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Discovery Channel Features Students’ ‘FutureCars’


Two UC transportation design students are on a fast track to the future – to the year 2030 to be exact. Their car designs for that year are part of seven “FutureCars” to be examined on the Discovery Channel throughout February.

Date: 2/5/2007 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Andrew Higley

UC ingot  

Fast and furious. That’s how University of Cincinnati transportation design track students Mark Chrapla, 23, of Indianapolis, and Matt Zoller, 23, of White Oak, describe the competitive design process that’s landing them on the Discovery Channel every Wednesday evening in February.

Matt Zoller, left; Mark Chrapla, right
Matt Zoller, left; Mark Chrapla, right.

The pair – of UC’s internationally ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning – will  be featured on a four-part series called “FutureCar” that provides a glimpse of auto designs of the future and the incredible technologies to come. 

Chrapla and Zoller are two of only seven student designers included in the channel’s short-term series. They and their work were recorded this past summer when both earned  the chance to work in General Motors’ design studios. They earned the chance to work a summer cooperative-education quarter at GM via extremely competitive portfolio reviews and interviews in which they competed against hundreds of the best applicants from the nation’s transportation tracks and industrial design programs.

For Zoller, the filming of the series was a bit strange at first but more comfortable at the end. “The film crew came intermittently during the 12 weeks we were designing. They’d film us during our crits [critiques by GM designers] on Fridays and then talk with us afterward about how it went,” he explained.

Zoller added that for the most part, he just focused on his work and his project during the co-op. He added, “I figured I wasn’t there to be a TV star. This is a fun memory, and my family is excited, but long term, my design work is what matters.”

The students’ work will not only be displayed on the Discovery Channel. It’s also currently available online on the Discovery Channel’s Web site where visitors can vote for a favorite design. Zoller’s design is “Tech-i-Tonomy.” He said his vehicle lends itself well to introverts in society that will prefer to disconnect from reality while welcoming the digital world through technology and innovation. So, the driver of his concept vehicle is isolated from the world, but is surrounded by information with an extensive user interface: Communication transpires with friends and colleagues via an infotainment computer.

Matt Zoller, left
Matt Zoller at work in a UC studio.

"My design solution allows the driver to escape from the world, and yet experience the latest technology trends — this concept is a one-seat, open-wheel sports car that has the capability to create even more stimulation," says Zoller. "Technology is needed to live, and I believe people in the year 2030 will live on the grid or they will be out of the loop."

Chrapla’s design is titled “GM Symmetry” – a modular people’s car, where four passengers sit facing away from each other (back to back in a “plus sign” shape). This allows each individual to have a personal, digital module.

"The main idea behind the seating arrangement was to place an emphasis on digital communication as opposed to traditional person-to-person communication. The idea evolved from an image of four kids standing around together talking on cell phones. They were all physically present but communicating digitally. So, the idea was to have the passengers physically present but communicating digitally in their own personal space within the vehicle,” said Chrapla, who is currently on another co-op quarter with GM – this time in the auto maker’s California design studio.

Mark Chrapla, left, and Matt Zoller, right, at work in a UC design studio.
Mark Chrapla, left, and Matt Zoller, right, at work in a UC design studio.

Chrapla actually began his design career as a child. He said, "I began drawing at an early age, and even got in trouble when my third-grade teacher sent a note home to my mother saying, 'Mark was drawing in class when he should have been taking notes.’”

To view Zoller’s and Chrapla’s work, watch the four-part “FutureCar” series on the Discovery Channel. Episodes consist of

  • The Extremes, Wed., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.
    This episode is filled with inspired ideas, cars and people. It looks at questions like What will “speed” mean in the future? What will propel and fuel our speed? What will “luxury” mean in 2030?
  • The Body, Wed., Feb. 14, 8 p.m.
    What will future cars look like? The episode not only includes the seven student designers but designers from around the globe.
  • The Fuel, Wed., Feb. 21, 8 p.m.
    This episode puts energy concerns to rest by exploring the propulsion possibilities that will be available in the near and not-so-near future. It’s likely that cars will be powered by a variety of options: Ethanol, bio-diesel, lithium ion batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, solar panels and even compressed air.
  • The Brain, Wed., Feb. 28, 8 p.m.
    Cars of the future will have remarkable “brains,” be able to drive for us and communicate with other cars. They’ll know where we need to be and when. It will be a world free of car accidents.

Or visit The Discovery Channel Web site for more information about the “FutureCar” programs and to view and vote on your favorite student design.

  • Visit the site for UC's Admissions in order to apply to the Transportation Track.