Honda and CCAD students are designing the car of the future

Jess Deyo
jdeyo@dispatch.com
CCAD student presents prototype to 99P Labs representatives.

Despite popular belief, boomers and millennials do have something in common, according to 99P Labs and the students at the Columbus College of Art and Design.

99P Labs, a Honda affiliate, saw a need for a new, shared mobility vehicle—one that is fully electric and autonomous. In their findings, they saw the potential to target two of the largest age demographics, says Joan Smith, associate director of mobility innovations at 99P Labs.

“While they’re a very different age group, at opposite ends of the spectrum, they both have very similar physical needs,” Smith says, “and potentially the same level of need for shared mobility.”

Further, Smith explains that for a college graduate or young adult, finding a way to cover full transportation might be hard. Instead, the demographic may rely on an Uber or Lyft to get them where they need to go. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the older generation may have more liquid cash, but they are constrained by physical impairments that limit their ability to drive, she says.

To help with the project, 99P Labs recruited students from CCAD in fall 2019 to help bring the project to life. Why? CCAD has an emphasis on research, an aspect of the project that Smith found particularly vital.

“We believe that knowing a customer is a vital part of understanding how best to serve them. That was a huge portion of this project, and it should be a huge portion of any design,” Smith says. “Knowing the customer is the most important part, so we didn't want a beautiful picture, we wanted a real product that real people would want.”

The students started the project with in-depth research of the audiences they were targeting and the industry they were serving. In the months before Covid-19, the students went to events like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where they learned about the types of technology they could later pitch.

The decision to partner with Honda was a no brainer for Tom Gattis, dean of undergraduate studies at CCAD. He knew his students would succeed in the opportunity, he says.

“Something I've often said about our students is they not only think outside of the box, but they also didn’t recognize there was a box there to begin with,” Gattis says. “That’s one of the values they have—they can look at these problems with a different set of lenses.”

As the students worked to gain a better understanding, the sketching and mockups began. As the process continued, many factors were taken into consideration, like how the car will pull up to the curb, how to organize the interior, and what the traffic flow will look like, Gattis says.

The interior design was completed in December 2020, and the students are currently working on the car’s exterior. The car will be wheelchair accessible, and while it will be fully autonomous, there will be a passenger in the car for an added feeling of safety, Smith says.

For Emma Stokey, a sophomore at CCAD studying industrial design, working on the project has greatly contributed to her understanding of the process of design, and opened her eyes to what it’s like to work on a project bigger than herself, she notes.

Stokey started working on the project last fall and has spent her time reviewing the research that was already developed and collaborating with her peers to create an ideal design for the car’s interior.

“This project will contribute to my future success in so many ways,” Stokey said via email. "As students, I think we tend to create portfolio pieces that highlight our individual strengths. Still, this project has shown me how to work on a project that will benefit many people and include collaboration between talented and skilled individuals.”

As the final design for the car is completed, the students are also bringing in a virtual reality component as a way to enhance the design process and help both the students and the team at Honda see the design in a new way, Gattis says.

“The theory is that will speed up the process by being able to do it in virtual reality, right?” Gattis says. “Rather than building all of that physically, then testing and then making changes and testing again, we can do that in virtual reality much more rapidly.”

The virtual reality experience will be advanced, giving the team at Honda the full experience of being in the car, down to the textures, colors, fabrics and interfaces, Gattis says.

The project, which is in its fifth semester, is expected to be completed this May. After, Smith and Gattis hope the project will continue to develop, they say.

"What I would like to do is demonstrate this back to our industry sponsors,” Smith says. “To show this to companies like SHARE Mobility and to other OEMs and demonstrate this capability to really highlight these designers and show in what new ways they have found to solve problems that are facing the automotive industry, and even government and city infrastructure, as well as just show off to show everybody what they created.”