The sustainable design process behind a sustainable car

The design team behind the Urbee hybrid vehicle says digital prototype software helped it evaluate environment design factors while cutting out wasteful physical prototyping phases.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

In my guise as a contributor to ZDNet's GreenTech Pastures, I would be inclined to write about KOR EcoLogic because what they are developing is pretty innovative: a two-passenger car called Urbee that will use a hybrid electric/gasoline engine that gets up to 200 miles per gallon. (The silly name is actually an acronym standing for URBan Electric with Ethanol backup.) The idea behind the vehicle is that it will draw electricity from a solar panel parked on the top of your garage or via a conventional electricity source, running off an ethanol backup power source beyond a 30-mile pure electric range.

The episode of Daily Planet below gives you more of a spiel about the project.

But I'm interested in the company for two other reasons: First, because the company hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is my dad's home town. Second and more important, the start-up is another one of the companies using Autodesk digital prototyping to embrace sustainable design principles for its technology product.

When I spoke with Blaine Mcfarlane, a mechanical engineer on the project, about the technology about a month ago, he said the team has been using Autodesk Inventor to design 3-D prototypes of the car's body that can be tested against certain road and wind conditions. Using the software, the team has been able to settle on the shape of the vehicle. Using 3-D printing technology, KOR Ecologic has been about to print out models that are about one-sixth the size of the ultimate vehicle, to check on seals, hinge points and other design factors that will have a critical impact on the aerodynamics of Urbee -- and its ability to perform as advertised. "We wanted to make sure it could do what we set out to have it do," Mcfarlane says. Getting validation for certain assumptions will help give the company move onto the next phase of the prototyping and testing process, with reasonable confidence that investments are practical ones, he notes.

Aside from Inventor, other technologies that have been instrumental in the creation, including the Autodesk Alias product and a process from Stratasys, which allows companies to create working prototypes of products without requiring them to use an expensive mold-making process. In fact, when I talked to Mcfarlane, the company's team leader Jim Kor was in Minnesota picking up several prototype parts for the chassis. In a press release, he has this to say about the prototyping process, which has helped the company test up to 80 percent of the Urbee vehicle's potential environmental impact:

"The Urbee was designed from the ground up to be as efficient as possible and to run on renewable energy. From concept through rendering, Autodesk software helped us not only build an efficient and sustainable car, but also communicate our designs to a broader audience, including potential investors."

Being the KOR Ecologic is on a bit of a shoestring budget, it took advantage of the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner program to apply for up to $150,000 worth of software for $50. Another fun fact, KOR Ecologic's Urbee project was a contender for the 2010 Automotive X Prize.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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