ASME Innovative Design Simulation Challenge: Gears for Speed in a Quarter Mile

By Roger Torda/ASME Public Information


Nick Selby presenting his team's research on car differential optimization in drag racing.

“We are GT Killer Jackets,” announced a young man in an attention-getting sharkskin suit. “We’re the group from Georgia Tech. My name is Nick Selby.” Nick had left the podium behind. Speaking loudly and clearly, he had no need for the PA system. “I’m pretty active in my schools’ solar car racing team, so I love cars, and cars are my kind of thing. But sometimes, combustion engines kind of confuse me, to be honest. And this is my partner, Nathan Daley.”

 “Hey, guys, I’m Nathan Daley,” Nathan said, jumping in on a well-rehearsed cue. He was looking a bit more staid, in a gray business suit. “I’m also rising 3rd year at Georgia Tech. I’m involved in my fraternity. Marching band. And I like MATLAB a lot.”

MATLAB, a computing and programming language, was at the heart of the simulation Nick and Nathan were presenting in Buffalo, New York, at ASME’s inaugural Innovative Design Simulation Challenge.


Nathan Daley presenting research as teammate Nick Selby looks on.

“So basically what we are going to go over today is how to optimize a differential ratio for a dragster….” Nathan continued.  “So if I have a dragster, and I want to race it a quarter mile, what is the best differential ratio I can set to get my dragster down that quarter mile stretch as quickly as possible… we want to optimize the car design….”

Nathan, Nick, and a third partner, Jia Li Liu, who was in Taiwan and could not make it to Buffalo, simulated each part of a car’s drivetrain: engine and torque converter, transmission, differential, wheels, and the car itself. They factored in air and rolling resistance and slope of the road. Then they ran MATLAB’s differential equation solver to optimize theoretical cars, to find the best gear ratio for each.

“It is not limited to just that one ratio, Nick told the audience consisting of seven teams, plus a young engineer participating from Venezuela via Skype. “We should be able to optimize for any component in any car. We re not looking to optimize just for a dragster. No car company is trying to manufacture their vehicles… to do a quarter mile the fastest. We’re looking to use models like this, setting up a model in MATLAB, that two sophomores can put together on MATLAB, and save a company a lot of money….”


Nathan Daley (second from left) and Nick Selby receive certificates from Dr. John Michopoulos (left) and Dr. Cameron Turner.

“We’re going to try to make this easy, “Nathan told the group. “We’re going to use this software… to turn this incredibly complex process that normally costs car companies millions of dollars…. And we want to do the same thing, get the same accuracy, the same consistency, except we want the company to be able to hire an intern to do it.”

The GT Killer Jackets team won the competition, for Best Utility Simulation for Product Design, in the Custom Software Category. Their advisor, Prof. Thomas Stone, launched the project, suggesting it as an expansion of a homework assignment.

Nathan, who is from suburban Atlanta, plans on exploring robotics and computer vision. Plus, nanotechnology. “I feel that a lot of technologies that are going to be developed in the future are going to have to do with things on a microscale… So if I can get into nanotechnology, that will be fantastic.”

Nick, who is from Phoenix, has studied in China and is interested in robotics, aerospace engineering and robotics.  


Simulation of Quarter Mile finish time as a function of Differential Ratio.

For both young men, attending the presentations in Buffalo was a valuable lesson about globalization, and it provided insight into the broad value of their studies in core engineering topics.  

“I had a blast,” Nick said in a joint interview after their presentation. “We’re sitting in a room, just two guys from Georgia Tech, just chillin’, and there’s like, some of the best student engineers from around the world, we’re sitting next to guys from India, China… and they are all super talented…. “

Nathan recalled how impressed he was with the presentation of a team from Bangalore, India, that designed a chair to assist elderly people in standing from a seated position:  “It was awesome… and it’s practical and it helps people…. And the best part about it is I can actually see how the schooling applies. They talked about Young’s modulus and delta values.  I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I learned this stuff in my Deformable Bodies class. This is so cool. I can do stuff with what I learned.’ It’s nice to see how it’s applied.”