Sailing into the future

BBC CatamaranDESIGN BRIEFS are problematic at the best of times, but when you are asked to design a viable broadcasting catamaran for the 2012 London Olympic Games, that task becomes decidedly more difficult.  Even so, there is always an exception to the rule, and third year automotive design student, Matthew Watson from Shanklin on the Isle-of-White has shown that to be the case with his BBC Catamaran concept, called ‘Oculus’.

The 20-year-old’s course leaders have seemingly found favour with his initial idea, awarding him an overall mark of 78%, and as a direct result Matthew has taken the decision to progress his idea still further.

Setting his design portfolio in front of me, Watson wastes no time in talking me through the thoughts behind each rendering and Alias design, and it soon becomes apparent that his desire to improve upon what is an already thoroughly designed concept is unwavering.

Watson’s BBC Catamaran has been influenced by a number of past, present, and future real-world design icons, but it is the manner in which he has successfully incorporated each into a concept that radiates an athletic and purposeful prowess that impresses most.

And that is no mean feat considering the catamaran’s dimensions: 70 feet in length, 15 feet in width, with an overall water mass approximating 16 tonnes.  But, to his credit, to minimise its impact on the environment, Watson has incorporated an eco-friendly theme into his design.

The streamlined front is akin to Virgin’s high-speed Pendolino train, its roof – influenced by the London Aquatic Centre – incorporates solar panels shaped in a wave formation, and each side incorporates window panels emulating the side vents from Ferrari’s Testarossa supercar.

Earlier designs of the catamaran in comparison were less free-flowing in appearance, hampered considerably by a conservatory style widow section which has since been displaced by the more visually pleasing vents.

His hard-work has so far paid-off, but he admits quite openly that, “If I didn’t enjoy doing this, I wouldn’t continue with it”.  But he does enjoy doing it – and it shows.  It is refreshing to be in the company of someone who is so enthusiastic towards an idea that is many years and even more boardroom decisions away from ever seeing the light of day.

To his credit, Watson now hopes to secure funding from the BBC with the help of Paul Mason – formerly of the BBC, but now head of OBS London (Olympic Boadcasting Services) – who has taken copies of the design to engineers in Madrid, Spain.

Watson takes up the story:  “I have shown Paul my work via a power point presentation, and he has been very positive.  He likes the overall shape and thinks it would fit in well at 2012, so the feedback has been positive.  He will be showing my design to engineers who will have more of a say on the catamaran’s functional aspects rather than the aesthetics.

“My design was solely for the BBC, so I hope that they can take my project further and help me to develop it.  Funding is an option that would allow me to produce a model, or alternatively secure professional designs and sketches from outside the university.  Most importantly, however, is taking my concept and making it into the real thing.”

BBC Catamaran As he awaits feedback from Paul Mason, Watson’s attention now shifts to a boat design competition being organised by The Marine Design Resource Alliance (MRDA) in July.  His preparations are being made in the hope of securing a lucrative amount of prize money nigh on $25,000 (£17,000).

His chances of winning are as good as anybody’s, but irrespective of the eventual winner, Watson tells me that he would have continued with further design and developmental work on his BBC Catamaran regardless.

”Showing ex-company designers on my course and lecturers, they have been really positive about the idea, its shape and aesthetics,” he revealed.  “On that basis, it could be the start of something good, but I’m looking to develop it further and then put it before companies.  It might be the platform or the bridge that I need into a good job when I finish university.  I’m quite hopeful for it,” added Watson.

His appreciation for functional and realistic design is evident throughout the catamaran, none more so than inside where the use and exploitation of all available space has been achieved with telling effect.

“The inside is essentially divided up into three sections.  The front of the catamaran is where you can put the controls to auto-pilot, which is guided by satellites, censors and cameras around the boat.  There are also conventional controls where you can sit down and manually move the boat around the Thames.

“The middle section – where live feeds and interviews are conducted – rotates so that it faces a particular side of the Thames depending on the landmarks they are passing so that these appear on screen.  It also means you don’t have to move the entire boat around to get the view, so there is also a functional aspect.”

He continued: “A blue screen folds down if the weather is poor, so there is still this aspect of projecting an image for the viewer’s benefit, whether it is the BBC or Olympic logo.  And at the rear of the catamaran, the gallery is situated where the production and editing team would be stationed.”

He has managed to create more space in the middle third of the catamaran by ‘rounding’ off this particular section, while keeping in mind the need to preserve the sleek and proportioned shape of the design.

The bias towards being eco-friendly has influenced the materials used in the construction and composition of the catamaran.  The primary of these is marine-ply as its durability properties keeps maintenance and repair costs relatively low due to its ability to resist rotting in a high-moisture environment.

catamaran-blue-print1.jpgWatson said:  “The plywood will have some sort of coating which I haven’t had much time to research, so that would be another area of work for me to look at.  By refining the selection of my materials it means that when I go to companies I can say: ‘Look at my boat, see what you think and we can take it from there’.”

His optimism is to be admired, because failing any offers or advances from the BBC, Watson is adamant other avenues have to be explored and possibilities ventured.

For instance, he revealed how the catamaran would have a number of other possible and viable uses – long-before and long-after the Olympic Games grace the city of London – with endless venues and sporting events at which it could feature, including the yearly London Marathon and London boat race.

The BBC Catamaran is a far cry from his initial idea to design a boat of epic proportions offering similar levels of luxury and comfort, but chances are that if he had of pursued that option the end result would no doubt have been just as eye-catching and compelling.

Just as the BBC strives to differentiate itself in the media world, Watson encompasses the same philosophy with his approach to design.  He may be modest in his view of “not being the best”, but there is little doubt that his creativity, his drive and his pursuit of perfection will help him and his ‘Oculus’ BBC Catamaran achieve the recognition they equally deserve.

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