When the design team at Bombardier Recreational Products was asked to visualise the sailboat of the year 2025, it clearly had plenty of sources for ideas. The idea-driven company specialises in designing and manufacturing recreational products of almost every conceivable ilk - snowmobiles, jet skis, speedboats, inboard and outboard marine motors, go-karts, motorcycle and aircraft engines, high tech clothing, helmets, all terrain vehicles ad infinitum.
Once part of the massive Bombardier Transportation (trains, planes etc) conglomerate, BRP is now a stand-alone company that only makes recreational products and its mission statement is quite clear - 'to bring you the most exciting and innovative recreational experience possible.' ' Whatever market we are in, we always strive to be the one who, by its ideas, sets new benchmarks and changes it forever,' is the official company line and itr has certainly pioneered a few now major recreational markets, having designed the first snowmobile and jet ski.
Last year Bombardier's Embrio concept was one of the most popular stories on Gizmag - it was the third most downloaded story for the entire year from more than 1000 new stories and it wasn't published until mid-November. It's concept was breathtaking - a high-power version of the Segway.
The Bombardier Invitation Sail Boat is equally as audacious, though the concept is not as obvious at first glance. It won a Bronze Medal at the 2003 International Design Excellence Awards, yet it hasn't been picked up in the press, and Bombardier has been remarkably coy about disclosing the details of the design, presumably because it is planning to pioneer another market and doesn't want to give too much away.
Bearing in mind that 2025 is more than two decades away, many new technologies will be available for the 'Invitation' by then. The brief Bombardier statement on the Invitation's feature set reads in part: 'Interface would be with artificial intelligence providing behaviours that would adapt to the users' personality and skill.'
Bombardier also envisions the operation of the 'Invitation' will be 'similar to riding a horse,' in that 'subtle (changes to) body language' will control the boat's direction, steering and attitude 'more than operations related to conventional boating.' Artificial intelligence will progress significantly over the next two decades so Bombardier envisions a sailboat which sails in the same way a fighter aircraft flies - the pilot's fly-by-wire controls tell the plane what to do, and the massive computing power takes over and does the rest.
By 2025, given that Moore's Law has become a self-fulfilling prophecy which no company is prepared to transgress, we can confidently expect this sailboat will have far more computing power available than anything currently in the sky, even if it has a NASA badge on it. Not only will it be powerful, it will be incredibly cheap because the microprocessor will by then be offering a cost-performance we can scarcely imagine right now.
Similarly, the sail adjustments to capture the wind which are today done with strength and balance on a small sailing boat or wind-surfer will be done electronically by then. Given the rate of progress of fuel-cell design and mass manufacture, and that most of the world's automobiles will have been fuel-cell powered for a decade by 2025, the power unit for the electric motors which trim and adjust the sails will again be cheap, light and powerful.
Finally, Bombardier also states that the 'Invitation' will have 'behaviors that would adapt to the users' personality and skill', indicating that the skill levels will be adjustable, much the same way they are in a computer game now, with the machine able to sense the capabilities of the rider in the same way that a riding school horse compensates for the learner and stretches its legs for the intermediate rider.
Responsiveness and sensitivity to the balance of the rider are just a few of the characteristsics we can expect here. In all it looks like the future of sailing might actually be available to everyone, as the intelligent sailboard will adapt an interpret sailor behaviours to enable the learner to forgo the long and painful learning process.
It's sure to be a bugbear for all those who spent long hours learning their sailing craft, but it will make this wonderful sport available to everyone. And at the bleeding edge of this design, imagine the Formula One sailing races, with perhaps a weight and dimensions limit and the need to use the wind for motive power. What types of cleverness could be brought to bear on such craft.