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MAE Professor Led Students in Formula SAE Competitions

Friday, June 1, 2012


Since 1982, UT Arlington mechanical engineering professor Bob Woods has led students in Formula SAE competitions with universities worldwide. UTA’s success is unmatched, with seven victories in competitions in the United States and wins in England, Australia and Japan.

“I’ve done this for 35 years, and I still get excited every year,” Woods said.

 UTA’s Formula SAE cars have always been at the front of the pack in terms of performance and technology. This year, the team entered the Formula Hybrid competition at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., overcoming mechanical issues in the first day and finishing fourth of 39 teams. It was their first foray into hybrid competition.

“We had been thinking about a hybrid car for three years and developing it for two,” Woods explained. “The car is a very sophisticated combination of electrical and mechanical pieces and we had lots of gremlins before and during competition.”

 Technical issues led to a car that would not run on the first day of competition, but they were fixed for the second day, and UTA dominated the endurance competition, turning in the fastest lap by 10 seconds in an event where a difference of one-tenth of a second usually wins.

“Had we run the three events on the first day there’s no question we would have won the overall competition. We gained respect from the judges, the competitors and the organizers, so it was a success. We won the endurance challenge and also received the GM Award for best engineered hybrid,” Woods said.The car certainly lived up to the team’s high standards for engineering. For example:

  • They designed an electric motor in conjunction with Parker Servo Motors, which provided a frameless motor which the team then had to build.
  • Both front wheels on the front-wheel-drive car had motors and there were controllers for the rotors.
  • A123 Systems provided the team with lithium-ion batteries, but the team had to design a battery pack and holder.
  • They cooperated with Texas Instruments on a battery management system to ensure that all the cells were charged to the same level, and then built a circuit board to control the high and low levels.
  • They developed a microcontroller to control the steering and brakes, and to determine how much torque to give each wheel based on the dynamics. Then, they built sensors to relay information to the microcontroller.
  • Plus, the team added a blended brake (the first ¼” of the brake was electric and the rest was hydraulic) and used torque vectoring to optimize braking through the turns by shifting to each wheel at the right moment.

“We had the most sophisticated car out there. It was very state of the art, and it was FAST. A lot of the systems on the car called for things that even the professors didn’t know how to do, and I’m very proud of the students for figuring out solutions on their own,” Woods smiled.

He continued: “There were three automotive companies at the competition and they tried to recruit our students. I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back to Arlington with my whole team! One guy at Texas Instruments said that electric cars are big, and that students who come out of college with knowledge of batteries and controls can name their price.”

Future plans for UTA’s Formula SAE team include a competition in Lincoln, Nebraska, with a brand new car, as well as plans for a fully electric car in 2014.

“It may be less complicated than the hybrid, but it will still be sophisticated. It will have four-wheel drive,” Woods explained.

No matter what, the car will be the next chapter in UTA’s dominance of collegiate racing design and engineering.