Interview with Martin Miklica (Le Petit Prince) Electrolux Design Lab finalist

“One small step for robots, one giant leap for humankind” Watch Le Petit Prince video

Electrolux Design Lab 2009 finalist Martin Miklica is the Czech designer behind Le Petit Prince, the robotic greenhouse destined for Mars. He is a student at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic.

“Le Petit Prince” is a robotic greenhouse designed to facilitate the future exploration and population of Mars. Le Petit Prince takes care of a plant it carries inside its glass case, which is mounted on top of its four-legged pod. In search of nutrients to care for the plant, the robot is programmed to intuitively learn the optimal method for this process. It also reports its movements and progress to its fellow greenhouse robots via wireless communication so that they can learn from each other.

What was the inspiration for your concept?
In my opinion, everything I have ever seen, read and heard is my inspiration. Every experience stays somewhere inside you, and if you are lucky, it will come out at the right moment. If I look back, this particular concept was definitely inspired by the book The Naked Sun from Isaac Asimov, the R2-D2 robot from Star Wars, an egg, insects, and whatever else I see every day.

How does your concept fit into this year’s competition theme “Designs for the next 90 years”?
Ninety years is very long time. Nearly four generations will pass through, every one of them with its own dreams, desires and possibilities. One long lasting dream is to reach the stars, but before that, we will have to reach Mars to see whether or not we can live without Earth. This is the time where my concept is relevant. At that time, we won’t think of machines as dumb boxes with buttons, but more as partners that obey our commands, but still have their own minds. They will be more autonomous and think and make decisions on their own. It may sound frightening, but it isn’t scarier than the first arrival of trains to the cities.

What are the main consumer benefits of your concept?
One thing you notice on Mars is the silence and serenity. That’s quite good for one week’s vacation in the countryside, but for modern people it’s very depressing to live in such a place for several months or years. Therefore, the main benefit of Le Petit Prince is that it’s not just a machine, but more like a pet or silent friend that you can speak to when you aren’t in the mood to talk to people. On top of that, it is a good gardener that grows any plant you want or need to bare life or just for its beauty.

Describe the consumer research behind your concept.
Well, I must admit it’s difficult to do any real research behind the concept since it’s designed for Mars. However, some of my friends said it’s cute (I always thought some of them have to be from Mars) and I consider their feedback sufficient.

What kind of materials would you use to build your concept?
Metallurgy, glass production and synthetic plastics have been used for a long time and will probably continue to be used in the next hundred years, so I didn’t feel an urge to use new yet unknown materials. Nanotechnology made giant leaps in the last few years and it will improve properties of material surfaces in the future, so they will be even harder and more resistant than anything we know today. More effective (even transparent) are solar panels, etc., but this evolution will not affect the fundamentals of my concept.

Who is your favorite designer?
I like that little funny gadgets that make you think “Oh, this is great, that would never, ever occur to me”. They’re often made by young unknown designers in small companies. But if I had to choose one famous name, I would say German industrial designer Luigi Colani.

What are your career goals?
I would like to design at least one thing that if somebody finds after 90 years will say “Well, that’s nice”.

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