UCSB graduate student Eric Sandoz and alumnus Ben Werner won an innovation award last month for their electric car prototype, the Dagne.

Made by Goleta’s Revolution Motors, the narrow, lightweight rechargeable three-wheeled electric vehicle was named for the heroine of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Recently dubbed the “Most Imaginative Vehicle” at IDTechEx’s “Future of Electric Cars” convention in Silicon Valley, the Dagne’s direction, acceleration and brakes are controlled by a joystick instead of a steering wheel and pedals.

Werner, Revolution Motors’ chief executive officer, said the award has presented new networking opportunities for the company.

“It’s the first real recognition that we’ve received from automotive industry experts,” Werner said. “It’s [an external validation] for what we’re doing — creating not just a new car, but a new class of sustainable vehicles.”

Sandoz, an electrical engineering graduate student and Revolution Motors’ chief technology officer, said the key to promoting a vehicle like the Dagne is making it a viable, cost-effective option for the public.

“Sustainability has to become [the] mainstream instead of just for the niche of the upper middle class and environmentalists who can afford it,” Sandoz said.

Furthermore, Sandoz said Revolution Motors will try to establish regional assembly sites to mass-produce the Dagne within the next few years, to sell for under $25,000 each. Sandoz also said the duo soon hopes to develop a hybrid version of the vehicle.

While it seats two, the Dagne is technically considered a motorcycle because it has three wheels. According to Sandoz, the vehicle’s ability to actively lean into turns makes it safer than most sport utility vehicles.

Sandoz, who will complete his degree in March 2011, and Werner, who graduated from UCSB’s five-year BS/MS electrical engineering program in 2001, started Revolution Motors in 2005 while working together at Toyon Research Corporation. They hope to release the next Dagne prototype, complete with zero-to-60 acceleration in five seconds and a top speed of 120 miles per hour, within a year and a half.