Volvo Invents a Solar Panel That Unfurls From the Car Trunk

Volvo is famous for favoring safety over style, making the selection of Synthesis Design + Architecture, best known for its sweeping, sci-fi inspired solutions, a bit of a surprise. The solar-powered pavilion is a stunning showcase for its new hybrid electricV60 model, and the parabolic platform is intended to highlight the sedate sedan’s impressive technological innovations at marketing events while charging it up for the ride to the next city.

Unlike many green design projects that tack on aesthetics like an aftermarket body kit, Synthesis was driven by them. Synthesis principal and USC professor Alvin Huang has been a long time researcher of “dynamic mesh relaxation”—a design approach pioneered by Frei Otto and amplified by computer science that is focused on the physical properties of dynamic materials and efficiently configuring them into complex, visually striking structures.

The design process involved digital and analog techniques—digital tools allowed for quick explorations of designs while physical models acted as proof of concepts for the carbon fiber frame, mesh surface, and artfully placed solar panels. The combination of the two styles of design equipped the team with an intuitive sense for what works to develop an attractive form that could stand up to the rigors of use in the field. “The iterative exchange between the parallel digital and analog models allowed us to further refine design technique, and perhaps more importantly, design intuition, in terms of achieving desired effects.” says Huang.

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