SHANGHAI (April 18, 12 p.m. ET) — In the opening moments of Chinaplas 2012, partners in the annual plastics and rubber exhibition uncovered the “BatShark,” a prototype eco-friendly red sports car designed by students at Shanghai's East China University of Science and Technology.
The “BatShark” was the winner of a competition challenging students to put plastics to use in designing a car that would accommodate the expectations of future drivers.
The car is on display, along with a selection of other innovative materials from exhibitors at the show in Chinaplas 2012's “Futurezone,” an outdoor pavilion on the grounds of the exhibition.
“The theme for Chinaplas 2012 this year has been refined as ‘The future is in plastics and rubber,'” said Zhu Yulun, the chairman of Adsale, speaking at a press event held before Chinaplas opened. “With its wide range of applications, new materials play a vital role in improving our future life and promoting the continuous development of other industries, through contributing enormously on energy conservation and environmental protection.”
As part of the “Future Car” project, students from ECUST were challenged to design a car incorporating plastic parts and improving the environmental impact of the automobile. Fifteen groups of students participated in the challenge and, from the 15 original designs submitted, a panel of judges first narrowed down the field to three final contestants and then selected the “BatShark” as the winner.
“When we were looking for ideas, we started out thinking of what the expectations would be for the future,” said Yang Yingyan, a 21-year-old ECUST student who was on the winning design team. Then, she said, they started looking for inspiration in the animal kingdom.
The BatShark's design is based on the shape of a Manta Ray, “an elegant yet aggressive marine creature,” according to the description of the vehicle. (The Chinese word for Manta Ray translates literally to “BatShark”)
“We liked the way it is balanced in the water—it turns very smoothly,” said Yang. The car incorporates solar energy as part of its power supply and has doors that open upward, like a bat.
“This is a special opportunity for our students,” said Tang Song Chao, a professor at ECUST. Not only were students invited to think outside of the box, experts from partner companies like Kingfa and Demag were also available to advise the students on their designs. “They have gotten advice and criticism from experts in the field. They have been able to work freely and creatively on their designs.”
In addition to the “BatShark,” the three final designs include the “Elf” and the “LeoHunter.” The Elf is the most lithe of all the designs, riding high off the ground in an imitation of military flight. The car body incorporates materials that are both strong and lightweight and offers drivers 360-degree visibility with a specially designed front window. The final entry, the “LeoHunter,” is designed to look like a leopard, low to the ground with large wheels. This design is described as “Super light, stable and speedy.”
“Plastics has 100 years of history, they have helped improve our standard of living,” said Jack Liu, an application engineering manager at Demag Plastics Group, one of the partners in the contest. “But many applications — like plastic bags — are convenient to use but can be bad for the environment. It's important that the development of plastics takes the environment into account.”
The Chinaplas contest, he said, is a good place to start. “This is the future of technology,” Liu said. “And these students are the future designers.”