A Curbside Conversation with Greg Lynn - Part 2

A Curbside Conversation with Greg Lynn – Part 2

(The first part of this interview appeared last week. We caught up with architect, designer and theorist Greg Lynn at the installation of Curbside Inc’s first Pickup Pod, which Lynn designed.  We talked about the pod, composites, and more…)

But, to return from the conceptual back to the sidewalk…

“This is a prototype of a unit that will be mass produced, and because of mass production, it really makes sense to be innovative in terms of part-reduction, simplicity of assembly, and ease of transport and erecting it. And those are things that, frankly, most people aren’t thinking about so much in the building industry. When they’re designing, nobody is really thinking about how easy or difficult things are to put together. Occasionally you make sure that you can get human hands and access into things when you’re assembling it, but it’s more just trying to make sure things aren’t unbuildable. But very rarely do people think about ease of construction. For this project, that was one of the very first mandates, because they’re planning on doing thousands of them. They’ve already got about 60 locations and they’re expanding exponentially. This one is a prototype, it’s going to get moved around. They’re going to try it, and kind of kick the tires, and figure out what needs to be changed. We’re going to look at big box retail, shopping malls like here, maybe even in parking lots.”

The entire Pod has very few parts indeed. The top and back were made in just two big parts. The column and the pin are each a “clam shell,” a shape molded in two halves that are then joined. There’s an aluminum channel integrated into the ceiling and running all the way down the inside wall. The cabinet locks into it, and windscreen panels can be hung from it in case of driving rain. Because of the complexity of the bullnose edge and the aluminum channel, there are seven separate small parts that were cast for the underside. The only other major elements are the metal cabinet, the plexiglass face of the pin, the motor, and the various fasteners and LED lights.

“Otherwise, the requirements are fairly simple,” Lynn continues. “They need shelter from sun and rain. They need a lockable cabinet if they have to step away or something, and to give them a place to store everybody’s order. It’s all integrated into a visually clean set of surfaces. The whole thing’s pretty light. We didn‘t go overboard. I would guess about 1800 lbs, once you get everything in, all the lighting… We didn’t want it too light, so it wouldn’t blow away. The biggest load on it is making sure it doesn’t fly away, so it’s anchored and everything.” The aluminum cabinet accounts for fully 400 lbs. of the total, and may be replaced with a composite casting in a future iteration.

Despite all its electronic functions, the pod is not plugged into the power grid. Everything runs off a battery – perhaps three times the size of a standard car battery – that is expected to power it for up to 18 hours. “The lighting is all LED, we made it as low energy as possible,” commented Lynn. “The big draw really is everybody’s devices who’s working in it. And that motor [that turns the pin] takes a fair amount of juice.” There is talk of putting solar panels on the roof of future editions to provide all necessary power.

We sat for a moment and watched the traffic negotiating around the cones protecting the installation work-area. I wonder aloud whether this is a good location, since it seems to be the main traffic lane for the parking garage, and it’s pretty narrow.

“That’s already a loading area,” responds Lynn. “It turns out a lot of stores have online retail already, and this is a location that people do that. If you buy something online, you can drive up here and run in to pick it up. You can park here for, I think, 30 minutes. The average transaction there [at the Curbside pod], we had to find out for the city planners: 10.7 seconds. So it’s a pretty quick hand-off. You should see them do a transaction. When you pull up, they know it’s you because the phone you bought it with is in the car with you. They just put your package in the back of your car and you’re ready to go.”

(I took him up on it.  I went back to the mall and tried it a few days later.  I learned that Curbside is trying to own the color teal.  They have little oval teal-colored signs along the drive-up route, and they’ve even painted the curb in front of the pod teal.  The pickup was ultra-painless.  You can see a short video of it here.  The actual pickup time, from slightly before my car stopped rolling until I started again, was about 13 seconds.  It happened so quick, I could barely get decent video of it, even on my second pickup.   But back to Installation Day… )

I asked Lynn what this kiosk would have been made of 20 years ago? Sheet metal, perhaps?

“Maybe. Again, it’s got to be mass producible. I don’t know if you would have something that would be so portable and modular. It could have been made of fiberglass 20 years ago, it’s just that people weren’t thinking about that.

“I would say that’s really what drove us to composites.   The cycle time to make one is not as quick as it would be if we were, say, stamping metal in a car plant, but then again, the tooling is affordable. And affordability is a big part of it. These things can’t cost like buildings, they can’t cost $100,000 each. If you did things like stamp in the logo, as we can do with composites, it would get prohibitively expensive.

There are other improvements and efficiencies yet to come. “This is all painted. I think we’ll probably gel-coat the next round. Just to speed it up. It took probably four days for somebody to prepare it, prime it and paint it. If we gel coat it, it comes out of the mold ready to go. That’s another thing about composites that’s nice, you can get a finished part right out of the tool, you don’t have to do a lot of post-finishing. It’ll probably save like $3000 doing the gel coat.”

Lynn expects that Kreysler will fabricate a small run of revised, improved versions, perhaps fifteen, as the next stage. How many pods beyond that? There’s no telling. It depends, probably, on how much Curbside expands.

Lynn regarded the pod, and mused about bringing the benefits of composites into this very public use. “This, I would say, is state of the art for me. We needed something that would be easily and accurately mass-produced, without huge expensive tooling, with as few parts as possible, and lightweight. There’s not a whole lot of materials you could do all those things with, other than composites. If you started to delete any one out of that equation, you could go to other kinds of materials, but I think it would be a natural for composites.”

Some images courtesy of Kreysler and Associates, or Curbside, Inc., as noted.