More than 50 years ago, Walt Disney coined the term ‘Imagineers’ for his designers, those wizards who dreamed up weird and wonderful fantasies, the essence of Disney entertainment.
One of those Imagineers was Californian Bran Ferren, in the 1980s and ‘90s the president for research and technology at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Among other things, the job took him to remote places scouting for film locations. Getting there often required adapting vehicles for the purpose.
That led to Ferren helping to develop outdoor broadcast trucks for US television network ABC, which led to an interest in off-road expedition vehicles.
In 2000, he and a couple of Imagineers branched out on the own, founding Applied Minds, a technology and design company. Customers have included General Motors, Intel, the US Air Force … the list goes on.
In 2001, Ferren began building his own expedition vehicle, based on the Mercedes-Benz Unimog. He called it the ‘MaxiMog. For a while there it was on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art.
It had video-conferencing equipment and a 12m mast with a camera that allowed Ferren to see the terrain ahead. Its trailer contained a collapsible sleeping loft and an expresso machine.
Ferren, now 64, has come up with the ultimate expedition vehicle, a high-tech truck and trailer he has named the KiraVan after his daughter Kira, aged 7.
It is also based on a version of the Mercedes-Benz Unimog. Ferren refers to the almost 16m-long vehicle as a “platform”, an evolving development designed to encourage high-tech US companies to apply Ferren’s ideas to future projects.
The six-wheeled KiraVan can house a family of three for two weeks. It can travel 3200km without refuelling and tackle off-road slopes of up to 45deg. It is powered by a six-cylinder diesel engine developing 200kW and 950Nm. Its fuel tanks hold 645 litres.
Its toilet system incinerates waste to powder. It uses infrared thermal readings of the road’s temperature, has a ‘situational awareness system’ of 22 cameras, and its hydro-drive control enables the driver to switch between four- and six-wheel drive.
See Ferren talk about KiraVan in the video on this page.