Engineering Students Build Hybrid and Electric Cars at Formula Hybrid
Where do the world’s largest auto makers go to recruit the best employees? Many attend the Formula Hybrid Competition that takes place each spring at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Every year, hundreds of students on more than a dozen teams converge at the Dartmouth University-sponsored event to showcase their automotive skills. Each team has spent the past year building, designing, testing, and tweaking hybrid and electric vehicles.
Douglas Fraser, founder and director of the Formula Hybrid Competition and senior research engineer and laboratory instructor at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth (which recently created history by graduating more female than male engineers), tells GoodCall®, “Formula Hybrid is an educational program that requires engineering students to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries – primarily the fields of electrical and mechanical engineering.”
Fraser explains, “To design a successful hybrid powertrain, the outputs from the electric motors and gasoline engines must be ‘blended’ to propel a vehicle forward, and to do that, engineers from different disciplines must negotiate the areas where the electric motors and gasoline engines combine.”
Work in other disciplines important
While most college students focus on mastering their own discipline, the expectations are much higher for these students. “Today’s engineers must be ‘multi-lingual’ – they must be able to understand and appreciate the characteristics of the systems being created by their peers in the other disciplines,” Fraser says. “Many engineering programs educate engineers in only one discipline, but Formula Hybrid forces them to work across multiple fields.”
This year’s competition included 19 teams, including Georgia Tech, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Vermont, Lawrence Technological University, the University of Michigan, SRM University in India, and Dartmouth University. The all-female team from Rochester Institute of Technology took first place in the electric vehicle competition, highlighting one of the ways to keep young girls interested in STEM. The Milwaukee School of Technology took first place in the hybrid competition.
Vehicles are judged on a variety of criteria, including design, handling, and acceleration.
How Formula Hybrid participants see things
For Justin Hommel, a graduating senior from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., this was his third trip to Formula Hybrid. Hommel, an electrical engineering major, tells GoodCall® that his school participates in this competition because it’s the most challenging and prestigious one.
“Formula Hybrid brings the highest concentration of multidisciplinary engineering students together,” Hommel says. “We have mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, aerospace engineers – we’ve had a biomedical engineer in the past working on our seats – and everyone works in unison, which simulates how the real world will be if you work in the automotive industry.”
Three years at the Speedway have given Hommel an appreciation for the many rules and regulations associated with a Formula hybrid car. “We have to have a safe car before we’re even allowed to compete.” And he believes this is another way in which the competition mimics the real world.
Hommel also credits his participation for helping to shape his career. “Initially, I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but being in Formula Hybrid influenced me to change my major to electrical engineering and switch my focus to power electronics.”
He already has a job offer lined up. “I got an offer from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles working on high voltage development and validation in the electric powertrain group,” Hommel says. Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, Ford, and Toyota are automotive sponsors of the event.
How the sponsors benefit
Alba Lynnette Colón, program manager for the NASCAR Cup Series and lead talent scout for General Motors, tells GoodCall®, “We are looking for well-rounded students that not only are successful technically speaking but that also have the soft skills that are so important in the corporate world.” Colón says GM is also looking for quick learners who can think outside of the box.
While it’s a competitive event with career-defining possibilities, Formula Hybrid is also an opportunity for the best and brightest to forge relationships and learn from each other. Hommel admits that his favorite part of the event is going fast; however, he explains, “My favorite experience is being with the people, talking with U of M (University of Michigan), and the University of Victoria, asking questions like how they did those designs.”
And he also appreciates the camaraderie. “Last year, I helped U of M weld some things, and they lent us some tools – that’s what I love about this competition.”