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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 02 

University launching second 3-D printed vehicle design competition

February 18, 2015

Virginia Tech will launch today the second annual Spring Additive Vehicle Design Challenge, a competition for students to design a remote-controlled 3-D printed vehicle that can drive on ground and fly in the air.  

Christopher Williams and Al Wicks, associate professors of mechanical engineering with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, will kick off the 2015 competition with an information session today at 5 p.m. in 190 Goodwin Hall. All undergraduate and graduate students are invited to participate. 

“My goal is the same as last year, and that is to get as many students engaged in the emerging fields of 3-D printing and mechatronics, whether they come from the College of Engineering or from across Virginia Tech,” said Williams, the W.S. ‘Pete’ White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education. “This is a competition about design, creativity, and problem solving.”

The competition is designed to spur designs that could allow future deployed military or civilian engineers to fabricate remotely-piloted vehicles while in battlefield or austere environmental conditions, such as the site of a natural disaster to search for survivors or carry out reconnaissance missions.

Participants will be tasked with building a remotely-piloted vehicle made via 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, that can navigate a series of ground obstacles across varied terrain and then fly in and around various structures, including faux windows. How the vehicles move on the ground – tire, tread, or legs -- is up to the designer. The course will require vehicles to switch back and forth between ground and air modes. To simulate a reconnaissance mission, the vehicles will be required to capture images at various points with an on-board camera.

Following a mid-competition design review, 12 teams will be selected for the May 1 finale at the Rector Field House.

Designs will be judged based on the vehicle controller’s ability to navigate both ground and air courses,  including timeliness and number of obstacles cleared, and the vehicle’s effective use of additive manufacturing, with consideration going toward time to print and assemble the vehicle, and the number of 3-D printed parts.

Judges from the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center will evaluate vehicle designs.

The top winner will be awarded $3,000, with a total of $15,000 in cash prizes awarded. Prizes will be both divided by undergraduate and graduate levels, and also overall best of show.

The competition is again being organized by Williams’ DREAMS – short for Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems – Lab, Wicks’ Mechatronics Lab, and the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation.

Support is being provided by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Electronic base kits, batteries, and cameras for vehicles will be supplied by engineering firm Robotic Research. Cash prizes will be provided by the Stiefel Family Foundation, a nonprofit energy investment firm.

The first challenge was held in 2014 with more than 200 students participating. Fourteen teams, seven each in separate air and ground vehicle categories, were selected for the final competition. A team of mechanical engineering graduate students won both categories, and was later invited to meet with personnel from the Air Force and the Assistant Secretary for Defense at the Pentagon.

This year’s competition will expand beyond Virginia Tech and include participants from the U.S. Air Force Academy, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It also will serve as the launching point of a third national competition that will launch in August 2015 and include universities from across the nation.

“The goal of this semester’s competition is to establish a strong foundation, so we can go bigger next year and increase the scale to a national competition,” said Williams.

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