From Concept to Form: A physical study of the self-driving race car

My final project proposal is to produce a scale model of a car concept and its key components. The concept of the car itself is to combine the self driving car with a track specific race car for the purposes of safely teaching racing skills to new users. For this project I will produce a scale model of the car form and a few key components of the vehicle including the wheels and seats through additive processes like 3D printing and subtractive processes like CNC machining.

I have been designing automotive forms and components this semester in fusion 360 and learning to create automotive components for the end goal of producing physical forms of the car. I have been going about this process similar to the way a child doodles cars on a notebook, which is something I did a lot as a kid and even still do today. Through learning CAD and tools such as fusion 360 I have been able to sketch car forms and car parts that I had only previously been able to do in two dimensions.

I started with the real world scale of the car’s wheel so that the dimensions of the final form would be correct in scale and proportion to a real car. I scaled the wheel to the appropriate dimensions and then built a form that fit that scale. The car has a wide footprint. It’s designed to be similar to an f1 car, or an open wheeled race car because the real area that I’m interested in this car concept is to have an automated car that is also a race car. Why would anyone want a race car that drives itself you might ask? For a number of reasons. First of all is safety. Driving can be dangerous but pushing a car to its limits on a race track increases that danger exponentially. This car would allow new users and aspiring drivers to learn the fastest driving lines of a specific racetrack in real time. The car would be powered by two electric motors one at the front and one at the rear and energy would be stored in lithium ion batteries similar to most current electronic vehicles on the market. The car would also be equipped with a series of cameras, lidar, and GPS that would allow the car to read the track data and allow a user to sit in the drivers seat while the car achieved lap times that are only possible by professional drivers with years of experience.

The idea is that you could show up at your favorite race track, Laguna Seca in California for example, upload the racetrack data into the car and start learning how to achieve the fastest lap times possible directly from the driver’s seat. The car would also allow you to take over driving duties at any time.

For this project the focus is making the physical car and it’s components at a scale and fidelity that are achievable and practical in the time frame and budget that I am working with. I am currently in communication with Byron, Becky, and Chase at Idea Forge to see what will be possible to make in the time allowed.

This project exists at the nexus of function and form. For me, making physical models of the car forms as a way of generating a canvas that later ideas can exist upon. The cars shape has large flat surfaces on the front and rear of the car to allow for an array of cameras and lidar equipment as well as a complete gps system. The wheels are large to allow for massive breaks to fit and the aspect ratio of the tires is small to give driver feedback and little side wall roll. The car shape is designed to host a complex network of equipment that connect the car to the road and ultimately the race track.

For this project I am bridging two dispirit areas of my interests and my studies. Working through issues that could potentially benefit new and learning race care drivers and opening that world to a variety of users and potentially even save lives.

As an artist I have made physical objects with my hands and my mind and I have made art within the computer, but I have never made something physical and tactile that I first designed in a computer. This project allows me to bridge that gap. A car solves simple problems like conveyance. Self driving cars solve the problem of driving. This car design could potentially solve the problem of driving a race car effectively and teaching users how to do that as well.

The learning curve of the 3D printing and the CNC machining processes will be my main challenges. I will be outsourcing the printing process to the Idea Forge but I will still be involved in every step along the way. Scaling the CAD models to the correct size for printing might bring some issues for example I will need to adjust the thickness of my car form to 2mm or 1/16th of an inch to have the best results in printing. I would also like to print the car form in clear acrylic resin and that brings a host of challenges with it and I have yet to confirm if that is even possible for this project. The clarity and surface quality will be issues that I will need to work with Byron, Becky, Chase and possibly others at Idea Forge to solve. RJ will also be a resource that I use as I finalize my designs prior to submitting them for production.

The relationship between this project and my other areas of study is chiefly making a physical form from a digital design concept. I want that ability to permeate into my other areas of my research and design. Learning the process of 3D printing and CNC machining will expand what is possible for me in my other areas of study and beyond the program. This was a goal of mine coming into the program and is somewhat of a benchmark that I have set for myself.

The materials I intend to use are a 3D printed clear acrylic resin for the car form as well as unspecified plastics depending on which printer the Idea Forge recommends for this process. I am also interested in producing at least one wheel out of aluminum but I am warned this could be quite costly and time consuming. I will find out if this is possible as I proceed with the project.

I will also need to figure out how to adjust the thickness of the final form prior to printing to roughly 2mm or 1/16th of an inch. I will also need to find out which materials to buy. As I have alluded to previously in this proposal I have had meetings with Byron and Becky at Idea Forge and I have a meeting on Monday with Chase so hopefully these questions are answered soon. There is also a whole host of unforeseen questions that will arise as I undertake the process of turning a 3D design into a physical form.

I’ve made physical things as an artist, and I’ve made objects that live in the computer or that can be displayed on a computer, but never have I made a form in the computer that exists in the physical world as a three dimensional object. I am bridging two important areas of myself and my interests and I hope this is the first of many forays into the physical world with a design concept.

Mark Banzhoff is a photographer and graphic designer currently pursuing a masters degree in strategic communication design