Formula Hybrid is a competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers aimed to give college level engineering students hands on automotive engineering experience. In this competition, student teams from all over the world design, build, and race small Formula style hybrid cars. There are multiple events: acceleration, endurance, autocross, design, and presentation. Our team has taken 1st place three times in the Formula SAE (non hybrid) competition, and 3 won the Road&Track Triathlon trophy 3 times in a row. Every year, the team starts from scratch to redesign and build a new car. Each year's design has done only minor modifications or corrections on the previous design, so we entered the Hybrid competition to bring in a new element of challenge and Engineering design. To clarify, here a few of the rules in (extreme) brief:
-250cc DOT approved twin cylinder motorcycle engine or any single
-Modifications, such as turbochargers, require the use of an air restrictor
-The electric motor must be capable of accelerating the car to 75m in 15 seconds
-Less than $6,000 for batteries
These are not the slow, heavy, fuel efficient hybrid's you see cruising down the highway; this is a racecar that's a hybrid, not the other way around. For comparison, last years acceleration event winner had a 0-60 time of a little over 3 seconds, on par with a Corvette. A typical car has only about 30-40 hp, which doesn't sound like alot. However, with a racing suspension, racing slick tires, and a 700lb weight, it gets moving.
The heart of this competition is engineering. The cars are entirely student designed and built. Students learn how to manage large groups of people and up to 50k+ budgets, how to use modern engineering tools like CAD, mathematical simulations, Structural analysis, and how to manufacture a car. Nearly every part is made in house. We buy the engine, tires, seat, steering wheel, batteries, motor, and differential. Everything else is made by students. This means countless days, hours, weeks, and months in the machine shop, at the mill, or working a welder. A typical design-build cycle goes like this:
-Study old designs, and decide what to redesign
-Conceptual Design, reviewed by a board of professional Engineers
-Solid modeling in computer software
-Finite Element Analysis, a computerized structural analysis method
-Prototyping parts, and testing development of parts like engine and batteries
-CNC machining and milling of parts (like robotic manufacturing)
-Welding of car frame
-Dyno testing, tuning, and programming of hybrid drivetrain
-Final build, assembly, and technical review by board of professional Engineers
-Track testing and driver training
-The final race and technical review
The entire process takes a team of 20-30 students about a year, working 20-100hrs a weeks. It's alot of work, my grades are plummeting quickly, as is my sleep schedule. On the other hand, I think I learned more valuable knowledge this weekend in the shop than I did last semester in my advance dynamics and controls class last semester. I wish a hands on project like this would be a requirement in the engineering curriculum in the future. The learning accomplished in the classroom is incomplete without real practical experience, why not make it part of the degree?
In the mean time, here the winner of the last 2 years and my greatest competition:
This team won two years in a row, only barely modifying their design the 2nd year. My hope is that they continue their design again! Since this is a new competition where most teams have virtually no experience, reliability is the key. McGill didn't win because they had the quickest car, they won because they had the quickest car that finished the race. Our design is potentially much more fail-safe. Additionally, our car has a better power/weight ratio than theirs even when the electric motor isn't running! We will have a good showing if we can just even cross the finish line.