AERO allows students to stretch their engineering muscles, applying classroom learning to hands-on projects

In May of 2016, UVM’s Alternative Energy Racing Organization (AERO) club presented their electric car at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)/Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Hybrid International Competition. But the path to this year’s competition was rockier than usual. After having some setbacks with their manufacturers just six weeks ahead of the event, the UVM team decided to go in a completely different direction and start again from scratch—scrapping the 18 months invested into the project. Though the task was daunting, the members of AERO were well equipped to take on this challenge.

AERO is a student-run group that gives students the opportunity to work on projects that advocate for research and development of alternative energy drive systems, and students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. They test out their skills, learn from their mistakes, network with like-minded individuals, and explore all that is theirs to discover.

“Whenever I’ve been out for an interview or talking to potential employers,” says Emily Bolt ’17, “I have AERO as a pretty thick line on my resume.” Even the AERO logo (which harkens back to an iconic ACDC font complete with lightning bolt) tells you something about the club and the kind of students who are involved: these are young men and women who work incredibly hard to push the boundaries of engineering at the University level. This year, they didn’t just build an electric car, they built an electric car in six weeks.

The IEEE/SAE Hybrid International Competition takes place annually at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway as part of the SAE Collegiate Design Series.

The challenge, as described by the Formula Hybrid Competition, is to “collaboratively design and build a formula-style electric or plug-in hybrid racecar and compete in a series of events. This educational competition emphasizes drivetrain innovation and fuel efficiency in a high-performance application.”

The showcase is interdisciplinary, requiring mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering skills, and is international, drawing in schools from around the world, including Turkey and India. And it is competitive, attracting the best of the best from Dartmouth, Renssalaer Polytechnic, Yale, Princeton, and more.

This year, UVM’s AERO submitted the CleanSpeed 2. They placed 2nd in the Electric competition, placed 3rd overall behind the University of Victoria and SUNY-Binghamton, and was awarded the IEEE Excellence in Electric Vehicle Engineering. But perhaps the greatest success of the day was that the CleanSpeed2 was the first car in the competition’s history to complete the 44-lap endurance event.

“Once again, UVM has shown it can hold its own against the biggest engineering schools along with some private ivies,” says AERO’s advisor Dr. Jeff Frolik, professor of electrical engineering.

Neil Holman ’18 adds, “Those six weeks were a fast-paced learning experience for many; I’m very proud to have been a part of it.”