In the futuristic thrall of Soviet tech design – InformTFB

In the futuristic thrall of Soviet tech design

In the futuristic thrall of Soviet tech design

The future cannot be predicted, it can be invented. (C) Dennis Gabor
If we talk about the technological achievements of the Soviet Union, the first thing that comes to mind is a Satellite, a Soyuz spacecraft, a Tupolev — 144 aircraft (the famous Concordski), or huge nuclear submarines. It is unlikely that consumer electronics and computers can also be attributed there, which is not surprising. And despite a promising start in the development and development of innovative projects under the leadership of Soviet pioneers such as Sergey Lebedev and others in the 1950s and 1960s, the subsequent periods can be described as passive imitation of the most popular computers, radios, televisions and other consumer electronics produced in the Western world, especially in the United States and Germany.


Parade in Berlin, 1987. Demonstration of one of the very few original PCs ever produced in a socialist state, VEB Robotron PC 1715, East Germany

In one of the issues of the Soviet magazine “design Aesthetics” for 1987, an article was published under the title “Design and problems of educational restructuring”. It discussed a widely accepted document that sheds light on the problem of lagging behind the needs of the national economy, science and culture, and gaps in the country of design. In the context of accelerating socio-economic development of the country, there was a noticeable lack of training in research activities, design education limped almost two legs and clearly lagged behind (at that time) the modern direction in world design. Among these areas were distinguished: flexible technology, robotics, and production automation. The shortage of personnel in this area was also considered a bottleneck.

… as a result, the training plans for designers do not reflect the true needs for them. As a result, the number of designers per 1 million population in our country is not only lagging behind in comparison with a number of socialist and capitalist countries (for example, in Japan — 126 designers per 1 million, in the GDR — 135, in the USSR — 16), but also relatively decreasing… We need a perfect system of advanced design education focused on the requirements of the future. The Soviet model of design education should become one of the best in the world — we cannot limit ourselves to less if we do not want to put up with the existing backlog.
Back in April 1987, the Union of designers of the USSR was created, the Charter of this Union was written, the goal was clear – ” forward for the design of the future!”. One of the areas that could bring Soviet scientific and technological progress to a new level was predictive design. It turned out that in industrially developed countries, Futuro projects have been successfully practiced for several decades. Such predictive projects have been implemented and are an integral part of scientific and technological progress. The flight of imagination and thought of Soviet designers was strictly limited by the design principle “from prototype to production orientation”.

The variety of genres and types of foreign futuredesign:


International space station (USA)


Fragment of the layout “office of the future”, Germany


Project “automobile Navigator” – a device with a voice and facial expressions (USA)


Radiotelephone of the future (USA)


“Anime” robot television (USA)


Camera for travel (blisks, your ancestor?), USA

The definition of the project forecasting in the Soviet Union, “working paper on forecasting»:
The project forecast of specific images of a particular phenomenon in the future, assuming a number of conditions that are still missing, answers the question: how (specifically) is it possible? what might it look like?.. Project forecasts are designed to facilitate the selection of optimal options for long-term design, on the basis of which real current design should then be deployed.
The following are Soviet products of attempts at project forecasting of household radio electronics and not only. Search for your own ideas without looking to the West.

Perhaps the most far-sighted SPHINX project yet

In the 80s, the brilliant Russian designer and engineer Dmitry Azrikan at the famous VNIITE Institute in St. Petersburg began working on a futuristic system — a home TV and radio complex. The Institute, whose name was an abbreviation for “all-Union research Institute of technical aesthetics”, was closed in 2013.

A project developed in 1986, SPHINX(again an acronym, this time for “Super Functional Integrated Communication System”) was not just a prototype computer, as it may seem, but would have to perform the functions of various systems, such as home automation, digital entertainment, communication, remote work and even telemedicine. The project called “revolutionary computer” was commissioned by the State Committee for science and technology and was under the direct control of the Soviet government.


Dmitry Azrikan, a canadian engineer and designer with “Soviet roots”, is the father of the Sphinx.

The system core is a modular “memory block” consisting of a Central processor. Three triangular memory expansion modules were connected to the CPU. This configuration was designed to allow multiple users — for example, each family member — to work simultaneously in multitasking mode.


The” core ” of the SPHINX system, consisting of a triangular processor and three memory expansion modules; photo originally published in the journal Technical Aesthetics, 1987

The system consisted of:

  • One or more desktop units that served as a computer, video player, or multimedia player. The unit (s) came with a keyboard, a 19-inch monitor, two removable flat speakers, wireless headphones, and an additional phone. There was no mouse in this device, it was replaced by a kind of “d-pad” with four triangular direction buttons.
  • A hand-held remote control with a small LCD screen, microphone, and speaker that could be turned into a pocket computer if desired.
  • Several futuristic portable devices (never prototyped), including smart watches, smart cards, and augmented reality sunglasses.

The devices were supposed to communicate with each other via radio waves, and the entire system with the rest of the world via a telephone line.


A prototype of the SPHINX system currently on display at the Moscow design Museum

The system’s design is based on simple geometric shapes: rectangles, triangles, and spheres. Carefully designed to represent different functions, the color palette consisted of white, yellow, orange, blue, and cyan.

Such a concise, minimalistic design was typical for VNIITE, at that time they were guided and inspired by the aerospace theme, and therefore gave priority to simplicity, lightness and the absence of unnecessary elements.

It was planned to install the SPHINX system in most homes in Russia by 2000. Nevertheless, the economic and political downturn in the Soviet Union, which ended in 1991 (after which Dmitry Azrikan left Russia and moved to Canada), put an end to the project. The SPHINX remained only at the prototype stage and today is a silent witness to the era of contradictions and tragedies, a monument to the destruction of great expectations and insightful ideas.


SPHINX keyboard and portable remote control demonstrating the color palette and geometric design of the system

For the production of new products — a new concept: “thing-service”, not “thing-product”. Designers of the” new generation ” sought to demonstrate projects in which there would be nothing imitative. The main goal of the development design was a new consumer effect.

One of the products of the new trend was a set of personal radio-electronic equipment on optical diodes. It was an infotainment complex, consisted of an optical disc player (the control panel could perform the functions of a calculator) and radio headphones, played video and audio programs, allowed you to do calculations and video games, and provided radio reception. The set could be made in classic, game and avant-garde styles. The author of the know-how was I. E. Lyubkina.

Well, the futuristic idea also affected projects for the development of vehicles. Such a prototype was presented by graduate A. T. Oseeva — a transformable cab for use in the monorail urban transport system.

Such a cab would be mounted on a monorail using magnetic suspension in the form of a small-sized electric car for individual use with free movement. As an individual vehicle, it could also move through the muscular efforts of a person. The cabin was designed as a single or double cabin.

By the way, the theme of the monorail was relevant in the USSR since the 50s. Engineers were attracted by their futuristic charm:”..In 1957, a passenger monorail project was developed in Kazakhstan, between the city of Temirtau and the Karaganda metallurgical combine. Three years later, a monorail project was created from the center of Moscow to Vnukovo airport; in 1961, a suspended monorail was designed for the city of Miass. The engineers ‘ imagination did not stop. In 1961, Ivanova, an engineer, proposed a monorail that would support high-rise buildings standing at a distance of 700-1000 meters from each other. Cars would run between them on cable-stayed beams. In General, in the 1960s, the monorail was going to be built in 19 Soviet cities.”

Designers also paid attention to the development of something so special for children. Below in the photo is a radio vest.

Such a design of a child’s toy, equipped with a radio receiver and a radio transmitter, would allow the child to play an astronaut, traveler, athlete, etc.

Typological design on the example of household tape recorders

Well, one of the problems of the Soviet product production was continuous monotony. To solve this problem and go beyond the same type became the task of typological design. This approach took into account the lifestyle and aesthetic preferences of the consumer when designing the design. The photo below shows an assortment of typological samples of household tape recorders from 1987.

For connoisseurs of classics, a typological sample was developed. The design is based on stability, comfort, respectability. This “classic” style group includes: a soundboard with a radio channel and active”Premiere” speakers. Smoky plastic was chosen as the material of all surfaces, through which the display flickers. The kit includes an automatic system for replacing cassettes according to a pre-set program or a signal from the remote control.

The design of tape recorders for the “laboratory” and “instrument” style groups was developed. Such collections are characterized by complex panels, space indications, blockiness, and displays. The materials chosen are metal and the color is silver.

From the instrument series-the “Structure” complex. An ideal solution for a family with two teenagers: two removable iPods were planned in the complex.

The group of “marching” style can be described by such words as firmly, reliably, conveniently. Color scheme-Safari, khaki. Tape recorders are not for entertainment. Among them — “Reporter-1” and “Reporter-2”, Saiga, Timur (could be worn on a belt with a case for cassettes).

The “youth” style group is endowed with notes of avant-garde, eccentricity, and originality. It includes the devices “Alice” (tape recorder for girls), “Rugby”, “Maya”, “Phobos-2000”,


“Alice”, “Rugby”


Phobos-200 portable radio»

The creation of such collections of household appliances at that time in the USSR was a kind of experiment. Not always successful or feasible.

Radio receiver projects that never found their own manufacturer-customer

In 1989, the USSR produced receivers that could broadcast three monaural radio channels. But there were already developments that made it possible to use existing telephone lines for transmitting a radio signal and broadcast 6 radio programs on them without compromising the quality of telephone conversations. The goal of the development is to turn the usual primitive radio receiver into a high-quality block stereo complex, which would combine a radio receiver, telephone, answering machine, and acoustics. Such receivers could stand, hang, lie down, and sort out their components.


Stereo six-program cable receiver and receiver option with modular control panel

And this is a sketch version of the receiver with a set top box:

The project involved the implementation of the receiver in two versions. In the first case, thanks to the modular construction of the front panel, it was possible to complete it with controls depending on the wishes of the consumer. In the second variant, the method of product expansion in three-dimensional space was used: there was no front panel as such, it consisted of several planes with a separate functional load, so control zones for sound, programs, and clock modes were formed.

As a result, such a variety of styles did not interest the customer and the receiver layouts remained in the search for their manufacturer.

Well, keeping abreast of many innovative ideas and projects has been difficult on both sides of the iron curtain. Nevertheless, some of these ideas — which never became real products due to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s-are silent witnesses of ingenuity and creativity in the development process. In any case, you can still draw something interesting from them today. By the way, in each issue of the magazine “Technical Aesthetics “the heading” New products of foreign production ” was presented, and to understand what it looked like 20 years of lag in Soviet design, just look at this heading): in the same year, 1988, an experimental operating model of the HRS car from Mitsubishi Motors was already developed in Japan, developing speeds of up to 300 km/h. The concept of the car used advanced technology systems: electronically controlled suspension, all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, anti-lock braking system on each wheel, plus a spectacular appearance and outstanding aerodynamic performance.

Anderson
Anderson
Web site editor and tester.

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