CLEMSON — Students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) unveiled their newest Deep Orange concept vehicle, sponsored by the BMW Group. The 18-student team recently unveiled the fully-functional, drivable concept vehicle at the BMW Zentrum in Greer.
Deep Orange 7 is a re-envisioned MINI, one of BMW’s iconic brands. For the seventh generation of Deep Orange, students were challenged to reimagine a MINI vehicle for the premium U.S. market for 2025 and beyond. Students were in charge of determining which innovative features would fit the MINI brand, as well as how these innovations would be integrated into the vehicle. As a result of this collaborative real-world educational experience, the students designed and built a functioning, drivable concept vehicle with multiple innovative features.
From the project’s beginning in 2014, the BMW Group mentored the students but minimized their influence on the creative process to receive unbiased results. “Working with the students as a mentor in the Deep Orange 7 project was a wonderful experience. They worked really hard and showed creativity and professionalism at the same time,” said Julian Weber, at that time head of Innovation Projects E-Mobility at BMW in Munich, Germany. “The resulting vehicle is a huge step forward and showcases very interesting solutions. My biggest question during the project was why a course like this wasn’t offered when I was a student.”
As part of the graduate automotive engineering program at CU-ICAR, select students are given the unique opportunity to create and build a concept vehicle. The project showcases advanced technologies and provides students an opportunity to work directly with automotive industry partners.
“Deep Orange gives our students invaluable hands-on experience and exposure to all phases of the vehicle development process starting with identifying the project’s grand challenge — understanding MINI’s history alongside a deep dive into potential customers — all the way through the engineering and fabrication process,” said Johnell Brooks, associate professor of automotive engineering at Clemson University and project lead. “Collaboration with diverse industry partners ranging from local shops to international companies provides insight for our students into various cultures and how to effectively collaborate whether the company is located across the street or multiple time zones away.”
“Hard work, dedication and long hours allowed the students to drive their rolling chassis before they completed their two-year MS program. The body panels, glazing (windows) and upholstery were completed after their graduation. Deep Orange graduates seamlessly transition into the workforce due to the depth and breadth of experiences provided during their graduate education.”
CU-ICAR partnered with ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, on the vehicle’s styling. This provides engineering and design students the opportunity to collaborate just as they would in a real-world design studio. ArtCenter has been a strategic partner on multiple previous Deep Orange concepts.
“Based on a thorough analysis of the future customer base for MINI in the U.S., the team competently addressed these customers’ aspirations through innovations and vehicle design,” said BMW Manager of Research & Innovation Jörg Schulte, who served as BMW mentor for the project in South Carolina. “The convergence of engineering from the automotive engineering students at CU-ICAR and styling from ArtCenter College of Design in California was challenging at times, but resulted in great, real-life learning experiences for the team and led to a well thought-out and stunning vehicle design. The BMW Group very much appreciates the innovative outside-in view of what a future MINI hatch could look like.”
The Deep Orange 7 vehicle was engineered around three primary goals: target the premium U.S. market 2025 and beyond, maximize the use of interior space and ensure a fun driving experience. This is how the students achieved those goals:
An innovative open design with a floating dashboard creates a single space throughout the entire vehicle, called MINI Open. The traditional hood is replaced with a windshield that reaches all the way to the front of the vehicle and is easily lifted. Occupants are provided with a unique wide-open view outwards.
This open design enables customers to see/share/store (S³) their prized items in the front of their vehicle as well as in the rear hatch. Items can be displayed or held securely with Origami Storage, a clever and customizable aftermarket solution.
A scalable powertrain provides the customer the choice of internal combustion engine, two plug-in hybrid options or a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV). The clever design means all four variants can be built on the same vehicle platform. The concept vehicle includes one of the two hybrid options, which was the most challenging to build.
For the hybrid and BEV variants, electric motor cooling elements are functionally integrated inside the vehicle’s rocker panel, eliminating the need for conventional radiators and giving easy access to the front storage space. Rocker cooling takes advantage of otherwise unused space.
Engineering the vehicle with manufacturing in mind resulted in a modular architecture Students explored the theoretical concept of assembling the vehicle from four large separate modules.
A customizable personal virtual companion, MINI FACE, replaces the conventional static instrument cluster and center stack. MINI FACE anticipates the needs of the driver and presents relevant information on a holographic display. Much like theatre scenery, important interactive elements are in the front, while other information remains visible on display layers in the back. Hand gestures are used to interact with the system in three dimensions.
When parked, the MINI Parking Marshal concept uses its own exterior lights to guide other drivers who are parking in front of or behind it. The lights illuminate incrementally as the other vehicle approaches. The lights encourage drivers to park at an optimal distance. A driving simulator is used to demonstrate this concept.