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Flights of fancy

It’s a question that authors dread: where do you get your ideas? For creative writers, the answer is normally a vague and slightly annoyed mumble about looking at the world around them, fragments of conversation, the odd article in a magazine. For engineers, the answer should surely be more obvious. Where do we get our ideas? We don’t need to get ideas. We look at the problem in front of us, and bring our knowledge of the physical sciences and our experience of how they work to bear.

But not always, as I found last week.

A briefing about the future of tanks was always going to be interesting, especially when the invitation offered a view of science fiction come to life. We can’t resist that sort of thing on The Engineer — who can? — so I went along to meet the representatives of BAE Systems and see what they had to say.

You can read the salient points of the briefing elsewhere on our website. But it was a seemingly throwaway remark from Future Protected Vehicles project leader Hisham Awad that got my well-developed nerd senses tingling.

While Awad was showing one of his team’s concept vehicles, the unmanned skirmisher known as Raider, another of the assembled journalists gave a low whistle.

‘I like that,’ he said. ‘Looks like the Batmobile.’

‘Ah!’ Awad replied, with a grin. ‘Glad you said that. That’s what we based it on.’


‘Yes, we liked the look of that, so we designed something similar.’

What, the Batmobile in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight?

‘Yes, that one. You see, it turns like a motorbike and it has the same wheel configuration.’

Yes, yes, but you’re basing a future fighting vehicle on something you saw in a film?

‘Well, why not?’ Awad replied. ‘In all seriousness, we decided that we didn’t have a monopoly on inspiration, and if we saw something in a film that we thought might be a good idea, why not take a look at it and see if there’s something practical we can develop?’


Why yes, it does look like the Batmobile.

Why not indeed? Keen observers of military vehicles might notice a similarity between modern troop carriers and the armoured vehicle in Aliens, which took the ill-fated Colonial Marine force into the heart of the Xenomorph’s nest. It’s no coincidence; director James Cameron had worked with the Pentagon when developing the film’s design, and the inspiration evidently went both ways.

And the two-way traffic continues; apparently the producers of one of the latest superhero movies, Marvel Comics’ iconic Captain America, were in talks with the manufacturers of a particular military vehicle they liked the look of to be their character’s principal ride, until they found out that the design was Swedish and therefore insufficiently patriotic for the stars-and-stripes-clad hero.

Still, it does make you wonder what’s next. My interest piqued, I couldn’t resist asking what other films Awad’s team had seen recently. Tron Legacy, perhaps?

‘No, haven’t seen that one yet, but I want to,’ he said. ‘Have you? Anything good in it?’

Perhaps the next generation of recruits ought to sharpen up their light-cycle skills. Just in case.

Returning to reality, this is the last Wednesday Agenda for 2010. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these articles, and I’d like to thank all our readers who sent in feedback. We’ll be back in the New Year.

Readers' comments (13)

  • Yes it does look a bit batty.
    Looks like you want a piece of string so you can pull the gun trigger, from way behind, and a pucture repair outfit for the huge tyres that are exposed to flack, oh, and also a radio control unit to drive it , you can get one from the model shop. Might as well put this in the new air craft carrier, when it becomes obsolete by the time its built. I would rather have the Harriers, and the Ark Royal thanks

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  • Why not indeed? Modern pilot training packages are all derived from the thought processes and products of the earliest games writers. What was developed on an Acorn or BBC computer in 1982 has become the mother and father of the huge graphics systems of today - and that embraces just about everything!

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  • It's one of those curious things that we as humans don't like to admit that our ideas came from somewhere else. Some people do have sparks of complete originality and spontenuity however they should then be unable to tell where the idea came from.
    ...but many designs from films (and for me, anime) have to be based on the fact that they can move, survive and serve a purpose in the physical world. So why not find if there is a hidden potential behind them?
    Go for it Awad I say.

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  • Didn't someone from the SAS contact the makers of James Bond's 'Live and Let Die' film regarding the micro-aqualung he uses? Ah well. If the USA can choose its Presidents and State Governors from the ranks of Hollywood stars, why not use designers raiding the same source for inspiration!?


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  • Uuuuugh. Who cares if people get ideas from unexpected places. It's not unusual, and it's also not wrong to do so.

    For example, i wouldn't be surprised if in the past, present, or future NASA has incorporated some designs inspired by science fiction.

    None of this is unheard of. Commenters just aren't on the same brain wave length as the article (aside from me).

    And for god's sake. IT'S A CONCEPT DESIGN RIGHT NOW!!! Yeesh.

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  • Got a question: should the original designer of the Batmobile deserve any credit or money for his work as the inspiration seed for this new design?

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  • if you win the psychological aspect of war, you have won the battle. Next idea is a MechaGodzilla, any takers he he he :D

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  • If it's designed to be a remotely-piloted vehicle, the huge tires could be manufactured from a solid, ballistic material, or even solid metal with a spiked tread for traction. I would still increase the deflection angle of the front armor adjacent to the tires for further protection, move the swingarm assembly further out and back for more stability and protection from front-arc fire. Extendable steel roller projections ahead of the front wheels would make the vehicle more mine-proof. If the main weapon in this mockup is supposed to be a 50. cal, then the vehicle is small and squat. I would consider using a Gatling gun as a main weapon.I would move the gun-mount further to the rear of the vehicle, pivoting just forward of the rear wheel mount, and lower the vertical height of the mount by re-configuring it. The forward Grenade/Mortar launcher could be shortened in height by moving the top rank of launchers to a separate firing position on the left
    flank. This would also distribute the vehicle's weight more evenly. Lowering the vertical height of both weapons both lowers vehicular visibility and increases stability by lowering the center of gravity. For increased use in a hull-down, ambush position, either or all of the weapon systems could have a telescoping mount. Lastly, put some armor on that gun, or it won't last long in the field.

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  • How sad these critics didn't learn how to compose a coherent sentence or spell. Good ideas, from Hollywoodies, obsolete aircraft carriers, or wherever, are good ideas. Critics criticize, but rarely have a good idea. Ha.

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  • Not sure what all the hoopla is about. The FX designers for the movies are essentially product designers. They are just as qualified to create design prototypes as any engineer working at BAE or any other engineering firm. It is the designers job to create an inspiration and the engineers job to make it functional. In the entertainment industry we just aren't limited to what will really work, but we are just as qualified to inspire as any designer in any industry out there.

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