Product Design

Avoid reinventing the Wheel

By Zach Chastaine

Aviation, drone, and cool gadget enthusiasts were all surprised earlier this year when Russian company Hoversurf unveiled its product design for the Scorpion-3 Hoverbike. The vehicle was exciting to see since nothing quite like it had been built into a functioning product.


The Scorpion-3 is a small flying machine with three rotors and a bicycle-esque seat for the pilot. It can fly a pre-programmed route just like a smaller RC quadcopter, or it can be flown manually.


There is just something a little odd about the product design for the Scorpion-3. It is not a bicycle, but it has been built to be like one.


The very idea of making a “flying bicycle” is the root of at least some of the Scorpion-3’s features, like rotor blades by the rider’s feet where wheels would normally be. It’s a product that is not a bicycle and yet, “bicycle” is a huge part of the thinking behind its design.


Before we dive in, consider that the very first cars designs were styled after horse-drawn carriages. The very first cars were also called “horseless carriages.” A quick image search for “horseless carriage” will turn up a bunch of great photos of carriages that have no horse, but you can’t help but notice that the design of the carriage didn’t change at all.


It took a couple years before designers realized they could design vehicles that didn’t have to revolve around horses. It would be a while before the vehicles we consider modern day “cars” actually took shape. For years designers were locked into the mindset that they were still designing a carriage.


It’s no one’s fault, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As product engineers, we get locked into things that work and we can forget that it’s okay to do something fresh. More importantly, we may not realize that something should be designed from a new perspective rather than modifying an existing product design.


Looking back at the Scorpion-3. A bicycle has two wheels below the rider. A helicopter or quadcopter has one, two, or more rotors that it uses to stay stable in flight. These two things do not necessarily go together. The Scorpion-3 is a vehicle where a misstep by the rider could possibly result in a rotor related injury. Although there are plates in place to avoid this during normal operation.


Scorpion-3 isn’t the only flying machine to make a decent debut. There are flying bicycle designs out there which are, in appearance, exactly like bicycles, except for the fans that lift it off the ground. In some cases, the flying bicycles are so much like bicycles and so cluttered with add-ons in order to fly that it begs the question; why not make an entirely new flying machine?


One task our team at SGW Designworks frequently takes on is helping guide clients with questions like this. Is it better to start from an existing design, or is it better to start from scratch.


Product engineers should look to make purpose-driven designs that accomplish a clearly defined set of goals rather than attempt to add major features to a device that wasn’t originally intended for the desired task.


Sometimes making a change to an existing product can be a very good thing and create a product that is successful. However, this can be challenging and risky.