Carnegie Mellon Racing takes the Formula SAE electric circuit by storm


June 16, 2015

When most people think of engineers, they picture someone in a lab coat hunched over a calculator or furiously scribbling math problems on a whiteboard. The engineers at Carnegie Mellon Racing (CMR), however, picture strapping into a drag racer and hurtling down the hot blacktop of a professional motor speedway in a head-to-head race to the finish. And unlike your average racecar driver, these engineers aren't only driving the cars: they built them.

This was the scene last month at the Formula SAE Hybrid competition at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. The competition tasks engineering undergraduate and graduate students from universities across the country with designing, building and racing their own vehicles with an eye toward drivetrain innovation and fuel efficiency.

As if drag-racing engineers weren't exciting enough, CMR had to take it to the next level. For the last two years, the team has upped the ante by racing its first all-electric vehicles.

Joshua Kubiak, who will next year be taking over as president of CMR, joined the team as a first-year. "We became an all-electric racecar team to take greater advantage of the engineering talent at Carnegie Mellon," Kubiak explained. "Automotive technology is increasingly heading towards vehicle electrification, and by working with electric vehicles hands-on, our members gain a competitive edge when searching for jobs in the automotive industry."

It's not just the experience that will help them in the future, but the industry contacts as well. CMR has an impressive list of sponsors that includes Ford, Boeing and many more.

"These companies are interested in our student members whose experiences in CMR give them a competitive edge," Kubiak said. "We provide sponsors with access to our resume book and often set up exclusive recruitment events.

The team develops their cars using a three-step process — design, build and test. During the summer design phase, the team develops the high-level plan, as well as some of the more critical systems. Then in the fall, the team moves on to the build, often working late into the night to bring the design to life. After that comes the testing 

"All these components are brought together in our Electric Garage," said Mike Spinelli, the team's VP of structures. "There, we see what breaks and what has issues, allowing us to repair them before our competition.

This combination of individual expertise and a thoroughly formulated plan of attack led CMR to victory at the Formula SAE Hybrid competition, winning them awards in both performance and design.

The competition consisted of static events, including a design competition and a business management presentation, and dynamic events, featuring an acceleration event, an autocross event and an endurance event. CMR's 15e car took 1st in the design event, and placed 2nd overall in the electric class.

But CMR isn't a team to rest on its victories. From the 17th to the 20th of June, the team will travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to compete in the Formula SAE Electric competition, held at the Lincoln Airpark.

"Because the rules differ between Formula Hybrid and Formula Electric," Kubiak says, "team members are currently working to get the car ready to conform to the Electric Rules. Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering students working in Pittsburgh have been putting in extra-hours and even a few recent graduates are volunteering their time."

It's this all-hands-on-deck mindset, coupled the diligence and expertise acquired through their years at Carnegie Mellon that has brought the CMR team to victory in the past — qualities that will propel them to new heights in Nebraska later this month.

Story originally posted here.