During my studies at Koeln International School of Design (KISD) I collaborated in e-Drive, an academic long-term project about possible future forms of e-mobility.
The task was to construct a competitive vehicle which fits one driver and is solely powered by an electric drill in order to attend a biennially contest between engineering and design colleges.
A seemingly simple set of rules: hand over an electric drill (Bosch PSR 18 Li-2, output equivalent to 1 HP) which must not be modified to 15 teams and let them compete against each other in a race called "Akkuschrauberrennen". While this may sound hilarious at first, building these vehicles in the lapse of six months involved technical challenges such as developing a propulsion concept while considering dissipation respectively steering characteristics, center of gravity calculation ensuring a well-balanced handling and lightweight design, to name but a few.
While being a student project and from an organizational perspective, the relatively cost-intensive realization required a tight management. Handling material, financial and subsequently logistical resources, turned out to be one of the major challenges in the long run. With substantial aid of regionally and supraregionally operating businesses, we ultimately managed to apply gained research-based knowledge on two vehicle concepts that contain complex elements from mechanical and automotive engineering.
quite completely unexperienced in terms of vehicle construction and engineering principles, we had to start the project with an indispensible research phase - particularly in the fields of chassis development, propulsion, lightweight design and even safety measures that might be necesssary.
After translating these insights into concrete objectives and priorities, we were able to develop a first set of simple prototypes on a 1:7 scale which again allowed for comparison of diverse characteristics. We eventually followed up on three basic approaches that looked promising, thus entering prototype stage.
The insights we gained during prototyping allowed us to refine the vehicle propulsion in several development stages. Replacing the rear sprockets with a bevel gear not only proved to be most effective in terms of performance limits and a 1:1 transmission on 16" wheels, but also regarding overall stability and durability. Due to tight curves on the race course, we further improved cornering by adjusting the rear wheelbase and center of gravity.
On the contrary, the laser sintered components of the front fork gave us a grave cause for concern. Being unexperienced with material cohesion and unable to conduct static calculation beforehand, led to wrong assessments concerning torsional and tensile load which the linkup between the steering head and frame simply couldn't withstand. Adding reinforcement elements and bending the frame into shape let us fix that issue on time.
In order to save as much weight as possible while minimizing friction loss, the team consequently focused on lightweight design and a preferably low center of gravity. With regards to transmission, best results were obtained by utilizing a hub drive on the rear suspension in conjunction with a throttle ensuring ideal acceleration without triggering the drill's automatic shutdown.
While the intended frame construction made of bamboo unfortunately turned out to be technically unfeasible in the time remaining, we managed to reduce the total weight by 25% through rigging high tenacity ropes for kite surfing with the frame construction itself. Utilizing this solution allowed for a lightweight, unconventional driver's seat and a low center of gravity.
Retrospectively, projects like these laid the foundation for my comprehension of design as an interdisciplinary study which is why I decided to showcase it - after all this was a student project from 2011. Still, co-creating a product in a by then unknown area of expertise helped to cultivate my way of seeing "good" UX as a result of a priorly realized product thinking. Sounds too vague? It is not as complicated as it may seem:
by initially defining the problem our product solves (the development of an electric drill-powered propulsion that is able to move a vehicle), we were able to map out a strategy of how this could be achieved (by using a lightweight design frame with a bevel gear respectively hub drive). Having a clear notion of the so called problem-solution-fit eventually allowed us to determine our goals and additional vehicle features.