The University of Waterloo’s Formula Hybrid race car took first place overall and set a new record at the annual Formula Hybrid International Competition this spring. Unique design elements that included lighter materials and a more powerful battery system helped the Waterloo car edge out vehicles from other top universities including Princeton and Carnegie Mellon.
“The team worked incredibly hard over the past four months to get the car ready,” says Faculty co-advisor Andrew Trivett, a mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor. “It’s one thing to design a car, but the students have shown they can turn innovative ideas into practical hardware.”
More than 27 teams, from as far away as Turkey and India, competed at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The annual competition, part of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Collegiate Design Series, challenges university students to design an open-wheel, single-seat, electric or hybrid-electric race car.
Race car sets new endurance record
Besides taking the top award, Waterloo came first in the competition’s autocross event and the endurance category by setting a new all-time record of 33 laps.
Comprised of mainly engineering students Waterloo’s Formula Hybrid team is based in Engineering 5’s Sedra Student Design Centre that houses more than 20 student design teams.
“The main goal of the team members was to make their vehicle robust so that it could go through all the tests without any issues,” says Faculty advisor Amir Khajepour, a Waterloo mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor.
What propelled Waterloo’s race car to victory? Rishi Chatterjee, business lead for the team, says it was the hard work of the dedicated team members who were knowledgeable about the vehicle. “We knew how to go about sourcing solutions to new and existing problems,” says Chatterjee, a second year mechanical engineering student.
Cutting-edge features include a Capstone Design project
One of those problems was the race car’s electrical system. It was completely redesigned from the ground up after reliability issues during past competitions. “Our electrical team is what provided us with cutting-edge features, such as a custom-battery management system, and new vehicle and driver control units,” explains Chatterjee. “Complementing those design changes, our mechanical team implemented various weight reduction techniques in components throughout the vehicle.”
Weight was decreased through innovative designs, such as a carbon fiber accumulator enclosure and a new lightweight differential designed by members Ping Cheng Zhang and Jacob Van Dorp as part of their fourth-year mechanical engineering Capstone Design project that won a department design symposium award. The weight reductions allowed for more batteries to be added, which in turn increased the vehicle’s power output and efficiency.
Fueled by their recent victory, the team’s 38 members are already thinking about next year’s race car.
“The focus for 2016 will be design and ultimately implementing state-of-the-art systems such as in-hub motors, custom motor controllers, a larger capacity battery pack and a more refined vehicle,” Chatterjee says.
Exposed to real engineering experience
According to Chatterjee Waterloo is a great place for student teams because team members gain real engineering experience.
“Members learn how to work on a schedule, with fixed costs and constraints,” he says. “Students also gain a vast amount of experience in design, manufacturing and testing. The support received from the University provides the team with what it needs to achieve better results.”