March of the pods: How design is going egg-shaped

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 9:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 9:24am

Conjugate the verb "to pod". I pod, you pod, we pod, they pod … yes, the pod is set to come bursting out of solitary confinement thanks to a multitude of design innovations to whisk you and your overstuffed luggage around airports, send you cruising the oceans and at the end of it all give you a place to grab a quick snooze.

From this year, the pod will no longer be the lonely preserve of "I" because everybody will be in or on one. Or using one to open cans of soup. While we're on the subject, what is the ubiquitous Smart car if not two seats in a pod? And what shape is your computer mouse, anyway?

Thanks to a global assimilation by stealth, humans are becoming pod people - a development identified by Mark Sanders, British inventor of the Strida folding bicycle and all manner of household appliances, including his One-Touch pod-shaped can opener.

"There is a trend towards more human-centric aesthetics, which is appropriate for objects intimately close to humans," Sanders says.

"This is a shift from a traditional approach that makes economics, engineering and manufacturability the priority.

"I have put this human-centric philosophy into products. For example, taking the normally sharp-edged metallic can opener an turning it into an egg-shaped object that redefines what a can-opening tool can be - from something threatening to something intimate and friendly."

On a larger scale, the industrial-design world is already partly pod proportioned, not least when it comes to transport and sleepovers.

Although Minority Report-style private conveyances are still only a virtual reality, automatic railway-style pod networks are already in use at London's Heathrow airport, and in Abu Dhabi's Madsar City, the world's first planned, sustainable urban environment.

Seating four people, each Ultra pod in the Heathrow personal rapid transit system glides electrically around the terminals; passengers push a destination button and GPS does the rest.

"For personal things that we touch, travel in or feel any sort of affinity with, smooth, clean, simple, organic forms are appropriate," Sanders says.

And more proof can be found out on the ocean, where a 7.3-metre, egg-smooth pod yacht is turning the design tide. The hand-built Italian Jet Capsule, launched at last September's Monaco Yacht Show, resembles a large jet ski with a roof and windows, seats up to nine people, has more curves than Karlie Kloss and is yours for US$177,000 for the "limousine-transport" model, rising to US$270,000 for the VIP vessel.

For such a big splash buyers will want bespoke creature comforts; they may choose from several designs, all the work of an architect, that make admirable use of the carbon fibre craft's space. The Living Jet Capsule, incorporating a bathroom and sofas that can be turned into a double bed, is the flagship.

And among landlubbers requiring a jet lag-busting snooze, Sanders' preferred form finds yet more support.

"Egg-shaped objects are nearest to the ideal for personal things," he says. "They can be placed or moved against any part of a human and not scratch or damage our thin skins. And on an emotional level they present a non-threatening shape - no spikes, sharp edges or roughness - which welcomes intimacy."

Cue another Abu Dhabi initiative, this time the egg-inspired pods available at its international airport.

The shape of things to come - or of things already here - the Go Sleep pod, designed by Uni of Finland, costs US$12.25 an hour and encloses the tired traveller on a business class-style seat beneath a roller door. The first 10 were installed a few months ago, threatening the very existence of that canny traveller's old standby - the sleeping-in-airports website.