NZ engineering students set their eyes on Australia competitions

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Mechanical engineering students from the Waikato and Canterbury universities will be racing at two different events in Australia this year.

Mechanical engineering students from the Waikato and Canterbury universities will be racing at two different events in Australia this year.

Mechanical engineering students from the Waikato and Canterbury universities will be racing at two different events in Australia this year. University of Waikato students will race at the 2013 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, while those from University of Canterbury will bid for the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Australasia design competition.

The Waikato students’ electric car will race 3000km from Darwin to Adelaide over six days starting October 6. Called UltraCommuter, it was built in 2007 and refurbished by the Waikato team over the last six months. Its latest refurbishment has included reformatting of the suspension system and upgrading control systems, brakes and the body shell.

About 44 teams from 25 countries are signed up to compete in this year’s World Solar Challenge, which is the world’s largest solar electric vehicle event and began in the 1980s.

A total of eight university staff and students are attending the race, including the four key engineering students, Sam Berkers, Luke Overton, Sam Waetford and Kyle van de Pas and their supervisor, Senior Engineering Lecturer Dr Mike Duke.

The biennial event attracts international teams from universities, technical institutes and private entrepreneurs that compete in three main classes: Challenger, Cruiser and Adventure.

This year the University car has been invited by the WSC organisers to pioneer the new EVolution (EV for electric vehicle) class aimed at demonstrating practical and low environmental impact vehicles. As well as pioneering the EVolution Class, it will be the only New Zealand car in the event.

“It’s a pilot to see if EVolution vehicles can complete the route in six days and also gauge interest in the new Class from other teams,” says Dr Duke. He says the plan is to travel the 3000kms over six days at highway speeds of 90kmh or more. The car has a range of 350-400kms on a single charge and can boost-charge in between main charges.

The World Solar Challenge fosters innovation in technology and design, and promotes alternatives to conventional vehicle engines that often lead to the development of products that end up on the production line.

As their final year project, 13 Canterbury students designed and built the whole car they will bring to the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Australasia design competition in Melbourne later this year. They have been carrying out tests by the Wigram Air Force Museum on a large tarmac area outside the hangars.

“We have been testing there twice a week for the last three weeks. The staff at Wigram are very enthusiastic about supporting UC students, which we are very grateful for, as without this facility we would be unable to do our car and driver development,” UC mechanical design engineer Bruce Robertson says.

The car needs to measure up to the competition’s dynamic events including an endurance race, an autocross race, acceleration test, maximum cornering speed on a skid pan, and an economy test. It also needs to meet a design report, public presentation, and a cost report. Points are added up from each event do determine the overall placings.

“Our UC students are technically very capable as they come toward the end of their mechanical engineering degree, but for most this is the first time of putting their expertise into action on a real project,” Mr Robertson says.

“It’s not unusual for students to work on the car into the small hours of the morning and at times I’ve had to send them home to get some sleep otherwise they’d just run themselves to exhaustion. I think their motivation comes from their desire to prove themselves, and knowing they have a great opportunity to develop their skill, which they don’t want to waste.

“One of the students on the project, Abby Neave, has been an outstanding member of the design and build team. We plan on having her as one of the drivers at the competition in Australia. There is no doubt she has caught the motorsport bug, with all the accompanying highs, lows, and adrenaline rushes. Once she gets in the driver’s seat on a test day she just keeps going faster and faster each lap, and we usually have to flag her in or she’d just keep going.”

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