Ferren is a well-known technologist, inventor, and businessman. He is famous for his work as former head of research and development for Disney’s Imagineering, which saw him design Disney park rides, but also for the work his company Applied Minds has done for the military, Ford and GM, and Intel. He is smart, painfully iterative and overly complicated – the ultimate overthinker.
One of his most famous creations is the perfect example of his personality. The KiraVan came along one year after his daughter’s birth in 2009 and, today, one decade after construction on it started, it’s still the world’s most outrageous and impressive overlander. And just as much of an impossible dream as it was back then.
The idea for the KiraVan was inspired by Ferren’s desire to take his daughter camping. Instead of buying the most expensive expedition vehicle out there (since he could very well afford it), Ferren decided to build one himself because this was the only way in which he’d know for a fact that his daughter would be safe. He wanted Kira to travel to the most remote locations in the world but, at the same time, he wanted her to be completely insulated and protected.
Built on a Mercedes-Benz Unimog U500NA with a Mercedes-Benz 6-cylinder in-line 260 hp high-efficiency intercooled turbo-diesel engine providing 700 ft-lb of torque, the KiraVan is an articulated overlander. The tractor is the Unimog, which has been stripped of almost everything and tricked out in such a way as it now resembles an airplane cockpit. Meanwhile, the trailer includes a generous office, a galley, an eco-friendly bathroom that sees all waste decomposed into dust, and two upper levels – one for dining and a loft that doubles as Kira’s bedroom.
The total length of the KiraVan is of 52 feet (15.8 meters). Packed with food and water, it can stay self-sufficient for several weeks, with a family of three onboard, and can go 2,000 miles (3,218 km) before needing to stop for fuel. More importantly though, this thing is meant to detect every possible obstacle it comes across, whether it’s a log on the bottom of a shallow river it’s crossing, to black ice or difficult weather conditions farther down the road.
The KiraVan has kevlar tires and reinforced body, and it can travel with the same ease and the same degree of comfort for the passengers in sub-zero temperatures and the scorching heat of the desert. It’s fitted with drones that you can send out for road recon, and no less than 22 exterior cameras that constantly monitor the surroundings.
To cap it all off, in the back is a diesel-powered motorcycle – a dinghy, as Ferren calls it. You can’t roll this monster of a rig into town to buy eggs and milk if you run out of supplies, which is when the 100 mph (161 kph) bike comes in handy. By the way, the KiraVan can only do a maximum of 70 mph (112.6 kph) on the highway, which may seem little if compared to a regular car, but is impressive for something this size. It can also switch from 4x4 to 6x6 when need be.
All this seems excessive for a family camper, to say the least. And it is. Ferren knows that the project attained a life of its own along the way, so he’s now saying it could also double as a research vehicle. Because of the kind of tech on board, it could carry anything from explorers to researchers and film crews to wherever they need to be. Moreover, he will license and share all he’s learned in the build with other companies, and include some of the findings in future Applied Minds products.
On that particular occasion, it made it for 2 miles (3.2 km) at 5 mph (8 kph) through Los Angeles before it started leaking diesel. Not that impressive for the so-called “ultimate, go-anywhere expedition vehicle.”