Posts Tagged ‘Formula SAE’

Motorsports Engineering at Northwestern: A ‘Catalyst’ for innovation

April 14th, 2012

Another great article about motorsports engineering and racing school programs – this one about Northwestern University. The school’s BAJA SAE program places consistently in the top 20% of schools in the annual Society of Automotive Engineers competition. Read on for more information about a motorsports engineering education at Northwestern:

A ‘Catalyst’ for innovation

By Jason Kornwitz

March 28, 2012

Bbanda, Uganda

Northeastern’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders will travel to Bbanda, Uganda, in August to assist in the implementation of phase one of a distribution system to pump water throughout the village. Courtesy photo.

Junior mechanical engineering major Andy Benn spends as many as 60 hours per week in a campus lab building an off-road buggy for the Northeastern University chapter of Baja SAE, an intercollegiate design competition run by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The motorsports team, which has developed a strong reputation for consistently placing in the top 20 percent of more than 200 clubs for the past 15 years, will showcase the design, speed and maneuverability of its 445-pound all-terrain vehicle in a competition on May 2 in Portland, Ore.

“Working on the vehicle is an invaluable learning experience,” said Benn, a co-captain of the club. “It teaches you about engineering, but it also teaches you how to be a project manager, which is what you have to deal with in the real world.”

The club hopes to raise $2,500 through the new Catalyst program launched last week by the Office of Alumni Relations and the Northeastern Fund to finance its 3,000-mile cross-country road trip to the “City of Roses.” Two other student-based organizations — the Northeastern chapters of both Net Impact and Engineers Without Borders — are also vying for funding to support their projects.

Prospective donors can browse through the projects on the Catalyst website and make a gift in any amount, starting at $1.

“The Catalyst program makes it easy for alumni, family and friends to follow, connect with and support some of the most innovative and inspiring student projects at Northeastern,” said Jack Moynihan, the vice president for alumni relations and the Northeastern Fund. “Projects are chosen based on their professionalism, innovative qualities, social impact and feasibility,” he added.

Northeastern’s undergraduate chapter of Net Impact is designed to equip, educate and inspire business students to use their skills to foster social and environmental change. It hopes to raise $2,500 through Catalyst to fund some of the prize money that will be awarded to the most impactful student venture at the Net Impact Forum for Student Social Innovation at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center on Nov. 17.

Engineers Without Borders–USA works on some 350 water, renewable energy and sanitation projects in more than 45 developing countries around the world. Northeastern’s student chapter of the organization, founded in 2005, has brought clean water to families in Honduras and Bbanda, Uganda.

In less than one week, the student chapter raised $2,500 through Catalyst to fund travel for two students to Bbanda in August 2012. The students will assist in the implementation of phase one of a distribution system to pump water throughout the village, in which more than 1,100 people must now carry dirty water for miles just to meet their basic needs.

Senior mechanical engineering major Keith Nelson, who has twice visited Bbanda, praised the organization’s humanitarian calling, noting, “we’ve already helped hundreds of school kids here have access to the only source of clean water in the village.”

“Working on projects like this give students an understanding of big picture engineering,” he added.

To read the full article on Northwestern University’s website, click here.

Building racecars a team effort for CU undergrads

April 14th, 2012

Want to attend a racing school? Or a regular college setting that has a racing program, like a Formula SAE team? Here’s an inside look into Columbia University, one of the top schools in the country, and their Formula SAE racing school program from the Columbia Spectator. Whether you’re interested in motorsports engineering or the business of racing, a Formula SAE team is a great place to start your motorsports education.

Building racecars a team effort for CU undergrads

Columbia SAE members are non-traditional athletes who race cars they built themselves.

By Benjamin Spener

Spectator Staff Writer

Published April 5, 2012

Photo courtesy of Peter Bohnhof

When following Columbia sports, most people neglect athletes that don’t run, jump, or handle a ball when playing their sport. It’s easy to miss a group of students that hides out in the basement of Mudd Hall and builds racecars. The Columbia University Society of Automotive Engineers—also known as Knickerbocker Motorsports—is a group of 10 to 20 Columbia undergraduates who design and build a racecar from scratch each year, and then uses it to compete in a series of races in Michigan every May. I met with one of the team’s drivers and system heads, a compelling 19-year-old named Hwei Ru Ong, CC ’14.

As I was walking toward Mudd Hall with Ong to get a tour of Columbia SAE’s shop, School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora stopped us and specifically said hello to Ong. Peña-Mora has met with the SAE team several times and has been very supportive of the program, helping to make Knickerbocker Motorsports one of the better-funded student groups on campus. The team also counts on the support of alumni donors and an ample supply of energy drinks from their sponsor, Red Bull.

Specifically, Ong is in charge of the “impact continuator,” a system of safety bumpers that protect the driver in case of a crash. Although most of Knickerbocker Motorsports’ members are SEAS students, Ong decided to attend Columbia College so that he could pursue degrees in both English literature and astrophysics while doing some engineering and racing outside of the classroom. He has a passion for auto racing, having learned to drive with a manual transmission on a tractor working on an organic farm near his home in Ukiah, California. Ong finally got his driver’s license last July, and has been one of the team’s primary drivers since October.

When he returns home to Ukiah, Ong helps run the farm on a Mahayana Buddhist campus where his father is a bhikshu (fully ordained monk). On the farm and at Columbia, Ong meditates or “sits” regularly. He said that “meditation plays into all aspects of what you do, including racing.” Eating falafel with Ong—an appropriate meal, since he is a vegetarian in accordance with Buddhist values—I asked how the serenity of meditation and Buddhism in general is compatible with the action and volatility of auto racing. “As long as this is settled,” he said, pointing to his head, “everything is OK, and things are clear even though it’s messy outside.”

Having tried out the race simulator in Knickerbocker’s shop, crashed almost immediately, and then watched Ong zoom around the simulator track and drive the real car, I can attest to the amount of coordination and focus that the sport demands. As he suggested, the key to his success in auto racing and other sports is mental clarity, which he attains through meditation. Ong has actually found success in a variety of sports over the years. He classifies surfing, skateboarding, and mountain biking as hobbies—he also played point guard for his high school basketball team and was, at one point, the Rubik’s Cube champion of Malaysia, achieving an official time of 22 seconds and unofficial times as low as 14 seconds.

Although he has gone head-to-head with rivals in a variety of sports during his life, Ong told me explicitly that he is not very competitive and has always been more concerned with personal bests—getting better for his own sake—than beating others. It may be this seemingly dissonant mix of passivity and motivation that makes Ong so good at sports, engineering, and academics. Ultimately, he would not mind ending up farming, as he did growing up, but he also has a variety of other goals that range from being a professional racecar driver to working at an observatory in Chile to being an astronaut (seriously). Talking to him and watching him break into a childlike grin when driving around, playing basketball, or solving a Rubik’s Cube, you realize he is the kind of athlete—the kind of person—who is motivated by the great joy he gets from pursuing these things, even when that means spending hours each weekend working in the auto shop with the rest of the Knickerbocker Motorsports team. Ong stresses that the team as a whole, is what, rather than any individual, is what brings success at competitions. Although winning the race is ultimately left to the driver, auto racing is very much a team sport, since it takes the efforts and skills of the entire group to put a fast car on the track.

And this team’s car is fast—it goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in about 3.5 seconds and has a top speed of 110 mph. Moreover, the car must be able to perform well in a variety of races, ranging from tight, short tracks to courses as long as 22 kilometers. This class of car is called Formula SAE, and students from colleges across the country compete against each other every year in both dynamic competitions, which refer to races, and static competitions, which involve a car features such as design and cost. Generally, Columbia’s entry rings in with a price tag under $13,000—not bad for a racecar. Clearly, this competition presents a significant mechanical engineering challenge, along with the physical task of driving the car during races.

The team is looking forward to its race in May and has been working on various aspects of the car. When I arrived at the shop, several students were drafting a cost report for one of the static competitions, and Ong commented that they would have to deal with powertrain issues over the weekend. These days, the entire team prays for good weather every weekend so that they can get out to a track in New Jersey and test the car. While the simulator is a good way for drivers to get seat time, it is not a substitute for driving the actual car, not to mention that the engineers need to see the car in action to identity potential design flaws or ways to improve its performance.

For the most part, the car is close to finished and will soon be sporting a custom-fitted fiberglass body made by the team. Emblazoned with Columbia colors, this car will represent Columbia at the SAE races in Michigan in a few weeks. The team’s performance in these races will demonstrate not only the coordination and levelheadedness of the drivers but also the immense engineering prowess of the Columbia students who designed and built it. As Ong put it, “Without the team, there’s no car. I don’t even know if I’ll be driving in May, but the important part is that we get the car on the track. Then we can race.”

To read the original article, please visit the Columbia Spectator here.

UNC Charlotte Motorsports Engineering

June 16th, 2011

Although UNC Charlotte does not offer a full motorsports engineering degree, the North Carolina school offers a motorsports concentration as an addition to the Mechanical Engineering degree program.

If you’re enrolling in the Mechanical Engineering program with a concentration in motorsports, you can expect to take the normal course load of mechanical engineering classes including chemistry, physics, English, math, economics, mechanics and other engineering basics courses in your first two years. As you become an upperclassman, many of your courses include the advanced engineering courses and motorsports technical electives.

The motorsports concentration requires participation in motorsports-specific technical elective courses, which include Automotive Power Plants, Road Vehicle Dynamics, Aerodynamics and many other choices depending on what is offered that semester.

In the fourth year of the Mechanical Engineering degree program, motorsports engineering students are required to participate in a two-semester Motorsports Clinic. The Motorsports Clinic is an intensive automotive/motorsports engineering related project.

In addition to the undergraduate program, UNC Charlotte also offers a BA in the new Sport Marketing and Management program in the Belk Business School. This won’t give you a motorsports engineering education, but a business approach to a motorsports education.

There are also four motorsports engineering competition teams available for students to participate in, and motorsports engineering students are strongly encouraged to participate in at least one. UNC Charlotte’s programs include Formula SAE, SAE Mini-Baja, Legends and Drag Car racing.

If you’re interested in a motorsports job, a motorsports education at UNC Charlotte will provide a great start. According to the school’s website, roughly 10% of NASCAR engineers are graduates of UNC Charlotte. You can view a video overview of the school and its resources here.

Motorsports Engineering and Formula SAE

June 8th, 2011

Are you working to become a motorsports engineer or pursuing a degree in motorsports engineering? Or interested in a career in racing? Then you’ve probably heard of Formula SAE. But do you really know what the program entails? Let’s explore Formula SAE and what it can mean to your motorsports engineering future.

Formula SAE and Motorsports EngineeringFormula SAE is a racecar design competition for students that is organized and run by SAE International (formerly known as the Society for Automotive Engineers). The original concept was that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a design team to develop a small Formula-style race car. But today, the main undertaking is to design, produce, test and race a prototype race car at the annual competition in May.

There are two competitions each year – one in California and one in Michigan. The Michigan competition is the largest and longest running.

Chances are, the school that you are attending already has an existing Formula SAE team. If not, you can form one, but that’s a much more involved topic and will require contacting SAE International directly.

The great thing about joining an existing Formula SAE team is they already have a foundation laid for the organizational structure of the team – they have a faculty adviser, an established workspace and equipment, and upperclassmen that have already participated in a Formula SAE competition.

Both the faculty adviser and the upperclassmen are great resources for you, and should be appreciated and utilized as you begin your Formula SAE journey. They will be valuable both in terms of the competition and in the future, as they clearly have interest in motorsports engineering like you do (and it’s a very small industry!).

Preparation for the competition (designing and building the car) usually begins within the first few weeks of the semester so it’s important to identify the person in charge of the team quickly to sign up and get started. One of the first things the team does is identify potential team members and look for sponsorship. Getting in on the ground floor will expose you to a variety of aspects of motorsports education.

Before you enter into this process, you should also understand the safety risks of participating in the project. You will be exposed to a variety of machinery and tools in addition to the actual race car. Being careful and aware of your surroundings at all times is crucial to the success of the program overall.

Then comes the fun part: motorsports engineering! You design the car from the ground up. Very little on a race car is new, and Formula SAE isn’t the place to develop new technology. Unfortunately, teams do not have the time or budget to come up with technological breakthroughs. But that’s not a bad thing. Designing and building a car from scratch takes a lot more time and effort than it would seem, and it’s more important to understand the basic principles of motorsports engineering than jump directly into automotive technology breakthroughs.

No matter what function, if you are interested in motorsports engineering or a career in racing, you should be taking advantage of one of the few applied motorsports education activities that are available at some schools and participating in Formula SAE. Don’t worry – you’ll enjoy it!

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