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IUPUI mechanical engineering faculty member, students win ultra-light vehicle design challenge

April 28, 2015

A Purdue School of Engineering and Technology faculty member and his graduate students at IUPUI won the $60,000 grand prize in a competition to design a safe ultra-light vehicle.

The winning design, submitted by Andres Tovar, an assistant mechanical engineering professor, and the students, was selected from among more than 250 conceptual designs submitted in the  LITECAR Challenge: Lightweighting Technologies Enabling Comprehensive Automotive Redesign. Their design was selected by a panel of experts in materials, crashworthiness, structures, manufacturing and safety.

The competition -- sponsored by Local Motors, in partnership with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy -- was described as “setting up the challenge and letting the imagination begin” to develop innovative ideas by using novel material technologies, structural designs, energy-absorbing materials and unique methods of manufacturing to reduce vehicle curb weight while maintaining current U.S. automotive safety standards.

Competition officials said the winning grand prize submission delivered “pretty much the entire package we were looking for,” by effectively creating an exoskeleton over an aluminum frame to protect vehicle occupants.

The proposed vehicle design, called the Aerodynamic Water Droplet with Strong Lightweight Bone Structure, has the outer shape of a water droplet with an embedded trabecular bone-like structure, or spaceframe. The water droplet outer shape provides a low drag coefficient, while the spaceframe layout is designed to provide the mechanical strength and energy-absorption capabilities required to protect the occupant in the event of a collision.

The material of the outer shape of the vehicle is a polymer composite, which provides desirable characteristics of a structural approach whereby loads are supported through an object's external skin, similar to an egg shell. The spaceframe's material is functionally graded cellular aluminum alloy. The layout of the proposed spaceframe is designed using a specialized and unique topology optimization algorithm for crashworthiness.

“LITECAR has been critically important to Local Motors because it has stretched the boundaries of the world’s largest open-hardware innovation community to include a focus on the subject of weight reduction,” said John Rogers Jr., co-founder and CEO of Local Motors.

The four students who were involved in the project and their area of work are:

  • Prathamesh Chaudhari: Computer Aided Design
  • Nishanth Bhimireddy: Crash simulations
  • Kai Liu: Structural optimization
  • Fabian Lischke: Additive manufacturing

Note: This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting IUPUI's Strategic Plan initiatives.

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