Ever hear of a gardening goldfish?
Although racecar drivers certainly get an adrenaline rush, auto racing remains a relatively passive experience for its millions of worldwide fans. Spectators may catch the blur of their favorite car or inhale a steady stream of exhaust fumes. But they ultimately have zero impact on who crosses the finish line first.
That may soon change. If engineer Nicolas Perrin has his way, fans could potentially have some influence over a race’s outcome.
Perrin, the founder of Perrinn Limited (the extra "N" was added to make the brand stand out), is attempting to turn the racecar design world upside down. In an environment where virtually every gear is a closely guarded secret, Perrinn is making his designs available to his opponents and the public alike. While the unprecedented move might look like sacrificing his competitive edge, the engineer hopes that opening the project to the public will help source new design talent to develop the cars.
"Sports is very powerful for bringing people together, so we can go a step further and effectively make this team, our design team, something a bit more special," he says. "Building a car is a team experience. The Internet provides services to connect with friends, or search, or do things like that but we want to use it to create a better team of designers working from any location in the world while allowing the public to access our design to learn or simply follow our progress."
"If you’re a football fan, you can follow the game easier if you’ve ever played it yourself. You can just take the ball and go do it. The difference with motorsports is that technology is a big barrier for people to truly feel like they can get involved and actually play themselves," Perrin adds.
Perrinn Limited currently has a core design team of five professionals split between England and France. To facilitate internal collaboration and with outside partners and the public, the company chose Onshape, the first full-cloud professional 3D CAD system that enables multiple people to simultaneously work on the same design from any location.
Onshape is Ideal for Open-Access Projects
"The advantage of open access is that many people can check what you’re doing in real time, learn from it and potentially even work on the project as an expert," notes Perrin, whose goal is to develop cars for the international Formula 1 and Le Mans 24 Hours races.
Using Onshape allows Perrinn Limited to instantly share its car designs with fans around the world without the need for them to purchase expensive CAD licenses or to download or install any software. Non-CAD users can follow the progress of the design without any knowledge of engineering, while designers can access the model anytime in the cloud, using any computer or mobile device.
Because Onshape runs in a web or mobile browser, there is no need for tech-savvy race fans to buy a top-of-the-line computer powerful enough to run CAD.
Perrinn’s slogan is "We Are a Team."
"I see us attracting very talented designers from different locations. We’re trying to start a movement to bring everyone a bit closer together," says Perrin, who has worked for multiple Formula 1 teams.
While the racing world typically associates its star drivers with their countries of origin, Perrin envisions his "We Are a Team" model to break down nationalistic and ethnic barriers between fans. "It’s all about global collaboration," he says. "No matter where we live, we all basically want the same thing. We all want to leave a better world for our children. I always like when I see unifications, when I see countries working together. Sports is a very powerful way to bring people together."
"There’s no location for our team and there’s no country for our team. We will belong to everyone," he adds.
The company’s LMP1 design, for Le Mans, is now ready for production. The team has already built a mockup and estimates it could get a real car ready to test within months and race by 2017. The Formula 1 car is still in the early design stages and could take 2-3 years to fully develop. The Formula 1 design is now fully accessible as an Onshape Public Document.
Redefining Sports Fandom & Design Teams
Perrin, who enjoyed racing go-karts during his youth in France, wants today’s kids to not only idolize the race drivers, but also the engineers and designers behind them.
"The winner of the F1 race has the best car as well. The car is more than half the equation," he says. "The driver obviously is a very important piece, but it’s technology and the human factor – that’s why I love this sport so much. While fans follow their favorite drivers, we want to also share the technology in a simple and accessible way."
The projects are also redefining how race engineers collaborate together.
"The idea is that our designs will be live. People will see our progress as it happens because we will be creating everything in front of the eyes of the world," Perrin says. "People now expect to be able to access, very quickly, their information and data on the Internet by just creating an account on the platform they like and browsing. And I think Onshape has got that model right. Onshape is the best way to access our community."
Perrinn Limited plans to bring on corporate and institutional partners to focus on specialized tasks. Switching from desktop-installed CAD to full-cloud Onshape will enable those partners to be fully integrated in the team from Day 1.
Bult-In Version Control, Branching, and Merging
The nature of racecar design involves creating many different versions, or branches, of the same car to test different solutions. As Perrin puts it, the process is about "doing and undoing and undoing and doing the same thing again everyday."
"When you start working with a large team, version management can become quite a challenge, and time consuming," he adds. "I like the idea that with Onshape, everyone always knows what version we should work on and what is the master version. And we’re not afraid to modify that master version because we know we can always go back in time to any changes we’ve made."
Onshape’s Branching & Merging feature makes it easy to experiment with design changes without worrying about impacting the original model. If changes prove to be desirable, they can later be merged with the original design. Perrin says he finds this feature to be invaluable when doing aerodynamic tests and stress analysis.
"We change the shape of the car everyday and each time we want to do a test we can create a branch," he says. "If somebody from the public wants to test different geometry on our car, they can branch and do a modification and launch a simulation."
Perrin says he expects to rely on branching more often once he can do his CFD and stress analysis testing in the cloud (with the upcoming launch of the Onshape App Store).
Full Speed Ahead
While he’s trying to unite race fans from many countries to root for the same team, Perrin says Onshape is proving to be common ground for engineers from diverse backgrounds and skill levels.
"Before we were creating standard exports of our design and making sure people could use as many different softwares as possible," he recalls. "But you find that there’s always somebody who doesn't know which software to use or wants to ask for some advice. I’m a believer that if we can focus on one tool, it’s always better. We now can just focus on the design rather than the software."
Not having to pay for very expensive CAD licenses is a big bonus," adds Perrin. "Onshape will definitely allow us to spread our design much much further. This is a life project for me, but I’ve realized that I can’t win by myself. That's why I want to involve the world now and that's how it's going to happen."
(To follow the progress of "We Are a Team," visit Perrinn.com.)