Frank Stephenson's BabyArk child seat mixes supercar/military tech with nature's forms

Jonathon Ramsey

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After capping a career at Mini, BMW, Ferrari, and Maserati with nine years at McLaren, Frank Stephenson retired from the English automaker in 2017 to open a design firm. The Frank Stephenson Design Consultancy obeys four dictates: A project needs to be the best on the market; a project must be technically innovative; a project must be sustainable; and every project needs an element of biomimicry — adopting nature's designs to manmade objects. Combine these laws with the supercar history and add military technology for a child car seat project, and what you get is the BabyArk. More than a year in development so far and created for children from newborns to 4 years old, the BabyArk will be the company's first product. 

The familiar portion is the seat, shaped like an egg from no-waste, 3D-printed plastic. The form injects a touch of nature, is safe for children, and creates an appealing and familiar form to the parents who need to trust the seat. Stephenson said, "[If] the design is something you have to get used to, it’s not good design." The egg's frame is made from carbon fiber that's visible in some places through a transparent polycarbonate skin — note the supercar elements. Bio-leather seating surfaces are said to look and feel like natural leather.   

The big tech is in the BabyArk's carbon fiber base. An article in the Irish Times said the seat's development took "inspiration from how woodpeckers protect themselves from brain injuries while hammering their beaks into trees in order to provide better protection for children in a car crash." The BabyArk skips the variable bone densities in a woodpecker's skull and the tongue that wraps around that skull, which is probably for the best. Instead, the seat's base contains patented Spiral tech created by Mobius Protection Systems, a defense firm that makes blast protection systems for military vehicles. The two spiral rods in the base are akin to the spiral tubing used to move a piece of equipment smoothly along a track, here employed for shock absorption.

The base is full of sensors and a light that illuminates to let parents know the base has been installed correctly and the seat attached properly. In case of a rear or frontal impact to the car, the spirals in the base allow the seat a little progressive movement fore and aft, dissipating the energy transferred to the child. Stephenson said that testing at TASS International, which is Siemens’ safety testing facility in the Netherlands, showed a 65% improvement in head safety and a 57% improvement in neck safety compared to the best car seats on the market. For added safety away from accidents, the BabyArk comes with a fob and a warning app to remind parents if they left their child in the car.

Since the BabyArk will be anything but cheap even with the envisioned direct-to-consumer sales, Stephenson said there will be a subscription model offered. That model will come in handy especially when seats for newborns and booster seats for children over the age of 4 arrive. Parents will be able to trade in a seat as the child outgrows it, in exchange for the next size up. The returned seats will be factory reconditioned before going back into the subscription pool. Since the entire seat is recyclable, even the spiral, nothing goes to waste when parts have had enough.  

Stephenson said he's hoping for U.S. certification for the BabyArk in 2021, followed by launch toward the end of the year.

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