September 27, 2003
LAFAYETTE — It’s a go-cart on steroids, the kind of car a kid dreams of.
But this ride isn’t for kids, and while the people who are building it are fairly young, they aren’t using old chain saw engines and lawnmower tractor tires.
A dozen mechanical engineering seniors at UL Lafayette have begun to build a mini-baja vehicle to compete in the American Society of Engineers’ collegiate design competition. More than 100 universities from across the country and abroad compete in the annual event.
It may sound like just a super-sized science project, but Will Emblom, the group’s faculty advisor, said, “This is not the stick-the-potato-in-water-and-watch-it-grow project. This is real engineering. This is the work (the students) will be doing once they graduate, and this is the kind of thing that gets people jobs.” The team members won’t get class credit for their work, but each will work on it as part of their senior project, a requirement for graduation.
Terrence Chambers, last year’s faculty advisor, said the 2002 team placed 25th overall — with 2nd place for their sales presentation, 3rd place for their design and 17th for the four-hour endurance challenge. He said, “This is a really exciting competition for the students because they have the chance to compete toe-to-toe with the best schools inside and outside the country. The fact that we were able to place was very exciting. I think it‘s a real testament to the quality of our students here.”
The new mini-baja vehicle will be equipped with a 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine and have a top speed of about 30 mph. “They would dearly love to put something bigger on it,” Chambers said, “but it’s not allowed by the rules.”
This year’s team will travel to Portland, Oregon in April to compete.
“The challenge is that last year’s team did really well, and this year’s team wants to capitalize on last year’s performance,” Emblom said.
In order to do that, said team captain Saul Hernandez, the team will use last year’s design as a starting point. “We’re going to be working off of an already proven design,” he said. “We’re going to be building a car from the ground up, but we’re going to be adding to their design.” Hernandez said the team also will replace the transmission and the front suspension with better components.
Team member Steve Engelbrecht said that the vehicle’s design must be able to be mass produced for at least 4,000 units. In order to accomplish this, the students will create a computerized 3-D model of the car, along with a computerized stress analysis of each of the car’s components. After building the car, the students will test the vehicle and make adjustments before the competition.
All of this will cost time and money.
Chambers said that the students will spend at least 1,500 hours on the project and $3,000 to build the car. But according to Hernandez, the team is trying to raise $17,700 before Nov. 11, and they are still nearly $11,000 short of their goal.
Hernandez said that the Lafayette Auto Dealers Association has already signed on as a major sponsor of the project, but the team is looking to the community for more support.
“Part of the success of the students is that the community has supported them in the past. They’ll continue to be successful if the community continues to support them,” Emblom said.
Chambers said the sportsmanship exhibited by last year’s team was commendable. The UL Lafayette team pitched in and offered their tools to the teams who had trouble.
“Being a small school,” Engelbrecht said, “it’s hard for us to compete, but we’re putting together a program that will build on every year’s success.”
The team is trying to include underclassmen to train as future competitors, to continue competing with the larger engineering departments, like Cornell University and Bringham Young University.
What’s yet to be determined is who gets to drive the car.
“Everyone gets a chance to drive it before we go,” Chambers said, “but they usually select the student that is the lightest and most skilled as a driver.”