Ready, set, go!
Arizona University’s student Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) members don’t just read about engineering—they
apply engineering principles to design and build transportation systems, from
off-road vehicles and cars to airplanes. This valuable experience often leads
to job offers when they graduate.
Creating energy-efficient vehicles
the beginning of each academic year students decide what they want to build. “It’s a student-driven interest,” said John
Tester, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering
and SAE adviser for nearly 10 years.
2007, SAE members became interested in renewable energy; since then, dozens of Northern
Arizona University engineering students have tested their mettle and knowledge by
designing, fabricating, and testing automobiles to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon.
This annual event challenges high school and college student teams from around
the world to develop energy-efficient vehicles.
the 2011-2012 academic year, SAE members achieved a new milestone—they built
their first electric car. The car was designed during the fall semester, and construction
and testing took place in the spring. Nearly 30 students invested a total of
3,000 hours to construct the car, and some even got course credit for it.
Doing it on their own
electric car was one of two vehicles the university entered in the
urban-concept-vehicle category at Shell Eco-Marathon Americas 2012 in Houston,
Texas. (The other was a gas-powered car rebuilt from the previous year.)
addition to being energy-efficient, urban-concept vehicles must meet the
road-worthiness criteria of a passenger vehicle, such as having doors, lights,
a brake pedal, seat belts, and other features. Both cars passed the technical
inspection on the first try in Houston—a significant accomplishment for an
entirely student-run project.
piece of material, every piece of electrical circuitry, every machine part, and
every welded part was done exclusively by students,” Tester said. “No faculty
member built anything, including me.”
additional suggestions, students reached out to experts in the community, many
of whom provided advice, product discounts, and monetary and in-kind donations.
The value of contributions came to approximately $20,000.
Taking the experience with them
For many project participants, building a car from scratch was the
fulfillment of a childhood dream. But
building a vehicle also develops valuable skills. “It’s a good learning
experience,” said Tanya Gallagher, a member of the first NAU Eco-marathon team
and a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
“You get an idea in your head. You start to make it, and you find you
can’t make it that way. So you start
over,” she said. “Then you put together the car, and it doesn’t work the way
you thought, or you forgot one part.”
This trial-and-error experience provides an irreplaceable opportunity to observe
many aspects of a car’s creation. “[When you build a car,] you get a picture of
everything that needs to be incorporated into a design,” Gallagher continues. “You
can’t learn that any other way.”