A 51,000-Pound RV Made for a Little Girl Is Coming to Vegas
You remember the KiraVan, right? You must. It’s that modern marvel of engineering we told you all about last year that was built to ferry around a former Disney Imagineer and his young daughter. It’s the super-jacked dream RV with 400-pound Kevlar reinforced tires, telescopic masts fitted with night vision cameras and lightning sensors, and a pop-up penthouse tent on the top. Yeah, you remember now.
After five years and hundreds of hours of customizing and tweaking and some creative thinking, Bran Ferren’s KiraVan is ready to make its first public ride down the Las Vegas Strip as part of this week’s SEMA automotive aftermarket specialty product show.
Ferren named the van for his daughter, Kira, and designed it to be the most optimized and versatile possible vehicle in which to explore the world together. Being a dad with a dream is nice and all, but when that dad is the co-founder of Applied Minds—a company that provides design and tech consulting for enterprises like Lockheed Martin, Intel and General Motors—using your free time at work to construct the ultimate global expedition vehicle is the equivalent of a civilian saying, “Let’s build a treehouse this weekend, sweetheart!”
What started as a Mercedes-Benz Unimog has become one of the world’s biggest smart cars, one that could ferry you through the zombie apocalypse unscathed. It utilizes microwave and laser radar systems, ultrasonic range finders and HD cameras for situational awareness. The diesel tanks hold 170 gallons of fuel, are heated to combat deep cold, and can traverse 2,000 miles of normal terrain before needing a top off.
The climate in the living quarters is regulated with walls made of super-insulated composite material, and the waste management system incinerates sewage for easy and non-toxic disposal. The penthouse that pops out of the top was designed in collaboration with Kira herself.
Just because the KiraVan is Vegas-bound doesn’t mean you’ll be spotting it on the I-15 between its Glendale, California home and the Nevada desert. Ferren says the Van is still technically in its “pre-testing phase”, and not ready to make the 300-mile road journey on its own six wheels. “It won’t be finished at SEMA. It won’t be finished in five years,” explains Ferren, who refers to the expedition vehicle as a “platform” because of its functionality as a testing ground for utility transit at such a scale.
While Ferren might one day enjoy trips across the globe with Kira in her van—by which point she may be old enough to take the wheel—the real win of a project like this is getting companies like GM and Lockheed interested in applying Ferren’s ideas to future projects. The appearance at SEMA will be the engineer’s first chance to bait the hook for innovators looking to expand and piggyback on his efforts.
“To me this process of exploration is not just about what you expose, but what you explore about building these sorts of vehicles and how you use them. For SEMA it will be together enough so one can look at it, climb into it, understand how it all works and goes together.”
To get from the KiraVan from its home at the Applied Minds workshop all the way to its coming out ball in Vegas, Ferren will split it in two, the front cab tractor and the trailer with the living quarters, and transport it using two flatbed trucks.
Despite all the technology and amenities packed into the KiraVan, it is still only the size of a large RV or a city bus, and once it arrives in Vegas it will only require a modest crew of four to make sure everything is back together in working order. That might not sound like a feat of technological wonder—where are the cranes and welders and heavy machinery?!—but when you’re making something for your five-year-old daughter to take all over the world, it better be easy to assemble and disassemble.
Even if the KiraVan won’t technically be complete by the time it arrives in Vegas, Ferren says the benefit of a show like SEMA is taking in new ideas for how to move forward with his platform/passion project, “It’s kind of a nice opportunity to start actually getting some input, because projects like this are about the accumulated wisdom of what everyone poured and synthesized into a new thing. This is part of the ongoing research, and the reality is this is not my idea. This is the idea of all the people who have come together. I am just leading the design.”
When WIRED first reported on the KiraVan last spring, its status was “almost, sorta, kinda finished,” but with technology improving every year it’s hard to know when to throw in the towel. Ferren has upgraded the solar power, air conditioning systems, and software in the vehicle as more efficient solutions have become available. He says millions of lines of code have been written to optimize the vehicle and bring it to life. But through it all, not even the engineering and design prowess of Ferren has been able to solve one lingering problem: Where do you put the damn cupholder? “That is still in the process of debate!” says Ferren. “If there’s one thing that’s gonna drive me crazy it’s the cupholder.”
Here’s hoping that in 2016, the brain trust at Applied Minds can finally tackle its white whale of beverage convenience.
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