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Brown + RISD: Improving Transportation in Developing Economies

10/21/2010

The inspiration for eMotive, an ongoing collaboration between RISD designers and Brown University engineers, first hit Associate Professor Khipra Nichols [BID ’78] during a trip to Cambodia. He was struck by a sight common in the developing world: large families piled onto motorcycles built for no more than two. In addition to being dangerous, motorcycles misused in this way are inefficient and emit more pollutants; Nichols’ response was to begin brainstorming alternative solutions to the growing problem of affordable, viable transportation in developing countries.

Back in Providence, Nichols teamed up with his Industrial Design colleague, Assistant Professor Michael Lye ’96 ID, and Chris Bull, a senior research engineer at Brown, in pursuit of a single goal: to develop an affordable, durable, safe, easily repairable and ecologically smart vehicle. Dubbed eMotive, the undertaking has since involved many students at both institutions who have taken a series of research and design studios focused on the project.

“We are trying to design and fabricate something that is small, light, energy-efficient and fun to drive,” Bull explains. Adaptability to local conditions is another crucial consideration: terrain, climate and user needs vary widely in urban and rural areas where the vehicle might be used. The faculty team and their students have delved into all phases of R&D, including research into conditions, resources and production methods in China, Bali, Cambodia, Italy and England; design investigation of exterior form and seating configurations; and construction of working prototypes.

With several generations of prototypes behind them, the eMotive team is currently refining a four-wheeled, battery-powered vehicle that has elements of both a car and a motorcycle and holds four passengers. Their goals: improved safety, fuel-efficiency and affordability in developing economies. But even though the students who have taken it out for a spin say it’s undeniably fun to drive, the vehicle has yet to be tested in its potential markets. “We want to create something...that [users] will be attracted to,” Nichols says. “There has to be a fun factor.”
tags: Brown, innovation, Industrial Design, partnerships + collaborations, research, STEAM, sustainability

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A figure modeling class from 1916.