September 21, 2021
From World’s Fairs to “The Jetsons,” the flying car has been a symbol of the future for more than one hundred years. Starting this November, the Bell Nexus Air Taxi, a cutting-edge concept vehicle on the cusp of making this vision a reality, will make its wider debut in the Smithsonian’s “FUTURES” exhibition at the historic Arts and Industries Building (AIB).
On view through July 2022, “FUTURES” will be the first major building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall and will temporarily reopen America’s oldest national museum for the first time in nearly two decades. The part-exhibition, part-festival will celebrate the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary with more than more than 150 objects, ideas, prototypes, and installations that fuse art, technology, design, and history to help imagine many possible futures on the horizon.
The Bell Nexus is a five-seat, autonomous electric air taxi concept (known as an eVTOL, or electric vertical takeoff and landing), conceived to reduce traffic congestion, noise and environmental pollution while drastically cutting travel time. It is designed to take off and land vertically, allowing the vehicle to maneuver over crowded cities faster than car speeds, while six tilting electric ducts provide lifting power for quick takeoff, and nimble flight. The Nexus is planned for both short- and long-distance trips that can span large urban areas, navigating autonomously.
Intended to be accessible and affordable for families and commuters, the Nexus aims to become a seamless part of urban living, as easy to use and ubiquitous as hailing a cab or summoning a ride-share. Visitors will be able to encounter the Nexus in a 360-degree display within the exhibition’s Futures that Inspire hall, a space designed to explore leaps of imagination. Interactive kiosks will lead a journey from early vertical flight to engineering feats that will impact the future landscape of transportation. Nearby will be another iconic futuristic flying invention, a rare 1960s-era Bell Aerospace Company Rocket Belt, widely renowned as the world’s first jet pack.
“As our population grows, we need alternatives to today’s fossil fuel cars and roads. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will be in cities,” explained AIB curator Ashley Molese. “‘FUTURES’ invites us to imagine alternate worlds, in this case one in which our streets could become sustainable living or greenspace, radically altering not just the skies but the ground at our feet. Individual flight is one solution on the cusp of becoming real sooner than we think.”
“Since opening in 1881, the Arts and Industries Building has introduced visitors to big ideas that have changed how we travel as a society,” said Rachel Goslins, Director of AIB. “We’re thrilled to be able to debut the Nexus in the very building where Americans first encountered early automobiles, famous steam engines, the Apollo 11 lunar capsule and the Spirit of St. Louis.”
The Nexus made its public debut at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show and is one of the latest milestones in Bell’s history of innovation in vertical flight. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum also holds the Bell X-1 plane, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier, and the Bell 47B, the first helicopter to receive civil certification.
“The Bell team is paving the way for future electric-powered vehicles and greener technology to flourish,” said Mitch Snyder, president and CEO of Bell. “We have a rich history of partnership with the Smithsonian, with our various legacy aviation and aerospace products on display throughout the years, and I’m excited that the Bell Nexus will be part of the new ‘FUTURES’ exhibit.”
Designed by architect David Rockwell and his award-winning firm Rockwell Group, “FUTURES” will fill the historic Arts and Industries Building with 32,000 square feet of new artworks, interactives, prototypes, inventions, and “artifacts of the future,” as well as historic objects and discoveries from 23 of the Smithsonian’s museums and research centers. It will showcase stories of future-makers who are working tirelessly towards a more equitable, peaceful and sustainable world—inventors and creators, activists and organizers—with a special focus on communities who may not have always had a voice in future-making. Visitors will be able to glimpse how past visions have shaped where we are today, as a way to imagine their own version of humanity’s next chapter.
A digital “FUTURES” Guide by award-winning firm Goodby Silverstein & Partners will launch late summer 2021 in advance of the exhibition opening. A full slate of dynamic, future-forward performances, pop-ups, virtual events, workshops and late-night experiences will also be announced.
“FUTURES” is made possible by a select group of partners and supporters: Amazon Web Services, Autodesk, Bell Textron Inc., Jacqueline B. Mars, John and Adrienne Mars, the Embassy of the State of Qatar, David M. Rubenstein and SoftBank Group Corp. Major support is also provided by Accenture, the Annenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Kevin S. Bright and Claudia W. Bright and Robert Kogod. Additional funding is provided by John Brock III, Wendy Dayton, Nancy Hogan and Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
About the Arts and Industries Building
The Arts and Industries Building (AIB) opened in 1881 as the country’s first National Museum, an architectural icon in the heart of the National Mall. Its soaring halls introduced millions of Americans to wonders about to change the world—Edison’s lightbulb, the first telephone, Apollo rockets. Dubbed “Palace of Wonders” and “Mother of Museums,” AIB incubated new Smithsonian museums for over 120 years before finally closing to the public in 2004. “FUTURES” is a milestone first step in the long-term plan to renovate and permanently reopen this landmark space.