next step after 3D printing clothing will be digital ‘pixelsuits’, that mimic materials to create the illusion of clothes without the need for 3D matter. 

Alongside the student work, the exhibition also features a one-of-a-kind, full motion, virtual reality experience, which charts the history of flying and looks forward to the future. Elements of the RCA student projects fed into the future facing element of the VR experience.        

Discussing the project, British Airways’ Chairman and Chief Executive Alex Cruz said: ‘The findings of the BA 2119: Flight of the Future Report not only offer us unprecedented insight into how consumers across the world feel about flying now, but what they will expect from us, as airlines, in the future. In the last ten years alone, the airline industry and flight experience has changed in so many significant ways, including improved fuel efficiency, noise reduction, in cabin design and luxury. It is therefore not hard to see how, at this rate of progress, these seemingly unreal predictions will come true.

'This is a really exciting way to mark our centenary, which has seen us remember the past, celebrate the present and predict the future in collaboration with fantastic partners from across industry and academia.’

Find out more about Programmes across the School of Design and Architecture and how to apply.

BA 2119: Flight of the Future
Saatchi Gallery
Duke of York's HQ
King's Road

1–26 August 2019, 10am–6pm