RCA Takes Driving Seat in Automotive Design Innovation

Established world leader in the field of vehicle design and research, the Royal College of Art (RCA) has announced a new Intelligent Mobility Lab as a key part of its ambitious new capital development in Battersea South.

An ambitious and transformative research initiative, based at the number one art and design college in the world, the new Intelligent Mobility Lab (IML) at Battersea will prove a game changer in the transportation design and innovation arena. Envisioned to serve as a central, multidisciplinary research centre with design at its core, the opportunity to focus on new ways of designing, influencing new behaviours, and developing new methodologies and vehicle typologies that address societal issues are what has excited newly appointed Lab Director and inaugural Chair in Intelligent Mobility Professor Dale Harrow.

'Transportation design is concerned with a host of new paradigms – we’re designing for shared use and ownership, autonomous vehicles and a seismic shift in the way that we view and use transportation today,' said Professor Harrow. 'The IoT (Internet of Things) is influencing transport design today in much the same way that fuel consumption occupied the industry in the early 1980s after the oil crisis. Today, the push is for hyper-connectivity and AI. With over half the world's population now living in cities, mass and personal transportation takes on a new urgency, particularly in the developing world. The IML will focus on the full spectrum – from the luxury performance object to the driverless train and freight drone.'

Dr Paul Thompson, Rector of the Royal College of Art, said: 'This is an extremely exciting moment in the RCA's history as we launch new research ventures such as the Intelligent Mobility Lab, a new research centre dedicated to the future of transportation design, systems and urban mobility. Innovative, disruptive design and design thinking lies at the very heart of the College's strategic plan. The RCA has trained some of the world's greatest automotive designers – including Peter Schreyer, Ian Callum and Gerry McGovern. I have no doubt that IML will play a vital role in fostering successive generations of world-leading designers in vehicle, transport and hyper-connected cities.'

Professor Naren Barfield, Pro-Rector of the Royal College of Art, added: 'This exciting new development builds on Professor Dale Harrow’s successful research in autonomous vehicles, the design of the new emergency ambulance, and a new taxi for London, and we are delighted he has accepted the Chair. As a globally recognised and respected leader in vehicle design, Dale is the ideal candidate to lead the new research centre and to ensure the RCA retains its pre-eminent position in the field.' 

Professor Barfield also placed on record the College's debt of gratitude to Professor Harrow for leading the School of Design since 2011, citing his 'significant achievements' in developing and growing the School, supporting new programme development, and integrating the infrastructure for teaching and research.

The Intelligent Mobility Lab

One of the most important themes in the RCA’s new Battersea campus, announced in November 2015, will be the IML: the Intelligent Mobility Lab – within which key industry partners will occupy confidential laboratory spaces for private, independent projects. Technology is changing mobility, and the RCA is ideally placed to marshal stockholders and stakeholders through the imminent and inevitable change in both the industry and society at large; the RCA is in the vanguard of the ‘third age‘ of automotive design.

The IML will bridge the gap between academia and industry, at the most significant juncture in the automotive world since the creation of the internal combustion engine and the production line. As a consequence, knowledge exchange and innovation will be more readily enabled, leading to the design, testing and adoption of areas such as clean energy, driverless vehicles, new user interfaces and ‘smart technology’; areas in which design plays the defining role in terms of market differentiation and competitive advantage. 

The new IML at Battersea is envisioned to serve as a central, multidisciplinary research centre with design at its core – looking at solutions and innovations across a range of key themes, such as: 

• Autonomous vehicles – from technological design to the sociological impact of driverless cars and public transport (including the end-to-end journey experience and the all important ‘last mile’)
• Sustainability – environmental solutions for both manufacturer and consumer in a post-fossil-fuel world
• The wide-ranging application of ‘smart’ technology in mobility – from smart cars and smart interiors, to smart cities transforming the urban landscape and city planning processes
• Safety, servicing and maintenance – responding to future shifts in skill-base, and the transition from mechanics to those with a high level of electronic and programming skills.

The Intelligent Mobility Lab has been made possible by a generous philanthropic pledge.