Energizing Their Way
to the Finish Line


November 2012

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Olympians aren't the only ones who compete in high-stakes relay races. Engineers can be equally aggressive and competitive. The only difference is that the batons are replaced with energy-powered cool cars. In a unique form of relay race held at the Hilton Americas Houston on November 11, 2012, engineering students maneuvered model-sized vehicles on a flat track, with the goal of winning the "Energy Relay"—the 2012 ASME Student Design Competition—during the Society's 2012 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition.

The challenge for the 20 student teams that participated in the competition was to design four self-propelled devices which could collectively complete a relay race on a flat track in the shortest period of time by transferring energy to trigger motion in subsequent devices. According to the rules of the competition, the motion of the second, third, and fourth vehicles in line on the course had to be initiated by the prior device.

Time Track

Teams had a maximum of three minutes to position their devices on the track. At the end of the three minutes, the judges began timing for the run. Each relay team completed two runs. Judges scored each run, applying a formula that accounted for elapsed time between the time the first vehicle was switched on and the time the fourth one crossed the finish line.

Each device had a unique triggering system that allowed the previous vehicle to trigger it.

 

 

Although the rules of the competition clearly stated that "surfaces will not be defined and may include hard floors, carpet, or anything else that could be encountered at the venue," most teams were having trouble keeping their cars within the lane on the hotel carpet. "Unfortunately our car didn't line up well. We are having some trouble with the carpet," said Brian McCarthy, a mechanical engineering student from Western New England University, Springfield, MA, whose team had built two cylindrical-shaped cars, hoping they would go faster and have an advantage by providing a wider area to hit the next car. McCarthy, however, was excited to participate and said the competition provided hands-on experience compared to classroom learning.

Each device designed and developed by engineering students had a unique triggering system that allowed the previous vehicle to trigger it. For instance, some cars were powered by batteries and super capacitors and others by compressed air, mechanical fans, balloons, and also photocells.

Kurtis Peterson from Oregon State University said his team learned a lot during the run-up to the competition. "We started last year in the fall as part of a class challenge started by our professor. We had some reliability issues after first couple of runs, so we re-designed the cars after winning the regional competition and decided to use a super-capacitor powered, a battery-powered, a rubber-band powered, and a CO2-powered car."

From L to R: ASME member Kalen Guiley; ASME President-Elect Madiha Kotb; ISAE team member Clement Jambou; ASME District H Chair Memis Acar; ISAE team member Olivier Sintive; Cynthia Stong, ASME senior vice president; Fred Stong, member of the Nominating Committee and the Financial Operations Board.

The Finale

A team of student engineers at the Institut Superieur de L'Aeronautique et de l'Espace, an engineering school based in Toulouse in France, won the first-place award. The Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, finished second in the competition, while Khalifa University of Science (United Arab Emirates), Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and the University of Wyoming shared third-place honors.

"ASME Student Design competition is one the most prestigious competitions for mechanical engineering students," said Mayank, a mechanical engineering student from The Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, the team that won the second prize. "Most of the students have thought in a linear way as far as energy sources are concerned. This is the first time we are participating in this competition and we managed to get through using indigenous technologies. This is a great learning platform to acquire skills—both technical and management."

"The Student Design Competition has a long and successful track record within ASME for enabling students to grow their skills in engineering design, teamwork, and problem-solving beyond classroom learning," said Marc W. Goldsmith, president of ASME. "We congratulate all contestants for an event which was exciting and fun-filled."

The Student Design Competition has a long and successful track record within ASME for enabling students to grow their skills in engineering design, teamwork, and problem-solving beyond classroom learning.

Marc W. Goldsmith, President, ASME

 
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by Chitra Sethi, Managing Editor, ASME.org