In the lead-up to each magazine issue, Frame challenges emerging designers to answer a topical question with a future-forward concept. As Google, Tesla, Ford and Apple test self-driving vehicles, Space X founder Elon Musk envisions Hyperloop highways and Uber dreams up a network of flying cars, for Frame 118 we commissioned five makers to conceptualize and visualize their idea of the vehicle of the future.
Leveraging his background in design research and his professional experience in luxury design, JinSik Kim confronts sustainability issues in the automobile industry with aluminium foam: a light, strong, porous material that can function as a car’s frame and surface, thus reducing the number of components needed for car production.
You want to eliminate the waste involved in car production?
JINSIK KIM: Absolutely. There are currently far too many components used in building a vehicle. Car brands need to work out how to produce a more efficient vehicle with fewer parts, and designers need to collaborate with materials engineers to explore new production methods.
You've focused on a particular material to achieve that goal . . .
I propose using aluminium foam [Kim’s term is ‘foaming aluminium’] for both structure and surface. This will make the vehicle significantly lighter and more compact – and that’s good. However, developing a vehicle that is made predominately of empty space and aluminium will require car manufacturers and creatives to invent a new design language.
What does the material look and feel like?
It depends on where you’re at in the production process. At first, the foam will expand inside a mould, much like dough rises in an oven. Once the foam sets, it will be similar to bone. It’s a fascinating material, because it’s light, strong and sound-absorbing.
Was your choice of aluminium foam driven by functional or aesthetic concerns?
Both. As I’ve said, the idea is to use aluminium foam for the vehicle’s frame and surface, which significantly reduces the number of materials needed for production. Furthermore, as I foresee people using their cars primarily for short journeys, the interior will be very simple – resembling that of today’s public transport – with a minimum of materials. Aluminium foam is also suitable for car interiors, by the way.
Will people be able to customize the interiors?
Yes. Aluminium foam will be available in various textures and colours. Customers will be able to enjoy all the luxury and choice they now have with leather, wood and carbon fibre, but in a more sustainable form.
A material this light could prompt your concept to take off in a new direction.
A very lightweight car might be able to fly as well, but that’s a long-term application. More important is that a compact car uses far less fuel than a larger car, making my concept highly efficient in terms of energy consumption.
Finally, you’ve thought of a happy ending for every car made from aluminium foam.
Yes. One of aluminium’s biggest advantages is its complete recyclability. Instead of relegating old cars to the scrapyard, automotive manufacturers can recycle the vehicles and turn the material into new cars.