Engineering club designs electric car
The Society of Automotive Engineers’ electric vehicle (EV) team unveiled its racecar, Charger 2, for this year at a ceremony on March 2.
During the ceremony, team members showcased their work — the culmination of many late nights and long months of design and manufacturing — to sponsors, family members and other
“The unveiling event for the SAE cars is to show where the cars are at in their current state — kind of complete, put together,” said Charles Everhart, senior electrical and computer engineering major and president of the club and team.
“They have never really been about being ready to drive, but to show what we’ve designed and where we are in manufacturing to sponsors, family and friends so they have something tangible to see. We can talk about it all we want, but to be able to physically show something is a huge step in the manufacturing process of getting a car to run on track day.”
The SAE EV team represents a relatively new portion of the SAE club, beginning only two years ago. The SAE team overall produces two cars: the conventional internal combustion car and an electric car that runs on donated Tesla battery cells. The EV team must focus much more on electronic integration than the internal combustion team.
The EV team competed last June for the first time. However, it received 37th out of 52 teams at the competition because the car did not pass all the inspections and did not make it to the dynamic events in which the car actually races against others.
Only a week after the team wrapped up last year’s competition, the students launched the design phase for this car. This phase, which continued until November, involved research, building prototypes and testing.
“It’s a lot of looking at other teams’ designs and going, ‘OK, I like this idea, but I don’t like this. How do I mesh what I’m thinking to what I see here?’” said Samuel Albanese, senior mechanical engineering major, who is the lead for driver controls and ergonomics on the team.
The team started the manufacturing phase in November, during which the team members assemble the automobile parts into the racecar design.
Building an electric racecar in a year has led to many obstacles for the team. Everhart said it has been challenging to organize and coordinate a team of 20-25 students to produce a car. The crunched timeline has also served as a barrier for the team.
“Designing and building a racecar in the matter of a year is pretty insane,” Everhart said. “It takes full-blown companies years to get a car on the road and we have to do it in a year. The timeline is definitely a big [challenge], but it pushes us. We are able to learn a lot.”
While the timeline is rigorous, the team members enjoy working with each other and bonding by overcoming obstacles.
“It’s been fun,” said Trevor Van Law, senior mechanical engineering major and lead for the composite subsystem. “It’s been a lot more fun this year than last year. Last year we just didn’t have as many members, so it was a lot of overwork and some burnout. This year, we have a lot of great members on the team — some really smart people, really capable people. So it’s been fun to work alongside them and learn together as we build this car. It’s a great opportunity to build a community around engineering and better ourselves as students and people.”
Now that the unveiling is over, the team is prepping for competition and is back on a fast-paced timeline. The team is aiming to ensure the car can run on its own power by mid-March. The next three months before competition will focus on running tests, collecting data and finetuning the racecar.
The competition in June will entail both static events, which involve technical inspections such as safety checks, design reports and cost reports. If the car passes all the inspections, the racecar will advance to dynamic events in which the team can drive the car around the track and race against competitors.
The team’s ultimate goal this year: To place in the top three at the competition in June.
“As we move forward, obviously [our goal is] getting a running car because last year’s unfortunately never ran,” Everhart said. “I heartily believe in the entire team to get that completed and at competition. We’ll get lots of test data off this vehicle and we are already finding things we can better design on next year’s car, so just continuing to push forward, innovate [and] improve on designs and manufacturing processes.”
For Everhart, Albanese and Van Law, the most rewarding part of the process is growing closer to each other and seeing their hard work pay off in the process.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” Albanese said. “A lot of tears, a lot of time, a lot of sleepless nights, but it’s so incredibly worth it. Seeing something go from a computer screen to something you can hold in your hand is a rewarding feeling.”