March 2010 – November 2011

Jetblack and Colab partnership

Colab’s partnership with Jetblack is one example of how we have successfully participated in collaboration with university groups and external partners to support research and development.


The Jetblack project is the brainchild of Richard Nowland, who has been leading this project now for a number of years.  The goal is to construct a vehicle that is capable of breaking the world land-speed record – which stands at 763mph (1,246km/h).  In order for this to be achieved, the vehicle must not leave the ground, and must be driven.  There are other teams around the world with a similar ambition – so the race is on, literally.

The project originated in 2007. Richard was inspired by a documentary about the Thrust SSC vehicle which broke the land-speed record in 1997. In 2007 Richard bought two Rolls Royce jet engines from the UK and began to plan his own challenge. The original ambition was to break the New Zealand and Australian records, but as Richard says:

“Once we’d got some engineers on board and realised the capability with the team and what NZ engineering and technology can actually do, the goalposts shifted”.

There are another five projects around the world that are all aiming to break the world record; two of which are using only jet engines, two using only rocket power, and one other that is using a combination of jet engine and rocket, as Jetblack will. The Jetblack vehicle is essentially a large jet engine with booster rockets on wheels, with a driver and a parachute for slowing the vehicle down.  The entire drive will take less than a minute – the greatest challenge for the driver will be keeping the vehicle on a straight path, making sure it reaches the highest speed at the time it passes the laser speed sensors. The vehicle will be driven by an experienced air-force jet pilot, Wing Commander Steve Hunt from the Royal NZ Air Force, who is actively involved in the process.

The Project:
One of Richard’s main ambitions for the Jetblack project is to involve and inspire young designers, engineers and researchers from schools and universities – promoting these disciplines through an ambitious and exciting project that sparks people’s imaginations. Colab’s role in the project so far has been threefold – to assist in making connections between expert practitioners, researchers and students, to support research and development in some specialist technical areas, and the provision of Deep Server technology that enables the sharing of very large 3D image files between organisations.

Dr Roy Davies of Colab’s Virtual Reality Suite  facilitated links between Jetblack and other specialist research labs within AUT, including the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) lab headed by Dr Robert Wellington which is involved in research that will inform the design of the vehicle’s cockpit.  Roy has also introduced the Jetblack team to Shotz Productions who are documenting the project as it progresses.

Colab was instrumental in providing the resources to the original students to get involved in this project. Using the VR Suite and Unity3D software, two design students have created a simulated environment for people to ‘drive’ a virtual version of the Jetblack vehicle, in a manner that is as close to reality as possible. Further, as the project progresses, Roy and his students will be creating an educational 3D simulation that can be put online and in a simulator, and possibly some mobile Augmented Reality applications to promote understanding of the complex machinery, designs and processes involved.

Benefits of Collaboration:
The Jetblack project is an example of how Colab promotes cross-disciplinary collaboration across the campus, and demonstrates the way projects can find a home within a large organisation that best fits the needs of the client. Colab has helped to pull in resources from across the university as well as people from around the region to work on the project. Other than breaking the record, Richard wants to highlight the enormous capability and capacity in NZ engineering and technology industries, and he feels strongly that partnering on projects like this one is essential. He says:

“Collaboration assists with the innovation process. Advances in technology and doing things better comes from having people from different disciplines working together. You bring people from different industries and different experiences, all working towards the same goal on one thing, and that shared knowledge can result in important advancements in the field.”

There are another five years ahead for the team, involving further design, building and testing of the vehicle before the record attempt is made in 2016. Recently there was a large project meeting where almost all the parties involved were brought together for the first time to discuss some fundamental technical and engineering issues. Richard says:

“This project gives people a chance to use their knowledge and experience on something that is unique, something that is quite unlike other projects. For people like Roy and Robert, and I think this is true of all the people we have in the team, they thoroughly enjoy their work as engineers, as designers and researchers. That’s probably why they get involved. For me, it’s the most exciting thing I could be doing, and this kind of opportunity doesn’t come along very often. It’s a long road but one I’m committed to, as are all the team.”