Somaiya goes to Sepang

May 29, 2013, 07:47 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

Students from the Vidyavihar college have designed a fuel efficient car that has been selected to race in Malaysia

Second year engineering students from K J Somaiya College of Engineering, Vidyavihar, yesterday unveiled a car that has a mileage of 300 kms per litre. The car was entirely designed and built by a team of 40 students who belong to various streams, including electronics and mechanical engineering.

Team Eta with their car, Jugaad ’13, at the unveiling. Pics/Atul Kamble

The team, self-titled Team Eta, is one of the 17 teams from across the country and the only one from Mumbai to be chosen to participate in the Shell Eco Marathon Race - an international challenge that urges college students from around the world to build fuel-efficient cars. The race will be held from July 4 to 7 in Malaysia at the Sepang International Circuit, where the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix is held every year.

Tony Thomas, a student of mechanical engineering, who headed the team said, “This is the first time we are taking part in this competition. We wanted to find a solution for the problem of regular increases in fuel prices. We felt that this competition is a good platform to showcase our car. The criterion for the competition is that the car should have the best possible mileage.

Devansh Sheth (left) and Tony Thomas

” Added Kunal Jain, a student of electronics engineering and who headed the marketing department for the team, “We started this six months ago. However, due to our semester exams, we were not able to work on it for two months. We were able to build the car in only four months, of which two months were spent in manufacturing.”

The car falls under the Prototype Gasoline category, one of the two major categories of the race, said Jain adding, “The other category is called Urban Concept. The prototype cars have to be futuristic. They could be three wheelers and could be smaller in size, while the urban concept cars have to be as commercially viable as possible.” Explained Thomas, “With prototype cars, there are no rules. You can go to the limits. There is no ground clearance and we can give as much aerodynamics as possible. But urban concept cars have to be more commercial and hence there is a need for more safety precautions, rules and regulations.”

The students surround Kunal Jain as he takes the driver’s seat

Incidentally, the team named their car Jugaad ’13. Said team member Devansh Sheth, “We named it Jugaad because we like to create things from junk and this car is made out of scrap.” While designing their car, Thomas’s team used an aerodynamic, fibre-glass body to increase mileage and also attached an Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) system for more improvements. Jain explained the car’s features, “For safety precautions, the chassis of the car is built from aluminium. It can take any aerodynamic pressure possible. The roll bar (the base) can withstand a 70 kg force and there is a plumbed in fire extinguisher in the engine compartment and under the driver’s seat.”

To stand out among other teams from India, the students used the Electronics Fuel Injection (EFI) kit. Jain said, “The other teams in India aren’t using it. They mostly use carbonators. We thought of trying this as we wanted to achieve good mileage. An EFI kit basically means that we can decide how much fuel will be consumed by calculating the temperature and speed of the engine on the computer instead of getting readings from the Engine Control Unit (ECU). We have a headstart with the electronic fuel engine as we get to decide the amount of fuel used. This makes it very efficient. We have also installed an engine that can rotate in any direction, thereby making the car more efficient.” The students even named their team after the Greek word ‘Eta’ which means ‘efficiency’.

Most of the parts of the car were acquired, courtesy sponsors. Said Jain, “The chassis as well as the body were provided by sponsors. We raised money from our sponsors to buy the engine, electronic fuel engine kit, tyres and tools. It totalled to R4,00,000 – 5,00,000. The core team of ten members will travel to Malaysia and we are funding our tickets with our own money. We didn’t want to ask sponsors for that. But in the competition if a team is able to able to fulfill all their rules and regulations, they provide you Rs 1,00,000 travel allowance, which we are hoping to get.”

If designing the car, finding sponsors and building the car weren’t daunting enough, the students had to face other challenges too. Said Sheth, “It has been really difficult to manage our studies. We got a lot of support from our college but in spite of that, we did have a lot of study work to handle. It has been really difficult to find the right balance.”

Managing a team of 40 was also not easy and Thomas, Jain and Sheth admit that everyone had differences of opinion, but it did not derail their project. Explained Sheth proudly, “Each department – electronics, marketing, etc – elected their own department heads on the basis of merit. These heads would have meetings and decide on what has to be done. They would pass on the message to their team members. It was a very democratic set up. We had several differences of opinions, but since we had elected our leaders, we accepted that their word was final, and do not have any regrets.”

It was also a learning experience as the difference between theory and its practical application came to the fore. Said Sheth, “Designing the body or chassis is usually something that we study on paper. But when we do it in person it is difficult. In the books whenever we bend an object we are told we will get a 90 degree angle. But when we tried to do it, it was far more challenging.”

While their primary aim of building the car is to participate in the race, the students are also thinking about ways in which they can make a difference in society. Said Jain, “We are the only team from Maharashtra to be chosen for the race. After the competition, we plan to conduct awareness programmes and workshops in other colleges across Maharashtra and explain the concept of fuel efficiency so that they too can participate in the race next year.”

Though the students are totally serious about the competition, they are also keen to have some fun. Jain, who will drive the car, is excited about racing in the Sepang International Circuit. The circuit is the same venue where the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix is held, a race which his idol Michael Schumacher has won three times. Incidentally, Fernando Alonso has also won it thrice, and Sheth is a huge fan of Alonso’s current team, Scuderia Ferrari.

The team has won the Malaysian Grand Prix six times with different drivers. To be racing on the circuit is a dream come true for these ardent F1 fans, who just can’t stop grinning at the prospect. But unlike their idols, Jain insists, “Winning is not the final goal. We are excited about interacting with the teams from other countries (there are multiple teams from all over the world, including Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan competing) and learn from this experience, so we can participate again next year.”

Germany bound
A group of 23 engineering students from Bharati Vidyapeeth College in Kharghar, who call themselves Triumph Racers, have qualified to participate in the international design competition, Formula Student Germany 2013 this July, with their creation, tvakSa. The team qualified for the competition by acing this year’s early registration quiz. The students had tried to participate last year too but were unable to do so due to customs issues. 

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