The Fast and the Fuel-Efficient

BL: Looking back, it was better to have a car that took a few hot laps than do a perfect presentation about the business case of the car.

Text: In the spring of 2009 a team of 15 undergraduate and graduate studetns called the Alternative Energy Racing Organization (AERO) took their gas-electric hybrid race car to the New Hampshire International Speedway to participate in the International Formula Hybrid Competition.

Text: We asked the team about life in the club and their three nail-biting days in New Hampshire.

BL: I've always wanted to be an engineer; this project, it's definitely sort of a dream come true.

Brian Leach, Mechanical Engineering

BL:I'm Brian leach, I'm the project coordinator for AERO. I try to keep track of how we are doing on the project and try to have enough knowledge of all the subsystems to know when we are behind schedule or doing ok or what needs to happen. So that's sort of my job. I has to be rewarding because obviously there's nobody here there's no fanfare or anything like that. It's just sort of a quiet day in Louden, New Hampshire, and people from all over the country coming here to prove that something that they've put a lot of time into is worthwhile and works well.

Charles Robinson, Computer Science

CR: My name is Charley Robinson, I'm from Boulder, Colorado. I'm currently a graduate student at the University of Vermont. I am a computer science student. I graduated from UVM last spring and was offered an accelerated masters degree so I'm still still here for another two semesters to try and get my masters degree and then go off and do whatever happens next. My role in all of this was the lead for the control systems; I built three computers to deal with the dashboard, the pedal control, and the actual vehicle control unit. The most important part of this is the control, secondary to that is being able to monitor the car so that we can try to make it better in the future. I don't know what motivates me, it might be a degree of masochism, to some extent.

JB: More women should join AERO

Jennifer Brine, Mechanical Engineering

JB: My name is Jennifer Brine and I'm from Maine. I'm supposed to be a senior but I changed my major so I'm a sophomore. I met with my advisor and she suggested that I join a couple of clubs and I had heard about this one in one of my freshman design classes and I figured that I could probably learn a lot from it and I was definitely right. I've worked on various things. I just go down to the AERO room and ask them if they need me to do anything. I took the center differential apart to see how that works. I got to help with the nose cone and they let a bunch of the new people do a drive train tear down so we got to learn about the engine. I really would like to practice my welding this summer. If I could get really good at it I'd like to be one of the people who does a lot of welding.

Chris Farmer, Electrical Engineering

CF: AERO kind of was my stepping stone into the engineering program here and I took on the power electronics task - motors, generators, batteries. And it's taken me from the beginning of my time with AERO until now to learn everything that I need to know to make a complete lithium ion battery pack. Its something that scares away the mechanical engineers because they are scared of the electrical side of things and then it scares away the electrical engineers too because it is too "hardware-y". The mechanical specifications of the battery box are just as important as the electrical specifications. The battery we have on this car now is pretty terrific.

BL: I could spend quite a bit time thinking and writing about all the lessons we've learned. You know, we've got 15 people here who are learning things they otherwise just wouldn't be learning at all in school. This is a project that people are getting a lot out of and having fun with. You see people come in at the beginning of the year and they are transformed come spring.

CR: I spent more time doing things that weren't related to my academic training at all. I learned more about mechanical and electrical engineering than I ever have in my life. And it was all kind of "third party" it was having my hands on some actual hardware and standing around other students who knew a lot about it and having them explain it to me.

JB: Now a lot of stuff in my classes makes sense. Just the basics like F=ma ; you hear about it but then when you see it in action and people are talking about it...

CF: We have one of the most impressive accelerations of the cars here. I think the thing that really blew everybody's minds was when the gas motor shut off and the car continued to accelerate at such high rates with no noise whatsoever.

JB: I think we looked really good and a lot of the people I was standing with said we looked really good. I wish we could have done the acceleration test yesterday because I think we would have done well in it. I think we were doing good, we just need to make it more reliable.

Text: AERO's car GreenSpeed had its fair share of hiccups, missteps, and setbacks leading up to the autocross and endurance racing events, the final two of the competition.

BL: Oh yes, stress...yeah, it was pretty stressful.

JB: I think our moral was down for a little while. And then yesterday we had a hard time with the sound check.

CR: As it turned out our muffler was not up to specs to our car was quite loud...

CF: Extremely loud. It was actually ten times louder than what the rules allowed.

CR: And you'd think it such a small detail but the problem with tech inspections is that any one thing that goes wrong, no matter how small, pretty much all bets are off for you. So we spent a lot of effort try to get that put together and there was a period of time when we didn't think that was going to happen.

BL: We had to sort of conjure up a muffler system to quiet the thing down.

CF: We stuffed a bunch of stuff in the exhaust - fiber glass, steel wool, restricter plates and some baffles...

CR: So, as with most simple things, it was a moment of singularity when we finally passed the test.

BL: When it came to the endurance race I said to them "Just go out there and have fun."

Adam Wood, Mechanical Engineering

AW: So it's a timed endurance event so they give you an alloted amount of gas and you have to complete the event with that amount of gas. Which ever team uses the least gas gets and efficiency bonus. So that's strictly based on what rank you come in. Each team has two drivers, each driver has to do 12 laps in row, if you don't do them in a row you are disqualified. When you pull into the pits you can't charge your battery pack from anything other than the power you are allotted which is gas.

BL: Adam and Dave, they've been friends ever since the start of college. In the car... well, we can Dave McClausky "Silent Chaos" because he is just this quiet kid who is .. well, you put him in the car and he's slightly insane. So I think he has a lot of potential and he's really fast.

Adam was actually and still is a really talented motocross racer so he has a lot of racing experience. He knows about driving a vehicle to perform. Those guys have been around long enough and have put enough time in where they know every subsystem on the car. So if something is going wrong in the car you need a driver that's actually able to diagnose it as they are actually going and be able to tell if something is really wrong.

AW: If it makes it through Dave's first 12 laps and I get to get in the car we're doing pretty good. If it makes it through all 24 laps with no problems I'll be pretty impressed -- but I think it can do it.

Text: The car completed 18 laps in the endurance event.

BL: Adam knew that the engine was about to seize so we brought it in, we talked about it, and decided to hang it up.

CR: After all of the nervousness and after all the time spent trying to get everything together just watching the car go off the line... I was really happy - I jumped around. It was a good moment for me.

Text: Produced by University Communications at the University of Vermont

BL: See ya, nice job!

Text: Interviews: Joshua Brown Camera and Editing: Megan Hack

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