The senior design course at Binghamton University’s Watson School offers students a unique challenge: Work as a team to design, build and test a supermileage car.
As part of a competition sponsored by SAE International (an international organization of more than 120,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries), five students are given a small four-cycle engine. With it, they must build a one-person, super-fuel-efficient vehicle. Teams are comprised of students from multiple engineering disciplines including mechanical, electrical and computer engineering.
“The competition gives students an opportunity to get creative using a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving,” says Colin Selleck, a lecturer in mechanical engineering who has advised the teams for the past three years. “Over the years each team has found innovative ways to improve the aerodynamics. This year, the team adjusted the steering to reduce tire scrub, created the roll bar out of carbon fiber to reduce the car’s weight by four to five pounds and re-geared the engine so it lies in the power band.”
The competition’s strict design criteria includes a steering geometry capable of a 15.2m maximum inside turning radius; the ability to traverse 30.5m on a slalom course in less than 15 seconds and sufficient lateral stability. All entrants must use the same four-cycle, 3.5-horsepower base-engine issued by Briggs & Stratton. Fuel for the vehicle is 100 octane for uniformity. Drivers must weigh at least 130 pounds.
The Watson School car was built over the last two years on a budget of only $6,000, has Ackerman steering, an engine compression ratio of 13:1 and a carbon fiber roll bar.
Once the supermileage cars are designed and built, they must be track-tested, competing for points based on fuel economy and design. In 2008, the Watson School team’s car took 4th place in the collegiate competition with a fuel rating of 1,321 miles per gallon.