Luxury RV ‘Toys,’ Robot-Human Machine the Focus at New Elkhart Facility
Visible from the Indiana Toll Road, a futuristic-looking building juts incongruously from the typical Elkhart landscape that drivers are likely accustomed to. The recently-opened North American headquarters for Furrion is in the heart of the RV manufacturing industry, but the company’s sweet spot is supplying the wealthiest of RV owners—think retractable helipads and rooftop hot tubs. The new Elkhart facility is also home base for the global manufacturer’s latest endeavor—a mechanized “racing suit” that wraps a person in robotics to deliver super-human power.
“It is crazy, and we like crazy. We dream big and then make it happen,” says Furrion founder and Chief Executive Officer Aaron Fidler. “It’s always good to be different. When you’re different, you stand out. When you stand out, you build a brand.”
While its latest product, the “exo-bionic mech racing suit,” conjures images of sci-fi movies, Furrion’s roots are supplying luxury appliances and consumer electronics for RVs and yachts. The company partners with Elkhart-based Lippert Components to distribute its products, such as TVs, camera systems and kitchen appliances, for the specialty RV, marine and truck markets.
Furrion has had a presence in Elkhart for about five years, but says the new headquarters—dubbed the Innovation Center and Institute of Technology—will help grow its infrastructure in North America, and all concept RVs, boats and trucks will be built there.
The company also has locations in Hong Kong, China and the U.K. The Elkhart facility houses about 35 employees, and Furrion plans to hire at least 50 more, saying the company has been growing more than 150 percent annually for eight years.
“You need better people when you get bigger,” says Fidler. “We need the best engineers and the best technicians, and we want to drive innovation, so we built this facility to take us in that direction.”
While Elkhart will continue to be the foundation for the company to meet the most luxurious tastes in the RV and yacht industries, it’s Furrion’s latest endeavor that is perhaps the most intriguing. The new facility will house the final stages of development, testing and “pilot” training for Prosthesis, the company’s exo-bionic mech racing suit. The concept began as a machine a human could walk with and developed into “a brand new human skill” that Furrion dubs “mech racing.”
Furrion says the “human-controlled machine” can run 21 miles per hour, jump 10 feet high and operate for two hours on a single charge. It’s designed to amplify the pilot’s motions; Fidler says, “When you run, it runs.”
“No one has ever seen it before; we’re the first ones in the world to do it,” says Fidler. “We’re planning to build a racing league and a new sport. We’re basically building mechanized athletes.”
Furrion debuted Prosthesis at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The 14-foot tall, 16-foot wide machine weighs more than 8,000 pounds and is made of chromoly steel, an alloy used to make tubing for bicycle frames, racecar roll cages and aerospace components.
Furrion has built one Prosthesis—“the first competitor in mech racing.” It will continue to be developed in Elkhart, and once finalized, will be shipped to Vancouver where the company is launching a startup called Furrion Robotics. Fidler says more mech racing suits will be built at the Canadian facility—just the first product within the Furrion Robotics division.
“[The mech racing suit] is starting a future sport—introducing high technology to crazy new evolving mechanized equipment,” says Fidler. “Who knows? We could have bionic man competitions, drone racing and mech fighting. It’ll be a whole new Olympics of future sports, and that’s what we intend to create. We have a vision of the future.”
Crazy? Perhaps, but that’s exactly how the company likes it.