#26 is #26 in Design, #27 in Suspension!

This morning’s rain and oppressive humidity took a toll on participants, spectators and team strategies alike, but it did keep the dust down for a while.

Each team gets scored on every performance criteria you can imagine. The first half of the four-day design event cover static (standing around talking) events while the weekend dynamic evaluations focus on bajarainDSC_0592backing up your talk. Today covered individual sled pull, maneuverability, braking, suspension and acceleration. Tomorrow? Combine all of those things with nearly 100 of your closest gear-head friends, each determined to squeeze into the same 40mph space that your car happens to occupy while mud is flung at you from every direction. Repeat for four hours, pack up and go home. If anyone asks, it’s an engineering study to prove which cars are best suited for the weekend break-it-if-you-can market.

The reality? Teeth-jarring fun in the name of education.

BajaleftDSC_0827 - Version 2Individual static event are first-come, first served so teams often scurry to get in line early. That wasn’t the best sled-pull strategy, as most cars struggled to get moving in the early-morning slop. Good for flinging mud, not for forward progress, and the only weak spot in an otherwise outstanding day for S&T. Brendan Espy’s crew kept most of their dynamic scores in the top third of the field and are poised to earn the best performance in the Miners’ nine-year BAJA! history. They wowed the judges in design presentation and cost, both good for 26th place, the same number that adorns the car. Their real success was reversing a pattern of weak organization and teamwork the team struggled against in recent years.
Oh, yeah, the car……..Car and Driver flew through the air with the greatest of ease, even conquering the brutal pile of concrete slabs (suspension test) which stymied teams that got in line early. Better yet #26 was BajaDSC_0910very reliable, devoid of any odd noises that might indicate trouble. Best of all the Miners’ transmission is working great! It’s an in-house design and manufacture that they’d been working on for several competition cycles. Rather than squeeze a salvaged ATV gearbox into the chassis or fall back on the popular but low-torque continually variable transmission (CVT), they wanted a lighter tranny that would respond to the driver’s whim and situation. In short, better engineering.

A Recipe for Mud?

Memorial Day weekend. 100+ international collegiate Baja SAE teams in Southeast Kansas for an all-out dirt race. Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is flowing northward. We’re betting that dust won’t be a problem.

Miner BAJA!, our friends from São Paulo, Brazil, and hordes of other foaming-at-the-mouth dirt drivers swarmed into the Kansas Technology Center yesterday for two days of safety inspections, standing around, design presentations, standing around, driver egress testing, standing around, ad infinitum……. The dynamic events of hill climb, log pull, maneuverability, acceleration and braking kick off tomorrow, and rainstorms are in the forecast.

Sunday is the four-hour attrition/endurance race, and the weather isn’t looking much better.

It’s a good thing new SAE rules require large 3-D numbers on each car, because when the mud starts flying all the cars look so much the same that the drivers’ own mothers couldn’t tell them apart.

As if they’d (ugh!) want to…………

Media Day at the Student Design Center

MediadayDSC_0499The University of São Paulo-Brazil left for Pittsburg, Kansas and the SAE Baja design competition this morning, but not before stopping traffic on 10th Street. Team members, local gawkers, and all kinds of passers-by stopped to take photos of our guests in a Super Bowl-like media frenzy.

Tonight S&T’s BAJA! crew heads to a Joplin stopover before moving onto the Kansas Technology Center early tomorrow. They’ll stay in the Hotel Gooseneck, towed conveniently behind the center’s pickup truck. The all-in-one workshop/rain shield/bedding area lacks showers, plumbing, and air conditioning, but the price is right. And price counts.


Last night S&T landscape supervisor and all-round superhero Jim Duncan pitched in to let BAJA! use his mulch and dirt fields for last-minute testing and driver training. It’s an ideal facility. Far from irritable neighbors, lots of dirt to tear up, hills to climb, everything needed to get the Miners psyched for a weekend of kidney-rattling, mud-covered fun, er, design validation.

Exams Are Over!

Many design team members have graduated and parlayed their team experience into graduate school opportunities or well-paying jobs, but the competition season rumbles on.

Next week Steel Bridge heads to Akron, Ohio for the SB Nationals. Jermy Jamison’s crew has been practicing, practicing and practicing, and we’re told they’ve trimmed more than a minute from their assembly time and that translates into higher scores.

Tomorrow afternoon the S&T Baja! Team packs up and heads to Pittsburg, Kansas for the first of two off-road design competitions. Joining them is the team from the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil which set up a temporary home at S&T last week. In 2011 Paulo Yamagata’s USP crew helped christen the new Kummer Center so this year is a reunion of old friends and fellow gear-heads.

While the rest of campus is quiet the SDELC shop is humming. And snoring.
The week before completion is full of sleepless nights, and it’s beginning to take a toll on Miners and guests alike. Team camaraderie and cars are tested to the limit as a year’s worth of effort begins to produce results. Sleep deprivation can produce bizarre behaviors; tempers can flare or the silly season takes over. Both are part and parcel of managing people and morale.

At the same time the Mars Rover Design Team hauls Phoenix to Hanksville, Utah for their second crack at desert operations. Mechanical lead Ian Lee’s group has produced a masterpiece of form and function, but it’s not been without a cost in physical exhaustion (above).

Some people believe that taking advantage of another when the victim is at their most vulnerable is unfair, classless and humiliating. Others fully understand that making fun of the ones you respect and admire builds camaraderie, that making your buddy’s life hell is like saying “We Love You!”
We’ll let you be the judge of which is the case here.

Wheels on the Ground

S&T’s amazing Formula SAE car is at the St Charles Family Arena today. Their work at the Rolla National Airport is done for now, as the arena’s much larger parking lot really lets the car stretch its legs. In their place the reinvigorated Solar Car Team is using Rolla National Airport’s apron. This young team needs to get a lot of miles on the car well before heading to Austin, Texas in July. They set up a slalom course precisely the same as they’ll face during “scrutineering” at the Formula Sun Grand Prix. Drivers did their best to quickly slip through the course without striking a cone, but didn’t meet the 11+-second maximum tine. Solar carairportDSC_5296[2]
That’ll take practice but the car certainly looked stable enough and mechanically sound. Seasoned observers noted that lap after lap there were no rattles or rubbing sounds. Each of those issues mean reduced efficiency or something coming loose after some road miles.
Solar carSUN_4031After the 9th or 10th slalom sweep the car ground to a halt. Seems a somewhat erratic battery board quit and the battery management system shut down the whole system, just as it should. The students have a handful of spare and boards to complete the repairs. After recovering from yesterday’s aggressive shop-cleaning party, they should be ready to fixing the bugs and be at back at the airport next weekend.

It’s The Crazy Season!

Student design competitions are in full swing. Bright and early tomorrow starts the Steel Bridge contest, followed just a day later by the Concrete Canoe event, both in Stillwater, OK. The ’14 S&T bridge is a stunning example of design simplicity that takes but three students to assemble in under 10 minutes. The Route 66-themed The Mother Rowed canoe has so far overcome some pretty serious cracks after a critical pour component didn’t arrive in time. If it survives the trailer ride to OSU country, it should be OK.

Overlapping those two events is the ASME West Coast Human Powered Vehicle Competitions, two time zones to the west in San Jose, CA. The road rash on Peter Freiberger’s carbon-fiber masterpiece has been repaired, and the endurance race will be held on an old-fashioned velodromes so hay bales and overly-aggressive riding should be less of a problem.

FASEDC3SUN_0991In the midst of all this chaos Rolla’s flashiest and most consistent team, Formula SAE, has carved out some asphalt of their own at the Rolla National Airport. Nights, weekends, rain or shine they’ve been testing, testing, testing. Another 10 days or so and the full aero package will be ready while the body-panels-of-many-colors will give way to one of the flashiest machines of the 400+ teams that run in these events world-wide.

In other news, Phoenix, the Mars Rover Design Team’s freshly-unveiled machine was rolling on its own late last night, and Saturday’s Illinois test of the Advanced Aero Vehicle Groups monster rocket was a good one. Most components worked as designed, nothing broke, and they got all the pieces back. Not a bad day’s work.

Lastly, from the Conde’ Nast travel guide. You’re probably in the wrong hotel if your toilet has a sign on the tank telling you not to drink the water. The advance party for Human Powered Vehicle sent us this travel tidbit tonight:

“Is it really necessary to tell hotel occupants not to drink out of the toilet? Really?”

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send The Martians On Over….

Monday morning the Mars Rover Design Team (MRDT) work area/stall was quiet; too quiet. Just ten days (and counting) until the public Rover unveiling/naming celebration, you’d think MRDT would be in final/frantic crunch mode; repairing the unbreakable thing or remaking a piece because the ordered parts didn’t fit.

Just a yardstick away the Human Powered Vehicle Competition Team (HPVC) was struggling to finish the last few pieces of their masterful carbon-fiber trike. Realizing that HPVC’s competition deadline was just three days away Rover’s mechanical team, including Jon Bopp and James Zandstra, saw a greater need than their own and instantly suspended Rover work to help get the ASME-sponsored project out the door. Baja! SAE’s mechanics and the crew of Advanced Aero Vehicle Group’s rocket team took the hint and pitched right in, pulling a community all-nighter to wrap things up.

MRDT Mechanical Systems Team Lead Ian Lee said “If you look around the shop on any day in the year, you would see Peter Frieberger, Mitch Thurman, and other HPV members helping other teams, especially with composites. They have almost certainly lent a helping hand, design advice, or some machining time to every project in the center this year. Peter even cleared space in their work area for our team’s tables and tools. I’m proud of our guys for jumping in to help. I figure the least we could do was to help them succeed at their competition.”

The focus of experiential learning at Missouri S&T is team-based operations, which prepares our students to thrive in their careers, communities, and lives alike. Call it the Golden Rule if you like, or Spock’s “………the needs of the many……” soliloquy, (which any respectable tech geek knows by heart) putting other people’s needs ahead of your own speaks volumes about these students.

A few years back a Miner design team member exclaimed “WOW! There’s a whole lot more to engineering than just engineering!” Generosity, unselfishness, integrity, teamwork and kindness aren’t necessarily taught in the classroom. Those traits start at home and really blossom as you learn to work well with other people. Design center staff have the best jobs on campus as we watch these young people develop into the kind of people anyone would want to work with. It’s a genuine honor to think we might have had a small role in that process.

And yes, the Human Powered Vehicle Competition Team DID get on the road to Florida. With a little (lot?) help from their friends.

As it should be.

Just Another Saturday Morning In Rolla

Parade Court_MHW3415
……………in which months of pent-up cabin fever explode in oceans of green. After(?)* the roughest winter in over 20 years the annual “Best Ever” St. Patrick’s Parade was the perfect, if brief antidote. Warm enough for the party atmosphere, almost too warm for the mandatory wearing of the St Pat’s sweatshirts, but perfect for the debut of S&T’s reworked Solar Car and its proud Solarcar1_MHW3485builders.

The as-yet-unnamed car is sleeker than previous Miner racers that have cruised the racetracks and highways of North America. The 2014 American Solar Challenge, slated for mid-July, will take a due-north track from Austin, Texas through Wichita, Kansas before taking a gradual north-east swing to end in St. Paul, Minnesota. There’s still a lot of work to do on this solar speeder; the team is young and short on race experience, the untested platform has, as yet, no road miles behind it, so they’ll likely chart a cautious course and build their confidence while they build a capable car.

*24 hours later Pine Street was blanketed by three inches of sleet and snow. Welcome to Missouri!

Rockets and Marshmallows and Glass! Oh, My!

The St. Louis Science Center is the perfect antidote for kids with cabin fever, and what better time to visit than Engineers’ Week?

S&T’s design teams, along with amazing students from Material Advantage outreach crew, celebrated by setting up hands-on technical displays that kids are encouraged to touch, play, launch, break and even eat.

Advanced Aero Vehicle Group turned paper and tape into the stuff of dreams by helping young children build and name their own paper rockets. A small compressor and PVC tubing served as the perfect platform to simultaneously send four semi-guided paper projectiles near the roof of the Science Center’s four story building. Most of the missiles were taken home as prized trophies; others remain on ceiling beams, the top of the elevator, or firmly lodged in other groups’ displays.

MADSC_9077 The student traveling roadshow known as Material Advantage, AKA material manipulators, brought playtime down to earth by handing out nitrogen-frozen marshmallows. The little gems look and taste the same but go “crunch!” when eaten and cause steamy vapor to escape from your nose. Just the kind of thing to keep kids wondering “How?” “Why?”

Engineering can be a lot of fun; intriguing stuff that ignites the spark that guides a youngster’s entire life. A passion that may have started with steam wafting from a child’s nose.

The Miners Are Back In The Solar House Business!

Dateline: California, U.S.A

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon will return to Irvine, California in 2015, and the Missouri S&T Miners will again be part of that net-zero neighborhood!

Based surely on the success of the Orange County Great Park site, the announcement came out of California today that 20 universities will set up a thriving, albeit temporary, community on a converted Marine Corps airbase runway. The Miners, veterans of five of the six previous events, are masters at logistical planning and have developed the “Nest House” to be easily and inexpensively hauled the 1900 miles to Southern California.

The biannual event lists a surprising 12 new teams to the mix, along with Missouri S&T and seven other experienced groups. We’re glad to see the State of Missouri is sending two teams westward, as Crowder College is partnering with Drury University. S&T and Crowder have a great relationship; several Crowder grads have transferred to Rolla and been active on previous solar house designs, especially the highly-regarded 2005 home.