Designing cars can be more than just a job: It can be an art form, a dream — and for some, that dream starts at the UW’s Automobili Lamborghini Laboratory (Lambo Lab).
Paolo Feraboli, research associate professor and director of the Lambo Lab (also known as the Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory, or ACSL), started working with these adrenaline-pumping, raging bulls at Lamborghini in Italy. He has also worked on the 787 Dreamliner during his time at Boeing and for NASA, before being recruited to the UW and bringing all of these corporations together to fund the Lambo Lab.
“Part of the reason [for Lamborghini’s investment] was to transition experience and knowledge from the work we do with Boeing to Lamborghini,” Feraboli said.
And that experience and knowledge helps the next generation of engineers. Feraboli said over the course of seven or eight years the Lambo Lab has employed more than 150 undergraduates and dozens of graduates for paid, hands-on work that accentuates a student’s learning while at the UW.
One such student, Rachel Braaten, a freshman planning to major in engineering, joined the Lambo Lab in 2011.
Braaten intended on going to college in California, but changed her mind when she heard about the lab.
“That’s pretty much what brought me to the UW, the [Lamborghini] Lab,” Braaten said.
Feraboli offered Braaten an internship two summers ago, while she was still in high school, and ever since she has worked at the Lab, even after her internship ended.
A Lamborghini researcher’s true mettle doesn’t come from just being a student or at the UW, but is also shown in the meticulously tested designs and revolutionary concepts that come from the lab and are put into production year after year. Familiar models like the Sesto Elemento, the Urus, or the recently released Veneno all feature technology that comes directly from the UW’s Lambo Lab.
Usually, carbon fiber is laid by hand — making it costly and inefficient. The Lambo Lab has improved the methods of working with forged carbon fiber via automated machinery, decreasing the cost of using carbon fiber while increasing efficiency of creation and availability.
The first generation of the Murcielago, designated the LP 580, is a 3,600-pound car powered by a 12-cylinder, naturally aspirated engine that produces 572 horsepower. For those without car knowledge, this will take the Murcielago from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and can do a top speed of 205 mph. In comparison, the average Camry, for example, has 178 horses and can do zero to 60 mph in around six seconds. The amount of carbon fiber in the Murcielago is around 30 percent.
Building upon the carbon fiber inspiration of the Murcielago, Lamborghini started working on the successor: the LP 700-4, also known as the Aventador. A newly designed 12-cylinder engine which produces 700 horsepower drives the car from zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds with a top speed of 217 miles per hour. The Aventador does this with around a 55 percent carbon fiber content.
“The Murcielago made about 450 pieces per year, whereas the Aventador has about 1,000 cars per year,” Feraboli said. “That was only achievable with completely different technology that allows for a faster rate and, somewhat, lower assembly cost.”
The Sesto Elemento, a $2.9 million Lamborghini, is made from over 80 percent carbon fiber. This has helped bring the weight of the car down to just over 2,000 pounds, requiring a smaller 10-cylinder engine that creates 570 horsepower. Lighter-weight cars require less energy to get them moving, so this lighter car, despite having a less-powerful engine than its predecessors, can go from zero to 60 in a mere 2.6 seconds.
Pride in the Lab’s carbon fiber successes are apparent upon walking through the doorway; among the first things seen upon entering the Lamborghini Lab (besides a plethora of raging bulls) are carbon fiber bits and pieces from the Sesto Elemento that were designed using forged carbon fiber from the UW’s Lambo Lab.
The Urus, Lamborghini’s first SUV, is slated for release sometime in 2017 and has generous use of carbon fiber throughout the vehicle.
Just this week, Lamborghini unveiled the Veneno, a $4.5 million hyper-car that uses the same forged carbon fiber technology that can be traced through its predecessors and directly back to the UW.
Charles Beal, an industrial designer and staff member of the Lambo Lab, described working for Lamborghini at the UW as the “Holy Grail of design jobs.”
Most of the researchers’ time is spent doing research and development for their main supporters, Lamborghini and Boeing.
“When we were in Italy last summer, we got to check out the prototype concept [of the Urus SUV],” Beal said. “The forged composite [from the Lamborghini Lab] is largely featured in the Urus, it’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. It’s used liberally on the inside of the Urus, and it looks great too — an excellent application for it.”
The development of new carbon fiber-laying processes also had an unexpected side effect. Many supercars would be considered ‘disposable,’ meaning that, when the car is damaged, there is no way to repair specific sections, since the car is all one piece and the handmade carbon fiber bodies are too costly to repair. However, most airplanes have repairable carbon fiber, and that technology is now moving into the auto industry.
One of the issues supercar owners have is that when the car’s carbon fiber is damaged, there is no way to repair it. Lamborghini’s carbon panels are now repairable, helping solve this issue.
Bonnie Wade, manager of the Lambo Lab and Ph.D. student in aeronautics, started working at the lab as an undergraduate in 2007 after being accepted into the aeronautics program. She had come to the realization that she wanted to do some sort of research and “get her hands dirty,” as she put it.
“I was into aerospace before, but it’s a great combination of worlds when you’re looking at the [similar] engineering and technologies of both,” Wade said. “But supercars are so cool — I’ve definitely got the bug.”
True to this mentality, the Lambo Lab’s research isn’t just about cars. At the 2010 Paris Auto Show, a new carbon fiber golf driver from Callaway was showcased next to a concept for the Sesto Elemento, both using the same carbon fiber technologies that were created at the UW.
As the UW shapes its students into the future of society, so too are the students of the UW shaping the supercars of tomorrow.
Reach reporter Deanna Isaacs at email@example.com. Twitter: @Deanna_Isaacs