April 04, 2016
When Toyota agreed to work with engineering students at the International Center for Automotive Research at Clemson University, they were just hoping for a positive collaboration. In fact, they got much more than they bargained for. The resulting uBox concept vehicle has innovative versatility features and unique personalization capability. The curved glass roof is made with an industry-first manufacturing technique.
You'd never guess that there were bits of Camry, RAV4, and other Toyotas inside this UBox utility vehicle. It has a silhouette that seems like a van. The boxy body looks like it just needs armor to become a military vehicle. The front end features a blunt nose and an angled windshield. While the sides are high, there is a lot of glass to this greenhouse. The engineering students used a pultrusion technique to create a curved glass roof by using composite carbon fiber rails bonded with aluminum.
This unique manufacturing technique is sure to gain notice from seasoned engineers across the industry. The front end actually helps support the roof by providing an anchor to the carbon fiber/aluminum rails. These rails dress up the exterior as two patterned columns that slant along the left and ride sides of the windshield.
Since a concept car is a way for engineers to dream big, the student engineers decided to make the uBox cabin everything that it could be. The goal was to create an interior that could be used for comfortable commutes and big hauls. Advanced connectivity could make this a good work space for a busy professional. The curved glass roof adds an airy feel as well as headroom. The low floor invites loading and unloading cargo. This is furthered by the ability to move the seats along sliding rails. The seats can be rearranged or removed. Flip-up cushions let the user squish the seats together, maximizing usable space.
The students also envisioned a cabin that could be personalized using 3-D printing technology. This led them to create many detachable parts, including the dashboard display bezels, door trim, and vents. These would be used initially to personalize the vehicle. Over time, the owner might change the design. The students even recommended an online community where design ideas were shared between owners of the uBox.
Trades people and business professionals would appreciate the student engineer's thoughtful placement of 110-volt outlets. The engineers envisioned that the compact all-electric powertrain could serve a dual purpose. In addition to running the vehicle with zero emissions, it could provide energy for devices when it was parked. In the informational video that the students made, a tradesperson could hook up their power tools, using their car as their power source. This could be handy on remote sites, camp sites and anywhere else that it's hard to find an electric outlet.
The uBox project began two years ago with collaboration between Toyota Motor North America engineers and the Clemson engineering graduate students. Two students from the ArtCenter College of Design were also invited to help. During the initial design and market research phase, the engineering managers challenged the students to justify every aspect of the uBox. Although it could be fanciful, the end goal was to meet the needs of real-world customers. Under Toyota's guidance, the students hand-built the uBox prototype.
The uBox made its debut at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress and Exposition. No doubt, this fun and flexible concept vehicle is giving industry insiders a glimpse of what Generation Z wants in a vehicle.