Zep'lin flying boat ponders the future of electric vehicles


March 9, 2010

Zep'lin concept design by Damien Grossemy

Zep'lin concept design by Damien Grossemy

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A boat that flies. Now there's a vehicle Phileas Fogg could really have used. Zep'lin is a blue-sky concept developed by industrial designer Damien Grossemy during a five month internship at Renault which imagines the use of solar panel sails and electric propulsion to liberate the yacht-like vehicle from terra firma.

Setting out to "explore new design language of electric vehicles," Grossemy has come up with a land anywhere vertical architecture that incorporates a propeller drive, flexible wing and rudder system that would enable the craft to tilt sideways to make the most of the Sun's rays.

Beautiful, elegant design? Yes. Workable? We live in hope!

Via The Design Blog.

About the Author
Noel McKeegan After a misspent youth at law school, Noel began to dabble in tech research, writing and things with wheels that go fast. This bus dropped him at the door of a freshly sprouted in 2002. He has been Gizmag's Editor-in-Chief since 2007. All articles by Noel McKeegan

In ideal conditions this could work, but reality is far from ideal, sadly. Consider the different scenarios in which the concept vehicle might have to work when one really plans to go around the world like overcast skies and storms when flying over water, and the obvious risks of overland flying when this becomes a necessity. All the same, I am really excited about this vehicle. Keeping my fingers crossed for now, and praying for it to succeed.

Facebook User

OMG!!!!!! my mind just went,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, i must make one of these if they don\'t. I mean to say this will revolutionize the way people throughout the world live and travel as much as the personal computer has already did. Please remember us who are living on a budget we need to escape the old ways too.


And coming in for a landing at the mooring post..\"oh the humanity!\"


Awesome way to travel!

Facebook User

..and if you want to park it on a windy day?


What exactly keeps this most elegant craft aloft? Is it a form of hot air balloon with the solar panels heating the air and driving the prop? Or have I missed something?

Aussie Bob

I found the past story about the Boyfriend Pillow more compelling. This flyin boat fairy tale is the dumbest one yet. The design, if someone were dumb enough to build it, would get bitch slapped around in the wind and spiral into an cartwheel crash.

This design will only fly on your computer screen. So get your popcorn, favorite adult libation and smoking material, and sit back. Enjoy your fantasy!


A beautiful presentation. A fight of fancy, indeed! As Aussie Bob commented, is it a hot air balloon? More likely helium filled. I think the gas envelope would need to be a lot larger to lift any appreciable weight. I would remove the cowl round the propellor, and what is that strange one sided wing all about? solar cells for power are going to weigh a fair amount.

I think Damien has too much time on his hands whilst working for, and getting paid by Renault


The idea of using natural buoyancy in a heavier-than-air vehicle as part of the lift needed is not new, but it seems as if history needs to repeat itself and the real world has to prove the viability of an application.

An important aspect of using gas as part of the lifting force is that the gas container (balloon, bladder, etc) has to be big to be of any serious lifting value. Drag and the power needed to overcome it then becomes a point to consider in maneuverability. The balance of lift from buoyancy and aerodynamic force will determine in a large part the useability of a vehicle, and it will need to be big if it will have any serious lifting capacity. Look at the existing or the historical lighter than air population and you will get an idea of this aspect.


It looks like the naysayers have forgotten to look at the size of the design in relation to the people depicted: That envelope is rather sizeable.

As to those who say it is a \"dumb fairytale\" or that the designer is getting paid too much: have you done better?

When you get Renault to give your ideas serious consideration, let me know.

Darren Johnson

I KNOW ALL ABOUT THIS... i have been abit obsessed with zepellins for 2 years, they run on helium, rare resource, and hydrogen, explosive... if you can contain the hydrogen in a nonflammeable coating, and place a security parashute onto the hub, so it detaches from the baloon when it burns, you would be safe. so the idea is to travel with the wind and never agains the wind, with a sail? i think that is silly, the classic ghurkin zeppelin is much better, to go back and forth from work with IMHO. at 60kph, you could still cross a state/country in a day.

Ooh Bertie

You need relative velocity for a wing to develop lift. When you are blowing along at the speed of the wind, you get no lift from a wing. So, if they\'re just solar cell holders, why call them \'wings?\' And as an above poster mentions, it takes an awful low of volume to develop lift in a balloon. Consider the zepplin and its very small cab slung beneath.


Darren Johnson:

Thanks for straightening out the armchair critics in the crowd above. Every one of you critics, post your inventions now or shut-up!

I have enough creations of my own to recognize a visionary concept. Most of the critics haven\'t even watched the video carefully. The zeppelin is about 200 m height and 75 m long.

Sure, it\'s just a concept with room for improvement, but it really catches one\'s imagination.

Hey Big Cat, an aircraft needs a rudder (or counter propulsive system) for stabilization for external forces (wind) as well as for counter-acting the thrust of the electric propeller. In this scenario, the left wing works for forward thrust much like a glider wing does when you nose down in a thermal. In normal flight, the zeppelin is pushing forward against the air, not blowing along with it like a balloon. Hence the wing can develop lift with a forward component.

Take a look at a bunch of the design concept drawings at the beginning of the video, they are interesting.

Thanks Damien for a creative approach to a zeppelin, -Steve-

Facebook User

...while the discussion about the feasibility of this goes on, Seymour Powell has unveiled an entire hotel based on this concept!

here is a link to it

This week DW-TV\'s Euromaxx program also ran a short news item on this concept...can be watched as a Video on Demand or their You Tube page.

Facebook User

As above I see this as a concept with some innovative aspects. With some vectored thrust and cyclic control on the prop you could add lift also. I think another similar drive assembly mounted on the end of the rudder/wing would help in my opinion. The other envelope designs in the sketches are interesting and some may be more practical. I believe that the shape of the envelope and the hardwood gondola and drive in the concept illustrations and animations are a beautiful reminder of sailing yachts from a time when aesthetics were not as much sacrificed for practicality in design.

Paul Friedrich

Again once you\'re decoding Gravity via T-energy, all these silly designs are obsolete. Gravity.html

Reso Factor

Wow landing an airship at Crissy Field? Shows how disconnected this design is.


I like the concept, although I thought at first look that the boat traveled backwards. I thought the end with the propeller was the back, nevertheless I enjoyed the video. Some of the other scetches looked promising to me. I would love the opportunuty to fly in a working flying boat. Very creative idea


Boss! Boss! Zep'lin! Zep'lin! Fantasy Island!

I didn't know Renault was into video games.

I have to go with the critics on this one. We need to come up with some practical steps to get to these flights of fantasy.

Better alternative fuels and resource management are a whole lot more crucial right now then seeing what kind of bizarre computer-generated utopian creations we can come up with next.

If it was posted as art or new sci-fi I wouldn't be so harsh - what else are the world's corporations wasting time and money on?

Check out the Piasecki PA-97 and get back to me on the potential of lighter-than-air vehicles like this. They spent a fortune on that thing and crashed it right near the Hindenburg spot and killed the test pilot almost immediately after lift off.

Let's focus on something immediately practical and not just daydream about such things.


makes you wonder what it would take to make a 14.5psi vaccum balloon (as opposed to +14.7 psi air pressure)? bought the size of a semi-trailer for ~200# lift. Just a big 'empty' balloon....


Intriguing. I can reduce sail in high winds, but with this you can't. I guess you can get going pretty fast depending on wind conditions, but you can get blown away. And too fast to land where you want to.

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