For most college students, the thought of their car produces memories of long summer drives, or, for the more accident- prone, uncomfortable confrontations in the high school parking lot. Members of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Racing Team meditate on more technical car-related questions. How does carbon fiber increase the car’s speed? How can one maximize aerodynamic efficiency?
The SEAS team is currently building the Crimson Cruiser, a battery-powered vehicle that it hopes will push the boundaries of efficiency. This April, the team will compete in the battery-electric division of the Shell Eco-Marathon in Detroit, Mich. The goal of the competition, at which high school and undergraduate teams from the U.S., Brazil, Canada, and Mexico compete, is to build the most fuel-efficient car possible. Past winning designs have achieved over 2,000 miles per gallon. “You think your Prius is efficient?” asks SEAS Racing Team President and Steering Lead Jonathon C. Budd ‘15. “That’s not even close to how good these cars are.”
Founded in 2013, the SEAS Racing Team has grown under Budd’s leadership to include over 20 members of all four class years and a wide range of concentrations. Members are divided into subcommittees that focus on different components of the car, including the chassis, body, electronics system, steering, and brakes.
After modeling airflow for the various designs on a computer program and using a 3D printer to create several lightweight prototypes, the team is now ready to transition from the design phase into the actual fabrication of the car. A lightweight, carbon- fiber chassis and body will increase the car’s efficiency while still being sturdy enough to hold a student driver, who will steer lying feet-first, strapped in on his or her back.
Eventually, the team will hold a time-trial to determine which member has the optimum combination of low body weight and steering ability. The drivers won’t be expecting much fanfare at the test-run, however. When asked for a potential location, Budd responds: “Classified. If we told you, people would not let us test there.”
It’s a complex engineering project for an undergraduate team, and Budd has inevitably encountered some unforeseen issues. The constraints imposed by their workspace in Pierce Hall often make maneuvering large parts difficult. Additionally, some of their design plans have been downsized to accommodate a limited budget. Then there are Harvard’s concerns over the “liability issues with an actual, moving, potentially dangerous, high-speed car,” Budd says.
However, the enjoyment that comes from working as a team outweighs the frustrations.
“It’s really great to just work with other students and try to tackle such a large problem,” says Chief Engineer Willie J. Pirc ’15.
In an environment where hours spent reading and studying can appear to amount to just a letter on a transcript, the project provides the team with the satisfaction of producing a tangible outcome. As Budd says, “At the end of the day, you don’t have, ‘Oh that was a sweet p-set I just crushed.’ No, this is my car, let’s get in it and go drive it around.”