Wow, that was fast. Just last January we told you about the Energy Department’s search for a transformative new design for lightweight vehicles, and the agency is has already picked a winner. “WaterBone” sounds a little naughty, but it perfectly describes the winning concept, which combines the aerodynamics of a water droplet with the lightweight but sturdy structure of bones.
The lightweight vehicle design competition, called the LITECAR Challenge, is being conducted by the Energy Department’s cutting-edge funding agency, ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy), so chances are good that some of the new concept will make it into the electric vehicle marketplace. That’s good news for the EV sector, since anything you can do to shave off weight will work in favor of increased battery range.
Looking For Mr. LITECAR
A breakthrough in lightweight vehicle design would also have huge implications for fuel efficiency in the gasmobile market, so LITECAR isn’t aimed exclusively at electric vehicles (the acronym stands for Lightweight Technologies Enabling Complete Automotive Redesign,).
However, we’re thinking that EVs will be first in line when this sort of thing hits the market, partly because of the linkage with 3D-printing. When the LITECAR Challenge was launched in January, ARPA-E made it pretty clear that 3-D printed designs would be especially welcome.
That’s no surprise since the curator of the competition is Local Motors, best known for its 3-D printed lightweight vehicles.
Sure enough, 3-D printing features prominently in the winning WaterBone entry.
Formally titled the “Aerodynamic Water Droplet with Strong Lightweight Bone Structure,” the new lightweight vehicle design was cooked up by a team from the School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The droplet-inspired outer shape or “envelope” is embedded with a rib-like frame, which is 3-D-printed from aluminum alloy foam. Though lightweight, the frame was sturdy enough to convince the LITECAR judges that WaterBone met the safety standards of the competition.
Here’s some more detail on the envelope from ARPA-E:
The envelope’s material that interfaces with the spaceframe is made of a polymer composite, which has the characteristics of a 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.
The Futuristic Lightweight Vehicle Of The Future
Somewhat disappointingly, from the outside, WaterBone looks pretty much like every other subcompact car out there except for the cool Spiderman-style detailing.
If you want to get a look at some of the really futuristic stuff that didn’t quite make the grade in terms of safety and other key standards, you can check out all 250+ LITECAR entries at localmotors.com.
The winner of the “community favorite” category is something called Apalis. It gets our vote, too, because aside from being super lightweight and 3-D-printable it comes with electric drive and solar panels:
This next one, called Cuboza, caught our eye mainly because of its unique approach to climate control, among other things:
Go ahead and check out the entire LITECAR archive, and if you spot something particularly interesting, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Image Credits: All courtesy of ARPA-E/Local Motors.
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