Changan sponsored student project is redefining the boundaries of sustainable aviation

In aviation, the pursuit of sustainability has always been a challenge due to the energy-intensive nature of flying. However, a groundbreaking project named CHANGAN – A RACE AROUND THE GLOBE is poised to redefine the boundaries of sustainable aviation. Developed by Léon Zippel during the 6th term project "The Future of Flying Shapes" at Pforzheim University, he collaborates with Changan, a brand synonymous with innovation.

Racing for Innovation

The project is inspired by the automotive world's legacy of innovation born from racing. Dubbed "A Race Around the Globe," this project envisions a radical new dimension for racing events—one that takes place in the skies. Drawing parallels with The Ocean Race and the World Rallye Championship (WRC), this daring project spans five continents and covers over 30,000 kilometres, showcasing the diverse biomes of our planet. This race invites people from all walks of life to experience a race beyond the horizon.

Its unrestricted approach to innovation sets Race Around the Globe apart. Unlike conventional racing series, this event empowers each team to develop unique and innovative strategies to compete in this extensive race. This open-minded philosophy fosters creativity, pushing the boundaries of what's possible in sustainable aviation.

Another goal for this project was to show the collaborative character in racing, which is found both in The Ocean Race and the WRC, which is where the main inspiration for the vehicle layout came from. The initial ideation and first direction draw inspiration from racing catamarans and combines it with the Driver + Navigator layout found in WRC, creating a team of two that competes in the race, with one working as the pilot and the other one as the navigator.

Merging Man and Machine

Diving even deeper into innovation, the project explores the integration of AI technology. With Changan's focus on cutting-edge technologies, the project envisions a symbiotic relationship between humans and AI. This idea is rooted in the synergy between humans and robots in science-fiction movies. The proposed design features a human pilot accompanied by an AI navigator, visually and conceptually harmonizing the two entities. The AI navigator's presence on the right side of the vehicle's exterior demonstrates the seamless fusion of human expertise and AI's analytical capabilities.

Design & Visible AI – The new horizon

The vehicle's exterior design is a marvel, borrowing inspiration from racing planes, cars, and catamarans. Its sleek and aerodynamic form, characterized by long double wings at the front and short split control surfaces at the rear, symbolizes speed and stability. The vehicle's modern aesthetic is a testament to innovation in motion. In contrast to today's invisible AI systems, this project highlights AI's visibility and tangibility. Léon wanted the AI to be visible and tangible. It shouldn’t be an invisible “black box” like we have e.g., in our phones, that one can hardly comprehend.

The interior layout revolves around a communication interface that bridges the pilot's mind with the AI. Drawing inspiration from brain-wave interpretation studies, the pilot communicates seamlessly with the AI through their thoughts. Brain-wave scanners integrated into the interior capture the pilot's brain waves, which are then projected onto a semi-transparent headrest. Depending on the situation in the race, the waves will be moving slower or faster, creating a thrilling experience for spectators as well.

The AI interprets these brain waves, enabling direct and precise communication without the barriers of voice recognition. To talk back, the AI can utilize the communication surfaces found all around the interior of the vehicle. Through audiovisual inputs, the AI can signal navigation inputs to the pilot, and give alerts and various other signals, creating a seamless and tangible communication between the two.  

Interior design revolves around enhancing communication—a crucial aspect of collaboration. The main shell provides stability to the pilot, but also protection with soft, adaptive parts in the centre to protect the spine, as well as soft parts around the shoulders below the brain-wave scanners. The semi-transparent headrest at the top also serves as a new and interesting CMF element, symbolizing the human. The integrated AI communication surfaces all around the interior symbolize the value of collaboration Léon wanted to show in his project.


CHANGAN’S A RACE AROUND THE GLOBE stands as a testament to human ingenuity, collaboration, and the relentless pursuit of innovation in aviation. With its audacious race across continents, unrestricted innovation, and harmonious blend of humans and AI, this project envisions a future where sustainable aviation knows no bounds.

About Designer

Léon Zippel, a student of Transportation Design from Germany studying at Pforzheim University, discovered his passion for cars and design at an early age, influenced by movies and popular culture. This interest prompted him to pursue Transportation Design studies after completing high school. He has gained practical experience through internships at prominent automotive companies, including Daimler Buses and Volkswagen Exterior Design. He is also preparing for an upcoming training at Changan, further enriching his industry exposure and knowledge.