Crazy contraptions reign supreme at the Kia Ideas Festival

We marvel at the madness on show at South Korea's annual celebration of blue sky thinking

Picture the most outlandish collection of vehicular concepts ever. Then pass them through a filter marked "really weird things only". That's the Kia Ideas Festival in a nutshell.

Our story takes place at Kia and Hyundai's vast research and development campus on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea. For the past six years it has played host to a festival that nurtures the weird and wonderful minds of its young engineers.

Teams of brainiacs are given a small budget and a very loose brief from which to create solutions to some of the world's biggest issues. Think droughts, mass-scale urbanisation, personal mobility, that sort of thing.

Hardly any of the madcap creations go on to feature in any of the Korean marque's vehicles and rarely do they make it to production, but there are glimmers of genius in among the LOL-worthy contenders.

This year's theme was "together for a better future" and offerings ranged from an inflatable child seat to a two-wheeled cylindrical car. Like we said, completely bonkers. 

First up on stage was a team of youngsters and a guy in a wheelchair. Clearly able-bodied and wrapped in fake bandages, the young man explained that his invention was designed as an addition to any normal wheelchair.

Rather odd presentation aside, the idea looked like a good one: it involved a headpiece with controls that could be operated by the user's head and shoulders, as well as a set of electrically motorised wheels at the front that dragged the wheelchair along. It was far from the prettiest creation, but the young engineers claimed the on-board batteries could last for over 20 hours and that the machine would afford effortless mobility for those confined to a wheelchair for short periods. 

But if the first idea was relatively straightforward, the next was distinctly more unusual: Life Zeppelin is a giant, drone-powered balloon designed to suck up moisture from the atmosphere and rain it back down on areas suffering from drought.

It was a bit windy in Seoul and the team had trouble attaining lift-off but sure enough, the blimp piddled water from its underbelly and proved that such a system could potentially help poorer parts of Africa grow crops, and reduce dust particles in other arid areas. 

Augmented reality was a repeating theme at this year's festival, with two teams opting to embrace the tech.

The first of them, Driving Expansion, uses AR goggles to teach people how to drive when space is at a premium by overlaying a complicated course on a small slice of tarmac. For example, new drivers wearing AR masks could master swerving in and out of cones, avoiding obstacles and parking in tight spaces in an empty parking lot. It was by far one of the most plausible pieces of tech on display and could help new drivers get to grips with a real vehicle in a safe environment. 

A second team, dubbed Avatar Drive, came up with a solution that doesn't really exist - namely taking charge of a vehicle remotely via wireless technology and AR vision.

As an example, the team suggested that if someone had been out drinking and their partner wished to remotely fetch them home, they could pop on a set of Oculus Rift-style goggles, sit down in front of a small steering wheel and pilot the car back to safety.

The technology works, although the team couldn't quite figure out how to make the Kia Sportage used in the demonstration reverse. More of a problem is that when asked what the benefit of this would be over a fully autonomous car, the Avatar Drive team were stumped, able to suggest only that it could be useful for car rental companies that simply want to shuffle cars around a car park, or for vehicles venturing into 'dangerous' places.

Jaguar Land Rover is currently working on similar technology, where a Defender can be controlled remotely by a smart app, but we didn’t have the heart to tell them. 

Other notable entries include a bicycle that can purify water and simultaneously wash clothes as the rider pedals, plus a Kia SUV that featured an inflatable baby seat in the rear, and a personal mobility device that consisted of a self-levelling seat, two giant wheels and an electric motor.

The latter looked like something from a Ridley Scott film and we certainly weren't brave enough to actually get on the thing, but the car seat is a neat idea, meaning that people without the requisite safety equipment could offer small kids (and their parents, presumably) a lift.

The winning entrant, though, was the UCan Concert Car: a tweaked Kia SUV that doubled-up as a musical instrument when its occupants banged on the seats and tinkled the keyboard that popped out of the dashboard.

The team, decked out in sparkly jackets, offered a rendition of a famous Korean song before dragging the Vice Chairman of Kia Hyundai onstage and forcing him to slap the steering wheel to add the drum track. Everyone cheered, confetti was deployed by gas cannons and the entrants took to the stage in their contraptions to applause from the crowd.

It was completely nuts but hey, if you see a blimp raining fresh water on to a dry field in the near future, you saw it here first.