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A vision of the urban tram’s future

The winning concept for the 'Dual Autonomous Tram' in the prestigious UWB DESING+ competition. Courtesy of UWB / Škoda Group

Imagine a modular autonomous tram with the ability to transport passengers during the day, easily converted into a freight carrier in the evening. Such a vision for the future was recently confirmed as the winner of the prestigious DESING+ (Industrial DESign + EngineerING Design) competition organised by the University of West Bohemia (UWB), Czech Republic.

Now in its 18th year, the DESING+ challenge is designed to facilitate inter-faculty collaboration in the fields of construction, industrial design, healthcare and marketing to solve design tasks assigned by national and international companies. In 2022, six interdisciplinary teams consisting of 56 students from the UWB’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art, th Faculty of Health Care Studies and the Faculty of Economics participated in the contest; almost 1400 UWB students have taken part since 2004.

‘No design limits’

Giving the student teams the freedom to work from a blank sheet of paper under the guidance of university lecturers and professional industrial mentors, the DESING+ project encourages a methodological approach to design, while at the same time allowing students to step out of their comfort zone. Škoda Group’s tram research and development department was involved as a consultant for students throughout the project. The presented technical proposals are therefore the result of the EDSM approach supported by collaboration with the client.

In the mobility section assigned, supported and co-evaluated by Škoda Group, this year the theme was the ‘Dual Autonomous Tram’. This set the task of designing a light rail vehicle which could be employed for passenger transport, but also easily configurable for the delivery of pre-ordered packages. The winning team, led by Jan Mikeska of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, presented a concept where handling robots remove the cargo at the tramstop for people to pick up without having to wait.

The evaluation panel appreciated the project’s technical solution and its sophistication, the degree of thought from a design perspective, the significant contribution of the medical team members, but also the critical view of the marketers on economic aspects.

In previous years the manufacturer set design briefs for a rail vehicle underpass barrier system (academic year 2018-19), catenary-free tram designs (2019-20) and a driver’s cab (2020-21). Resulting concepts included innovative interior designs to improve accessibility; autonomous hydrogen-powered trams that incorporate air purifier systems to improve urban air quality; and deformable body structures which reduce the impacts of collisions with other vehicles.

Configurable to carry both passengers and freight, packages are loaded and unloaded by robot in a seamless process. Courtesy of UWB / Skoda Group

Creating a complete system

Lucie Šimečková – a graduate of the UWB Faculty of Mechanical Engineering who took part in the project several years ago and is now employed by Škoda as well as being a member of the evaluation committee – said: “This is our vision of the future of transportation. If you live and work in the city, you will not drive to work in the future, but go by tram. You can therefore pick up the shipment directly at the stop. The task for students is therefore to design such a system, including the vehicle itself and the stop.”

As for the methodology, she explained: “Using the advanced EDSM (Engineering Design Science and Methodology) approach guides you comprehensively through the entire design process. It navigates you like a map, where and how it is possible to proceed, but at the same time it leaves you the possibility of enormous creativity within the available space of physical constraints and regulations. It’s about opening the mind, not creating artificial limits for innovative ideas.”

DESING+ project founder and guarantor Professor Stanislav Hosnedl, from the Department of Machine Design, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, added: “We highly appreciate the great impact of topical know-how as well as the huge effort of the deputies of our external partners, especially Jiří Vokoun and Lucie Šimečková from the tram research and development section of Škoda Group in this case.

“Since beginning in 2004, 20 external partners have been involved in the collaborative project, and have given students a total of 57 topics, on the basis of which about 210 works have been created. Even nominal diplomas and certificates from companies that students receive have great weight and are a great business card when getting a job.”