It’s Gonna Be Miserable Today……….

FSAEACSUN_8964Monster storms that have been plaguing Iowa and Nebraska swept through Lincoln late last night, leaving the area a soggy mess. Temps are supposed to hit 95 degrees.

The only up side is that Missouri S&T will probably take the tarmac in the afternoon so the track should be dry and hot. Real hot. Almost too hot.

Getting tires up to temperature won’t be a problem so long as the storms don’t return. If they do, it’s gonna be bedlam.

UPDATE: As expected, we run fourth-to-last tomorrow, so likely mid-afternoon. The exact run order and other results are here.

In Good Shape For Tomorrow!

TrackworkerSUN_8682Beautiful weather today. Nearly cloudless; perfect for landscape photos but kinda hot for the track workers.

S&T Racing made it to tonight’s Design finals, one of only ten teams to do so. A real honor! This is a design event, not just a race, and trophy goes to the team with the most points.

This afternoon’s autocross race was a tooth and nail fight among Kansas, Texas Arlington, Michigan, Missouri S&T, and some other school we can’t remember. Just over a second separated the top four teams, with the other 60+ teams falling well behind the leaders. The races DO count for 55% of a team’s total score (15% for autocross, 40% for tomorrow’s endurance), but the best teams win by doing well in all events. That means S&T’s high design ranking, 4th place in autocross, 5th in skid pad, and 13th in acceleration should put them in podium contention if all goes as planned in the endurance race.

FSAEAC14SUN_8757Too bad SAE doesn’t award points for the best-looking car, as S&T would surely take that trophy home.

Morale in the Miners’ paddock is pretty high, since there are no mechanical issues to keep them up all night. There is some speculation that the high G-Forces in the autocross race may have impacted fuel flow, but that simply means the car still as more to give. The endurance race is more wide-open so G-forces shouldn’t have as much impact.

The winged cars will be at their best tomorrow, and in years past that would have been to S&T’s advantage but plenty of teams have followed S&T’s lead and incorporated aero systems. As the SCCA race announcer mentioned today, “2014 is the year that winged cars have really begun to dominate,” no surprise to the Miners, whose dogged determination to make aero packages work has finally paid off. It wasn’t that long ago that SAE judges turned up their collective noses at downforce systems, saying wings “don’t really make a difference.”

No one says that anymore.

“We Thought Today Would Be Horrible!”

……….expressed a relieved Miner FSAE team member late today, but the day’s outcome was much better than feared.

Not better than expected, because they didn’t come in thinking they’d fail, but with FSAE Lincoln being the season wrap-up they wanted to do well. Some just spent too much time worrying about what might go wrong. At day’s end the S&T #3 car had passed tech, tilt table, the muffler sound test (which stymied them for a while in Michigan), and every other possible challenge available to them.

RuleofthirdsSUN_8293They were delighted to get some time on the practice track “scrubbing” a new set of tires, and a quick study shows that S&T Racing’s car is handling beautifully. Fast, tight, accurate, and problem-free. Good news for tomorrow.
Bad news for the other top teams.

In the morning it’s acceleration, braking, skid pad and a host of other dynamic events, wrapping up with the afternoon autocross event. The threatened storms are well off to the east so tomorrow’s weather looks great. Slight chance of storms for Saturday’s all important endurance race.

None Shall Pass!!!

Tech inspection is strictly limited to four students per team. More that than will just get in the way and cause unnecessary distractions.

Students, on the other hand, suffer from extreme separation anxiety; they just can’t bear being away from their precious car and try every ruse imaginable to get past security.

Ain’t gonna happen.
Queens of crapDSC_5276
From “Dave (the Ogre) at the Gate”, who for decades has ruled the track entrance, to the Lincoln, Nebraska “Queens of Crap” (QOCs) above, no amount of tricks or groveling will win the day. If you don’t have the right pass, or forget to wear long pants on race day, you are stopped cold. End of discussion.

These QOCs stop more intrusions then a bug zapper in a swamp. They’re great to talk to and treat competitors like their own children, but don’t be fooled; try to slip through and they’ll hit you like a lizard’s tongue nailing a fly. They can detect “crap” (hence the moniker) like lie detectors at a political convention. And oooooh, do they have fun doing it………

Why are they so good at this? Setting aside the gender factor/advantage, they are volunteers who fear no supervisor or loss of pay. They are here to support students, watch great (and a few not-so-great) racing cars, and have fun.

Therefore they are invincible.

Let the Monkey Business Begin!

MonkeybusinessDSC_5056It’s Day #2 of the Formula SAE Design Competition, dominated by tech, tech, and re-tech.

“Tech” is the grueling inspection process that each team must pass before they are allowed to go “VROOM! VROOM!” Industry professionals, well-versed in global product development programs, put student design teams through the same intense scrutiny that keeps professional engineers scrambling. They look for rules compliance, safety issues, and the little things that may work for a day, but don’t ensure long-term reliability. Anything that doesn’t pass muster goes back into the trailer for rework and re-test. No discussion, simply Go/No Go.

S&T Racing’s major systems did fine but they had to install small sheet metal and composite panels to cover exposed engine components and add safety wires to a bolt or two, enough for the Miners to get the “go” sticker by early afternoon.

The real pressure is in design. Five or more expressionless, blue-shirted judges descend on your car while you and your teammates student explain every possible facet of your year-long efforts.

FSAE designDSC_5242At the same time.

In an area the size of a parking space.

While the same thing happens to other teams in the adjoining parking spaces.

At the same time.

It’s a test of your knowledge, communication skills and ability to tune out all the distractions; probably the most intense part of the static events because you get just one chance to do it. Same with the cost presentation, which follows about an hour later.

No puffery, just proof that you know your stuff.

The “VROOM! VROOM!” starts tomorrow.

Mars Rover Design Team Vaults From 10th To 2nd!

This time last year S&T’s first attempt at the International University Rover Challenge the veteran Polish team said “WOW! If this is what you bring in your first year, we can’t WAIT to see what you bring NEXT year!*”

Our Polish friends quickly found out as the Miners were nipping at their heels when the “Martian dust” had settled. S&T Mars Rover Design Team finished in second place out of 23 teams from all over the world. Team Poland, Hyperion, took a first place win this year, repeating their performance from the last competition. Consequently, the S&T MRDT is the best rover team in North America.

* The Poles’ words are paraphrased since they wouldn’t be safe for general consumption, but we assure you, they were meant as a sincere compliment. 🙂

Mars Rover Design Team Update

Hanksville, UT. Friday, May 30, 2014 12:26 AM
After a successful day of testing on Wednesday, the sun and the team got up early to set up for competition Thursday. The morning was spent in the normal routine. The cooking crew made breakfast while the EE experts continued to work with the troublesome power board. Its serviceable but not performing to the expectations they intended. Still, it does what it is supposed to do.

The astronaut assistance task was the work of the day. The team left Hanksville about 11:00 a.m. for their 12:20 start time. On site, they were ready to spring into action as soon as the officials gave the green light. In the meantime, a reporter from a Salt Lake City television station interviewed CEO MIchael Brouchard and the S&T PR Lead then proceeded to get footage of MRDT as they attempted to complete the task.

The task: when time was called, MRDT sprung into action. They swarmed the truck to get antenna, rover, base station, generator, wires, and even the director’s chair in place for the task. First they had to set up their 24 ft antenna in the “martian desert”, not an easy task to stake the guide wires into the hard desert floor in gusty winds. But, with lots of effort and a couple of broken parts, they got it up in the air, a little list to the south, but in perfect position.

The other team there was struggling with just made wooden antenna mast, constructed from 2 by 6 scraps and nailed together that morning. It was a sight to see them lift it into place, get it to fall into the hole they dug in an attempt to stabilize it, the mad dash for every available rock to drop around the base, all in hopes that it would stay up. MRDT members who were not working on their team task joined in the mad rush for rock – to help (with a little self preservation involved).

Mast set up, base station set up in the back of the “official” U-Haul truck (the operators are not allowed to see the field in which the Rover operates) all was ready to go. With the green light and the timer started the little Rover rushed onto the field in search of a set of GPS coordinates. It rushed right past the stash of tools it would have to later locate and deliver to the astronauts. The Rover searched and searched, it finally located the two astronauts and the tools. It successfully transported a hammer to the first astronaut then ran out of the allotted time. But not before running over the astronaut it was helping. Apparently there is not a point deduction for killing your astronaut! With points on the board, and the most successful run up to that time, Rover was finished competing for the day. We later found that the celebrity Polish Team (our friends) dominated the event later in the day.

After lunch at the Mars Station, the team set up in another part of the desert to run through the paces in preparation for the Science Task event set for Friday. Thinking the most logical location for the Science Task is a dry wash, so we choose one of the many for the run through. After the normal start up panic (power board) the Rover was able to complete the tasks, more or less. There is a glitch with the conductivity measurements; but, the drill for soil sampling worked exceptionally well. The spectrometers are working the gas sensors (methane, ammonia, hydrogen) work. MRDT continued to practice and test as long as the batteries held out. Finally, in the early evening Rover was done for the day, so we packed up and headed home.

Thursday had a scheduled snack, ice cream from the local grocery store. The team was all sitting outside the little store, mostly sitting in the back of the truck slurping ice cream and congratulating Monica on her science group. Back to the Bates Hotel for more work before dinner. We were all surprised to look at the dinner schedule to discover this was our night out on the town. So after a couple of hours of work we all made the long walk across the street, its really the highway we came to town on – but with a car passing by only every 10 or so minutes its hard to think of it as a highway. Our long walk across the street took us to Hanksville’s Grill/Steakhouse, I guess its a steakhouse cause you can get a steak there. Its a good place to eat. Good cowboy food and lots of it. Frankly, it was a welcome break from the cooking and cleaning up routine.

After dinner, guess what, back to work. The EE’s are still working on the power board looking for the glitch that has caused so must frustration but, thankfully, has not had an adverse effect on performance. And, it seems the Rover has gained weight when set up with its science equipment. So, approaching midnight the EE’s are still fiddling with the power board, the Mechanical group has cut the weight to less than 50 kg, the IT computer/driver group is cloistered in their room staring at computer screen (they have pretty much been there every hour not out in the desert) then all work stopped as the presentation crew is giving and run through to the advisors and team. After lots of questions and comments the science presentation crew went back to work as the other team resumed their labors.

Thats it for tonight.

I am still your Friendly Neighborhood Design Center Director,


A Note From Your Friendly Neighborhood Design Center Director

Dateline: Hanksville, UT Thursday, May 29, 2014

Today started with the team fixing breakfast on the deck at the “Bates Motel”. Afterwards we made a quick trip to the “store in the rock” for generator gas and to the grocery shop for some milk.

The team then spent the morning and early afternoon de-bugging a set of serious issues regarding the BMS (battery management system) and communications/connectivity/camera issue, something to do with software/hardware interface that I do not understand (I am after all just a tired old metallurgist) the trusty EEs finally solved the issues in the early afternoon. Then the “short” trip to the Mars Research Station a few miles from town. After about five miles of black top we turned onto a rough trail on BLM land across the rugged terrain. 25 minutes and about 3.5 miles later we were at the research station. Its very rugged, inhospitable land with breathtaking beauty.

The team was able to hike along the “traverse course” to see the obstacles the rover would encounter on Saturday during that part of the competition. I shudder to think of our little Rover taking on the rugged inclines, rocks, snakes and scorpions along the route – the little engine that could…………It is challenging with traverses over the “rock garden”, a meter drop over a ravine, up a very steep incline with no way around, and a steep sideways traverse. Other obstacles were not available to observe, specifically, a location the rover will have to find using only GPS outside of the line of sight (they will not be able to see it except for the on board cameras in the “Astronaut Assistance Task”. The Rover will have to find the location and get within one meter of the astronaut to score points. If that were not enough, it has to find and then manipulate a set of four valves and a switch to activate a piece of equipment – I’m told that will be a piece of cake.

The team then drove further into the dessert (“desert;” He’s not an English major, either. -ed.) to set up and run the Rover through its paces. A 30 foot antenna provides the signal to the Rover that then performed many of the same tasks it will need to do in the next three days. The Rover performed well for the next several hours, giving the team much needed practice in performing the tasks. With the setting sun and barley any battery power left the team packed up and headed back to Hanksville.

They cooked dinner on the camp stove (an invaluable piece of equipment on this trip) ate and debriefed regarding the days activities. With a clear plan the team divided into groups. One group cleaning up the dinner mess, another making chicken salad for lunch tomorrow (canned chicken – smells like cat food according to one of the team members, I have to agree), and two other groups tweaking and working on the Rover. Still working on the BMS that only reads voltage and doesn’t really manage the batteries. No, I don’t know what I am talking about, its EE.

So at 1:00 a.m. in Hanksville, the team in still hard at work. Preparing for the day to come and the first day of competition. Are they ready? Yes. Are they as ready as they could be? Certainly not.. Remember, this is still only their second competition. They have lots to learn. But, they are organized and will produce a respectable result in terms of performance. This is a team that is organized and committed. They are determined to complete their mission to the very best of their ability. And, I am confident they will achieve that mission.

When do they sleep? Beats me. But then, who can really sleep at the Bates Motel? It comes complete with a really creepy innkeeper. All we need is some spooky house on the hill nearby…..and there probably is one if we looked hard enough or were brave enough to find it.

That is all for now. Signing off from “Design Center West” I am,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Design Center Director.


For The Want of a USB Cord, the Pictures Were Lost!

SDELC director, intrepid media stringer and long-haul I-70 trucker Chris Ramsay sends up this dispatch:

The Mars Rover Design Team (MRDT) left Rolla bright and early Monday morning and headed towards Hanksville, UT. A stop in Kansas City to replace a defective camera was followed by lunch in a parking lot. Arriving in Hayes, KS about 7:00 p.m. for the first scheduled stop for the night. The team found a local park, cooked burgers and dogs for dinner, and put the Rover through its paces as a skateboarding facility in the park.

Leaving Hayes early the following day the team stopped and the Rocky Mountain Lake Park in Denver, next to I-70, for a gourmet lunch of chicken wraps cooked the night before at the park in Hayes…… On through the mountains, MRDT made good progress. The trailer blew a tire (thank goodness for two axle trailers!) and the team got to spend some quality time in Gleenwood Springs, CO Goodyear dealership to replace the shredded component. On to Grand Junction where one team member experienced the cleanest gas station bathroom he had ever seen while the rest of the team waited in the vehicles while he responded to his emergency. A bite to eat, and inspirational pep talk from team CEO Michael Brouchard, fuel stop, and back on the road finally crossing the border into Utah. A couple of hours later the caravan pulled into the Hanksville Inn.

MRDT then set up the earth station in the parking lot, unpacked the Rover and immediately started modifying circuit boards, testing, setting up / taking apart, in short just continuing to adjust the Rover for competition criteria – that was just released earlier that day. Apparently, the organizers like to keep the teams guessing.

Visits from other teams (Yale was looking for parts, rather than make the long trek back to Denver the following day…seems like they left this morning), the Polish Team stopped by for a good visit. They won the competition last year, it was a good time to rekindle relationships and admire each other’s efforts over the last year.

“Will try to send some photos but can’t seem to get them to get them on the ipad, seem like. I need a cable I don’t have, argh!”

Mud Hole to Dust Bowl In 24 Hours.

There’s something primal about mud. Did we rise from the mire? To dust shall we return? Don’t know, but mud-caked cars and their grim drivers seem more dramatic than a dust-obscured hunk of pasture.
The Kansas rains held off all day, but when roughly four score and seven Baja prototypes mobbed the circuit trackworkers were soon searching the skies for moisture of any kind. Anything to keep the choking dust down. Mild breezes kept the southern part of the track mostly visible to spectators, but when the mayhem headed into the woods sight lines became all but useless. Race lanes that doubled back on each other reduced the need for more acreage but churned the dirt into an angry cloud from which cars would appear without warning. The three massive mud holes quickly dried up and didn’t slow cars down at all. Knowing when your car might charge into view? Fuggedaboutit!
Mud excelentDSC_1287
Before the first lap was done several cars had crashed or flipped over. Twenty minutes into the four-hour chaos most drivers figured out the course and picked up speed, and that’s about the time that ATV wreckers got real busy. Broken ball joints and sheared steering components, often from collisions, sent teams back to the paddock for repairs and most made game efforts to return to the fray. Component failures forced
Missouri S&T’s #26 off the course at least three times for frantic repairs, but it didn’t take the Miners long to return. With about 20 minutes left in the race the Miners were in 34th place in the endurance race, but another suspension break probably dropped then a few more slots as the race wrapped up.

Jump1SUN_4909The big question was the custom transmission, but it never missed a beat. Ever. Just flawless! Wayward jumps or off-balance landings might crush the suspension, but that’s what the welder and spare parts are for.

Yes, we know, everyone comes for the race, but this is a design event. Design, build, test. It’s that simple, but one team’s t-shirt summed up the nonpolitically-correct reality with the motto. Design. Race. Wreck. Repeat.
However you say it, a better product eventually comes out of the exercise.

Provided you don’t run out of money and patience first.