Slightly fast and not furious: Lightweight car challenge brings out wicked cool prototypes

Energy Department’s LITECAR Challenge shows off automotive winners


The Grand Prize winner: Aerodynamic Water Droplet with Strong Lightweight Bone Structure vehicle design has the outer shape of a water droplet with an embedded trabecular bone-like structure. The envelope's water droplet shape provides a low drag coefficient. The spaceframe layout is designed to provide the mechanical strength and crashworthiness required to protect the occupant in the event of a collision.

Credit: Local Motors, ARPA-E

By the looks of it creativity in the concept car realm is alive and well. The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) this week announced the winner of its LIghtweighting Technologies Enabling Comprehensive Automotive Redesign (LITECAR) Challenge that featured 250 entries battling it out to develop some very cool fuel-efficient cars.

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ARPA-E teamed with vehicle design firm Local Motors to run the LITECAR Challenge that looked to fast-track ground-breaking auto ideas by using novel materials, structural designs, energy absorbing materials and unique methods of manufacturing like 3D printing to reduce vehicle weight while maintaining current U.S. automotive safety standards.

According to Local Motors the winner was Aerodynamic Water Droplet with Strong Lightweight Bone Structure created by Andres Tovar, a mechanical engineering assistant professor at the School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and a group of his graduate students. He won $60,000 for his efforts.

“Tovar’s proposed winning vehicle design has a water droplet outer shape, described as an envelope, with an embedded ribcage-like structure called a spaceframe. The spaceframe is made out of 3D printed functionally graded aluminum alloy foam. The bone-like structure of the spaceframe provides the mechanical strength and energy absorption capabilities required to protect the occupants in the event of a collision, similar to the protective structures used in NASCAR racecars,” ARPA-E stated.

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“The envelope's material that interfaces with the spaceframe is made of a polymer composite, which has the characteristics of monocoque design. A monocoque design is similar to an egg, where weight is supported through the object’s external shell. The envelope's water droplet shape provides a more streamlined vehicle design resulting in lower aerodynamic drag and improved fuel economy. By optimizing the spaceframe for energy absorption, Tovar and his team utilized lower mass materials to achieve vehicle weight reduction,” ARPA-E stated.

Other winners included:

First runner up ($40,000): Skeletos –The car’s developers said they used biomimetics and a novel composite material with the properties of bones using tricalcium phosphate and polypropylene to come up with their design. Bones are two times tougher than granite, have 10 times the compressive strength, 50 times greater resistance to breaking under pressure than concrete and are four to five times lighter than steel. The 3D printed structure varied in thickness as well as composition for strength in critical areas to enable a lightweight yet strong design.

Second runner up ($20,000) : Metal Matrix Metallic Composite (3MC) sought to develop non-traditional composite manufacturing techniques for metal matrix metallic composites in automotive body panels. The team provided a car that shows a 70% potential reduction in body panel weight over conventional materials using co-extruded magnesium and aluminum composite materials.

Innovative design component ($10,000): Manta- focused on four main weight reduction concepts, including a windowless cabin, a rear-facing detachable seat, a 1-2-1 tire layout, and lastly, a multi-material body structure design.

Innovative safety component ($10,000) : Modular Sprung Pod Car met the vehicle safety goal by employing a passenger pod design and redirecting horizontal impact forces into vertical motion. Impact energy was further dissipated by using the suspension and chassis.

Community favorite ($10,000) : Apalis targeted its chassis, or base frame, with a safety cell and composite sub frames, electric powertrain and wheel assemblies, and super capacitors with efficient solar panels for an energy source.

If you want to take a gander at all of the LITECAR Challenge designs, go here.

You may recall that Local Motors helped build one of the world’s first full 3D printed cars, and in January said that by the end of the year they hope to be producing the vehicles for everyday consumption.

The two-seat car, known as a Strati, was demonstrated at the Detroit Auto Show and is built almost entirely of carbon-reinforced plastic, including the body and chassis, which takes about 44 hours to make. The goal for the next stage of research and development is to speed up the print rate to 24 hours while maintaining quality, the company says.

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