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Seniors Take Baja Project Off Roading

May 10, 2006

Students and faculty in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus are competing in their first regional mini-Baja car race this week. For those unfamiliar with mini-Baja cars, they are vehicles for off-road enthusiasts. They allow for driving practically anywhere off the main road, like in sand, on steep inclines or over rocky terrain.

On May 11-13, ASU students will go up against 83 other seasoned teams across the Western Region in the annual Society of Automotive Engineers Student Chapter Mini- Baja Competition held in Oregon.

ASU students practically built the car from the ground up. With help from local businesses through financial and material donations, they are ready to roll.

"The team of 12 students literally drove this project, from the fundraising effort to the final product," said Brad Rogers, associate professor and faculty advisor on the project. "It made sense to include the project as one of the senior capstone projects this semester, with the new automotive concentration being offered in fall 2006."

ASU seniors Travis Berry and Jared Tompkinson found that they gained knowledge about management, leadership and financial matters when working on the project. "We learned about cold calling, networking, and how to manage a team and a project," says Tompkinson, who was one of the team leaders.

The mechanical engineering design aspects did not escape them on this project. Almost every part on the car was designed and made by students on the Polytechnic campus. And the lessons learned were priceless.

"One of the biggest things that came out of this project for me is that the plans may look good on paper, but actuality may be a different story," says Berry, also a team leader.

The team experienced some challenges in and outside of the classroom. The vehicle experienced a slight break down when they took the vehicle out for a test run less than two weeks before the competition and had to scramble day and night to get it repaired.

"The drive shaft was sliced in half, because we skipped the heat hardening process for the metal. We learned that you need to constantly check, then check and recheck every aspect of your work," says Tompkinson.

As part of the competition, the team will compete in static and dynamic events. During the static event, judges look at presentation, the business plan for marketing, and engineering and safety features. The dynamic test is where all the students' hard work turns into a joy ride.

"Day one of the dynamic test includes students demonstrating the vehicles ability to climb hills, accelerate, rock crawl and general maneuverability on a course," says Rogers. "Day two involves a six hour endurance race where there are pit stops and drivers switch off."

The project is one of several in Assistant Professor Al Post's capstone project class completed by seniors this semester. A few other projects that have been completed are a bioreactor, which helps generate bio-diesel fuel, and an unmanned aerial vehicle.

"Next year, we plan to do a formula car," says Rogers.

For information on the Baja car or information on the next project, contact Rogers at (480) 727-1034.