The Call of the Future: Project Arrow and the Winning Team

Brandy Ryan February 24, 2021 8 min read

What does the APMA do in response to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call to action for a net-zero emission economy by 2050? Engage young, fresh, and motivated minds. Cue Project Arrow.

As Canada’s national association for OEM producers, the APMA has led several innovative and collaborative projects within Canada’s automotive industry since 2014. But unlike its previous collaborations, which connected APMA with independent Canadian firms and auto tech start-ups, this project engaged those with the most at stake in our current climate crisis: youth from Canadian colleges and universities. Project Arrow invited these young designers to submit proposals in response to the challenge of sustainability and mobility in Canada—and the world.

The contest’s design parameters were no small thing. Aside from the need to demonstrate students’ perception of vehicle design in 2025 and beyond, these designs also had to consider: the footprint and attributes of a sport-cross-over utility vehicle, aerodynamics, light-weighting, use of advanced materials, CASE mobility ideology, and integration of upcycle design.

And yes, the designs needed to be responsive to the Canadian environment, one of the most complex and varied climates in the world. And if that weren’t a complex enough task, further considerations included accessibility for all, micro-mobility, the shared economy model, and a drone within the vehicle design architecture. (For more about the contest and its phases, click here.)

The competition was tough. Of nine complete submissions, three were chosen as finalists:

“Sea to Sky Electric’s E-Nova,” submitted by Marie-Pier Alary and Bailee van Rikxoort, from the Wilson School of Design at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Richmond, BC.

“Archer,” submitted by a mighty team of one—Stephen Bykowy, Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning in Toronto, ON.

And “Traction,” submitted by Kaj Hallgrimsson, Jun Won Kim, Mina Morcos, and Matthew Shuetz, from Carleton University in Ottawa, ON.

Each design brought something unique and fresh to the table, but, ultimately, the judges (representing the automotive, design, software, and sustainability industries—find the full list here) declared Team Traction the winner. “With this design,” said Flavio Volpe, APMA President, “the team from Carleton University has given a face to the name of Project Arrow that one day we hope will launch a thousand shifts.”

Team Traction relied on their industrial design experience as they tackled the challenge of scale and complexity in designing a car. They also drew on their unique backgrounds: Mina Morcos has a background in psychology, neuroscience, and behaviour; Kaj Hallgrimsson helped navigate manufacturing considerations and 3D CAD representations; Jun Won Kim has a deep and intense interest in car design; Matthew Shuetz worked to visualize the concepts in VR and rendering software.

Brought together, this diversity of thought, skill, and experience created a foundation for their shared understanding: that design at its best is fundamentally linked to human needs and experience.

The question that guided them, Kaj notes, was “how we could take Canadian values and distill them into design principles?” They began by identifying those key design principles and then distilling them to three key principles. Informed by interviews and personal experiences, these principles are strikingly Canadian: simplicity, freedom, stability. Knowing that judges would also be looking for environmental fit, the team drew on the incredible diversity of Canadian geography.

The fractals, fragments, flat planes, and hard edges that make up much of the Canadian landscape became their form language. They also chose a distinctly Canadian animal as their design inspiration—the polar bear. “When we look at designs,” Jun Won says, “we also look at proportions and stance. And the polar bear has a commanding but stable stance. Their shoulder lines are very dramatic, but overall, they’re very stable.”

Kaj elaborates: “A lot of car design has moved towards a more aggressive front end. But the polar bear, the way it’s shaped, is completely different: it has large rear haunches that slope down to the front. And it’s one of Canada’s apex predators. We wanted to create a robust feeling, something that is seen as secure and stable—but also a little aggressive, can handle itself in tough situations.”

From their initial ideation, the team began to collaborate and iterate. Because they were finishing up school projects until April, they had about a month to transform that idea into a strong submission. It was a tight timeline, Kaj notes. “Our final plan for our phase one came in the last five days or so of that timeline. And then we redesigned it for our phase two.” The team worked in complicated and unanticipated conditions—the global pandemic and Canadian lockdown meant no studio time, no in-person meetings. Instead, like design teams across the globe, the group worked virtually, treating their second phase as a full-time job (for Jun Won, this was on top of his other full-time job): waking up to work on it all day, going to bed, waking up to work on it again. And that’s when the team discovered was introduced to Alias and VRED for sketching, iteration, and rendering.

“This was my first time in VR,” Mina says. “The technology was very intuitive in a lot of ways, so it wasn’t a huge learning curve.” Mina would draw a three-dimensional sketch from the paper sketches they had previously done and send it to Matt.

Matt would place surfaces, and the team would come together to evaluate it. Once they made the necessary design decisions and refinements, the design would go to Kaj, who would model it in Alias. The finished design would then be rendered in VRED.

“I was really blown away by the quality and speed that it takes to render in VRED,” Kaj notes. “We’d never touched the software before, so it was a pretty steep learning curve, especially using different UI controls, getting used to them, and then also learning new types of surfacing, like NURBs.” Unlike the software they had been trained on, Alias and VRED were better geared for a project of this scale and complexity. So he watched as many online tutorials as he could, learning from other designers how to use the software for each step of the design process.

Jun Won was also struck by how different the process was—even without VR gear. “Mina would call me, send me a quick VR wireframe, and then we would start going over proportions and details. It was like modeling done online, but you can fix things really quickly. We went through so many proportions just in the first hour.”

Mina agrees. “It definitely changed the way we approached how we design. Being in virtual reality, you can actually try out your designs. It’s no different than creating a scale model. I could literally scale up to an actual car size, sit in the cockpit, in the driver’s seat, and see how it feels.”  

Autodesk came in to support Project Arrow, after Vanessa Sigurdson (Industry Engagement Manager, Technology Centers Network) met Colin Dhilon, APMA’s Chief Technical Officer. When Vanessa heard about Project Arrow, she offered the support of the Autodesk Technology Centers and its Outsight Network community to ensure the student teams had the support they needed to generate designs in a timely manner—enabling the project to stay on schedule. The support of both the Autodesk Automotive team and Autodesk Technology Centers was crucial to Team Traction as they navigated new software and technology while tackling the biggest and most complex project they had ever undertaken. Kaj’s primary contacts were Autodesk’s Michael Sagan (Technical Solutions Executive, Automotive), Barry Kimball (Technical Product Manager, Alias) and Rich Mazza (Principal Specialist).

That support was vital, Kaj says. “I would go to them with a problem—like how to make this one area less complex, how to transition well—and I would share my screen. They would draw over it and show me, ‘you can do this operation here, or have you tried the SubD modeling?’—and I hadn’t. They gave me a place to start, really quick problem solving. It was great.”

The technology centers also offered tangible guidance, holding bi-weekly meetings for the team to ensure they were on track and on schedule, and sharing industry insights. “We got a lot of help,” Mina observes, “especially from Brian Jeong (Shop Supervisor, Technology Centers) when trying to understand the manufacturing of certain parts we were looking at, or how to approach the design so that it would be more lightweight or easier to build.”

Key to the car’s design specs were not only its zero-emissions, but also its accessibility. Traction’s “micromobility” was a strikingly simple concept, inspired by the needs of real people. “This unit came from the idea of helping people lift their wheelchairs into the car without an assistant. But it can also be used to carry groceries from the car, bring luggage out. It’s like a personal caddy,” Kaj says.

Their favorite moments of this competition? Learning how to design something as big picture as a car and thinking through its entire system. Doing it digitally and virtually. Although the pandemic dramatically shifted how they worked, Mina now sees it as an opportunity. “It was such an unfortunate thing, but it allowed us to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do in other circumstances. Sometimes limitations are really just prompts to do something better, push that limit.”

Their biggest take-aways? Communication is key. For a team that had not worked together before and had to pivot to virtual meetings from the start, effective communication was crucial. They learned how to critique constructively and be open to that critique. Those critiques allowed the team to build on and improve each other’s ideas. “Everyone has their own idea of what a design is going to be,” Kaj notes. “This project was a big deal, and we all wanted to leave a personal imprint. But this is bigger than that, Canada’s first zero-emission car design. We had to consolidate those ideas and create something beyond ourselves, something for every Canadian.”

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