|Sketch of a concept solar car for the VDS. Image: Mitchell Joachim and William Lark.|
Students from around the world are participating in the MIT Vehicle Design Summit (VDS) this summer to design and build vehicles based on integrating hydrogen fuel cells, photovoltaics, biofuels, and human power.
The VDS organizers winnowed through the pooled research recommendations of the participants to select five basic designs: fuel cell; biofuel; human/solar hybrid; retrofit; and Th!nk Car.
The Vehicle Design Summit has three key goals:
Develop practical commuter vehicle designs with 500 mpg equivalence (or better) based on emerging technologies, in concert with collaborators in industry and academia;
Aid in the creation of project-based, socially-conscious engineering curriculum for '06-'07; and
Set the stage for a permanent international consortium focused on green transportation for India, China, and other countries with rapidly-expanding transportation infrastructures.
By the end of the Vehicle Design Summit, the cars created by the students, who have previously designed solar racecars for the World Solar Challenge (WSC) and super-mileage vehicles for the European Shell Eco-Marathon, will tour the country to bring attention to the social and technological issues surrounding alternative-powered vehicles.
An added goal for the program, which runs from 13 June to 13 August, is to lay a foundation for ongoing multidisciplinary transportation research involving all five MIT schools.
The students will work with industry and academia speakers and mentors to create the vehicles. Through a partnership with the MIT Media Lab’s Fab Lab, additional cars will be designed to be built at Fab Labs in Norway, Costa Rica, India, Ghana and South Africa.
The Fab Lab program, part of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, explores how information relates to physical representation. The Fab Lab’s partner organizations around the world are geared toward allowing ordinary people to design machines to improve the quality of their lives.
The VDS grew out of the experience of the World Solar Challenge (WSC), a solar-powered car race spanning 3,021 kilometers through central Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. (Earlier post.)
At its inception, many hoped that this race would produce vehicles that might one day be mass-produced for consumer use, enabling commuters to drive to work on the power of the sun. Instead, nearly all of the 30+ solar electric vehicles today are identical. The competition has favored design convergence on a single, race-specific vehicle too specialized for commuter use. Teams continue to enter the race, understandably, for the thrill of exceeding 70mph across Australia in a highly-optimized engineering marvel. But many of the top teams are wondering where the field will go next.
Tasked by the WSC organizers to envision a new rule set and direction for the race, the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team has chosen to converge all of its colleagues for an intense 9-week design summit aimed at in-depth exploration of alternative transportation technologies.—VDS website
We hope to have an impact on not only the field of solar racing but the energy debate as well. Exploring both the socio-political and technical aspects of this work, we are excited to provide a space for students to lend a new voice to the global energy discussion.—Robyn Allen, co-organizer
The participants will publish a technical manual at the conclusion of the summit and distribute their findings in the public domain.