While the original Project Arrow vehicle heads into the final stages of assembly, its spirit is now serving as an inspiration to post-secondary students across Canada in an annual challenge to imagine the vehicle of the future, this time with accessibility in mind
The Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) is once again calling on Canadian talent to envision the future of mobility.
The Project Arrow National Annual Mobility Design Competition announced its first winner this month, and a team from Humber College has claimed the inaugural title and $10,000 prize.
The challenge, which kicked off in January 2022, was clear: design a fully electric, autonomous vehicle for Canadians with disabilities.
“In most parts of Canada today, persons with disabilities caused by disease or injury are faced with multiple challenges,” reads the competition brief. “Their lack of full mobility restricts the types of transportation they can use, thereby making the availability of a motor vehicle relatively more important to them.”
In total, 12 teams from seven post-secondary schools submitted designs to the competition. Three were shortlisted as finalists, including the Humber team, comprised of students Patrick Hui, Nathan Lildhar, Andrew Liu and Han Yang. They codenamed their vehicle project “Atlas.”
While just the top team took home the prize money, all finalists earned a co-op term at Autodesk — an American software company responsible for developing AutoCAD design program.
A car for everyone
Over six million Canadians (15 years and older) have some type of disability. It is a large segment of the Canadian population chronically underserved by transit and transportation options across the country.
“What an 800-volt platform, connected autonomous vehicle will do is make transportation accessible to people who otherwise don’t have that,” says APMA president, Flavio Volpe, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “When the technology does enable 800-volt platforms everywhere and proper connectivity everywhere; the question the Atlas raises are going to be answered with design and production decisions.”
While the Atlas vehicle won’t actually be built (as opposed to the original Project Arrow vehicle) in their design, Team Atlas set out to rectify the recurring issues those with disabilities encounter with vehicles on the market today.
“Compassionate and empathetic societal traits have become a global symbol of who we Canadians are, and as such a Canadian-design mobility platform should mirror those values in providing a high level of understanding for caregiving,” states the brief.
So, fast forward to the year 2027, when the proposed vehicle is conceived to make its hypothetical debut. There are a few assumptions made, says the APMA: first, vehicle autonomy has reached Level 4. Next, the vehicles must all be lithium-ion battery-powered (an 800-volt platform), have independent suspension for each wheel with two electric motors and the body is made of aluminium and polymers.
“Part of the reason we picked it is that we do think that it is not as not as much of a stretch as you might imagine, that you might have imagined five to 10 years ago, that vehicle like this would exist. This thing could exist,” says Volpe.
Atlas looks like a very futuristic glass pod (reminiscent of a highly streamlined batmobile-type vehicle) that offers 360-degree visibility on four wheels. Slung low to the ground with independent wheel suspension and adjustable ride height the vehicle is able to drive on- or off-road.
The interior of Atlas boasts movable front seats that can be rotated 180 degrees to create a “sitting room” type configuration or folded away entirely to offer wheelchair users more room. An AI assistant and smart glass display help the driver to control the vehicle in autonomous mode and inclusive driving controls like a steering knob, accelerator ring, brake lever and standard pedals allow for the option of manual control. The AI assistant can also offer mental health support.
“ATLAS is designed to handle the terrain of Canadian roads with versatility, comfort and style,” states the winning presentation.
“ATLAS embodies Canadian values through its focus on inclusivity for those with disabilities, while still being functional for the average family.”