“Glass is an easier material to work with if it’s an optical-based indicator because they’re translucent at some thickness level, so you can actually see inside of them and see the damage that is being reported,” says White. “With graphite, it’s a more challenging prospect since it’s largely black.”

And the researchers are not stopping at simply indicating damage. In the team’s report on its study, Autonomous Indication of Mechanical Damage in Polymeric Coatings, it notes that coatings that repair themselves may also be a possibility.

“Through the addition of microcapsules containing an epoxy monomer, we could enable coatings that not only indicate crack damage but also self-heal,” the paper states. “In future generations of self-reporting coatings, we anticipate the ability to autonomously indicate a damage event, heal the damage and provide a secondary indication that the damage had healed.”

Thinking Outside the Box

Project: An urban concept vehicle
School: Clemson University
Location: Clemson, S.C.
Principal Investigator: Johnell Brooks

If Clemson Associate Professor Johnell Brooks could offer words of wisdom to automotive engineers of the future, it would be to put a client’s needs and brand identity before their own personal desires. However, as millennials, many of Brooks’ engineering students are the exact people OEMs are looking to please.

One OEM, Toyota, saw an opportunity to create something novel when it reached out to Clemson University for help. The challenge: create a concept vehicle designed for urban environments that would appeal to the young people in Generation Z.

The result was the uBox – an electric vehicle and the sixth concept car in the Deep Orange series, a collaboration between graduate automotive engineering students at Clemson University, transportation design students at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and various automotive industry partners.

The Clemson team used high-strength composites to reduce the weight, minimize part count and simplify the assembly of the uBox. According to Shayne McConomy, an associate research engineer at Clemson who mentored the Deep Orange graduate students, composites were used to make the doors, a lot of the internal body panels, several of the structures in the front clip (which comprises seven pieces that make up the dash) and the crash rail panels. He adds that the students were able to create the shape of the car by putting a fiberglass overlay onto the composite panels. The entire car weighs just 1,612 kilograms (~3,554 pounds).


Clemson University graduate students made the uBox concept car for Toyota to appeal to Generation Z consumers. Photo credit: Clemson University