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Letter from Torino: Smith Engineers Designing Vehicles for the Future

Five Smith engineers make up a team participating in this year’s Vehicle Design Summit (VDS), a global consortium of teams working to design, build and market the VDS Vision 200, a four- to six-passenger vehicle that will reduce energy use and polluting emissions by 95 percent.

The Vehicle Design Summit was started in 2006 by student engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who produced an initial round of four test vehicles using alternative energy. This summer’s VDS Phase 2 aims to test a marketable vehicle to be refined and ready for mass production and sales in India by the end of 2009.

The Smith team, working in Torino, Italy, is charged with developing the car’s chassis and interior. Team leader Sari Field ’09 recently wrote to Linda Jones, director of the Picker Engineering Program, with an update of her team’s experience.

Dear Prof. Jones,

I arrived in Torino roughly two weeks ago (Alison, Darcy, and Elizabeth about three weeks ago), and since then we have made a lot of progress. In the first week, we familiarized ourselves with Italian culture and the city of Torino. I was immediately assigned to the [VDS] team developing the chassis and working toward the drive tests, along with Darcy. Alison and Elizabeth have had the dual task of designing the interior and working to develop the Smith team and design clinic next year.

Vehicle Summit Group
Pictured at the World Design Capital from left to right: Alison Cloutier '08, Sari Field '09, and Elizabeth Dulac '08

There are several students that organize and lead successful Formula 1 competition teams at their schools, who have agreed to help Alison and Elizabeth improve and plan for a strong Smith team next year. Elizabeth is also working on the Web site, and has created a logo for the Smith team [pictured]. I have been placed in charge of all students and teams here. I am excited for this opportunity and was honored to be chosen for this position.

The first week we spent a lot of time researching and sourcing a complete materials and tooling list for the prototype. I worked on the list for the chassis and suspension, while Darcy, Elizabeth, and Alison worked on a list for the interior. We visited Nuova Demolizione, a half-junkyard/half-zoo. There was even a camel! Already we have greatly improved our knowledge of all components of the car as this is common language among the students here.

After sourcing and determining materials and tooling, we are finalizing designs in SolidWorks. Alison and Elizabeth spent a 24-hour CAD session [??] their second day here working to compile an assembly of the model to be presented at the initial conferences with companies, which provided an excellent learning opportunity. Darcy and I are also using SolidWorks to model, and have had mini-lessons with some of the students here with extensive SolidWorks background.

We took a field trip to the "Speed" exhibit at the Museo Dell'Automobile, which showcased record-breaking vehicles. This exhibit is the second part of the "Trilogy of the Automobile," an event to celebrate Torino as the World Design Capital and to honor the history of the car. The third installment of the trilogy is the Dream Expo to showcase the past 60 years of car design and to highlight the best designed vehicles from major manufacturers.

Vehicle Design Summit is the only student-led group scheduled to participate in the exposition this September, at which we will showcase our prototype and a scale model of the car. Therefore, in addition to designing and building the rolling prototype, we are also working on planning, designing, and implementing a showcase for the Dream Expo. Unfortunately, we will be back at Smith at that time and will miss the big exhibit.

Outside of work, we have explored Torino a little. We visited the Basilica, which is set on the mountainside and provides a gorgeous view of the city. This weekend, we are traveling to Cinque Terra to enjoy the sun (hopefully) on the beach.

Thank you and hope all is well,

Sari (and team)

Sari Field
Team Leader, Vehicle Design Summit
Smith College

7/23/08  Eric Sean Weld
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