Rose-Hulman student takes honors in Optical Design Competition


Cody Brelage successfully transformed his interest in theatrical lighting to exterior automotive lighting.

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — It only took one year for Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology student Cody Brelage to turn his expanding technical skills into being a difference-maker in the ever-changing world of optical engineering.

Through lessons learned in an advanced Automotive Lighting course, Brelage designed creative illumination products for automotive exterior lighting systems that earned outstanding project honors in Synopsys’ 2020 Robert S. Hilbert Memorial Optical Design Competition.

This marks the second consecutive year that a Rose-Hulman optical engineering student has received this national recognition. The institute was one of the first U.S. colleges to offer an undergraduate degree in optical engineering and has state-of-the-art facilities for students to conduct hands-on projects.

As a first-year student from Muncie, Indiana, Brelage used Synopsys’ LucidShape software to design a comprehensive automotive lighting array for exterior automotive lighting systems, including a stop/tail combination light and low- and high-beam headlights that met Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

The project is considered unique because of its attention on little details in automotive lighting design. For a four-inch diameter stop-turn taillight lens, Brelage chose a combination of total internal reflection techniques and Fresnel lens that resembles a flower. The taillight function uses only light-emitting diodes (LED) around the edge of the design, illuminating six Fresnel “petals.” All of the lights can be activated for the other functions, creating a significantly noticeable visible difference for motorists driving other vehicles.

The high- and low-beam headlight designs were created for relative ease during the manufacturing process, while increasing the illumination efficiency of the lighting fixture.

“Cody’s project involved robust design of forward lighting and rear lighting lamps, with consideration of all legal requirements and manufacturability criteria, and then delivering successful results within only eight weeks,” said Hossein Alisafaee, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics and optical engineering who brought the Automotive Lighting course to the Rose-Hulman in 2019. “Over the course of his work, Cody exhibited skilled use of a variety of optics including lens optics, TIR optics (using a refractive lens inside a reflector), advanced segmented reflectors, as well as effective decision making on choosing LED lighting sources. Combined with excellent presentation skills and executive summaries, Cody stood out.”

The basic concepts of Brelage’s design resulted from classroom projects after examining existing vehicle light designs and concepts. For the stop-turn taillamp, he considered several different concepts before settling on strategies that were visually pleasing and relatively feasible. Then came a lengthy design and testing process.

“I have an interest in non-imaging illumination optics that stems from my background in theatrical lighting prior to coming to Rose, so this (Automotive Lighting) course was a wonderful opportunity to get real-world experience in designing and testing exactly the sort of optics that initially made me want to major in optical engineering,” said Brelage. “I was surprised to find that much of the technology that is used in automotive lighting is very similar in function and purpose to what I was familiar with in theatrical light fixtures.”

Alisafaee added, “This course on automotive lighting is very challenging, with lots of project work in computer-aided design and computer lighting design exercises. Cody passed a high bar in my class for delivering desired results. Gladly, he has more time before he graduates and I can only imagine to see more significant works from him in the following years, as a student and, later, as an engineer.”

Brelage hopes to combine interests in optics, psychology and neuroscience into a graduate school program. In the meantime, he is an officer of Rose-Hulman’s student chapter of the Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers, and is a member of the college’s The Optical Society organization.

“This (automotive lighting project) is exactly why I came to Rose-Hulman,” he says. “The day that I decided I wanted to come to Rose was the day that I got to talk one-on-one with the professors. I expressed an interest in combining art and engineering, but especially theatre and engineering. When I asked about how I could make that work, instead of being told that I could simply help out in the theater and be an engineer, the professors asked what I wanted to do with this.”

Brelage continued, “When (professors) could see that I had an unusual idea, and a passion for making it happen, they didn’t just tell me it was possible, their eyes lit up too, and they started exchanging ideas with me. That was when I knew the passion and inclusion that I would be able to be a part of here at Rose. I knew just how much the professors would care to get to know their students and help them succeed. That’s how I knew that Rose was without a doubt the school for me.”

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