Mechanical engineering capstone students build off-road vehicle for international competition
A mechanical engineering capstone team is preparing to take their passion project on the road. The Baja car is an offroad vehicle built entirely by UMass Dartmouth engineering students. Now, they are working to bring the vehicle up to racing standards in time for the SAE Baja international competition in southern California next spring.
Registered under the name "Corsair Racing," the Baja capstone team of 2024 will be the first UMass Dartmouth group in more than a decade to see the Baja SAE competition.
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Evolution of the Baja
The Baja car is a single-seat off-road vehicle designed and built by mechanical engineering senior design students and sponsored by the UMassD chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Students designed, manufactured, and built the vehicle in its entirety, with the exception of a few prefabricated pieces.
The current Baja vehicle is the result of years of work and collaboration. "Previous senior design teams built the drivetrain and the frame," said 2024 team lead Cameron Fitton. "Our goal now is to improve the way it drives and get it up to competition standards." Enhancements include improving its steering capabilities and adding a reverse function.
In 2021, the Baja senior design team designed and built the powertrain. The 2021 team included Patrick Elias, Devon Ferreira, Ben Fortin, Brendon Kidwell, and Chris Obesky.
In 2023, the team was tasked with improving the drivetrain, building the vehicle's frame and suspension, and overseeing ASME students in designing and manufacturing the steering and brake systems. The 2023 team consisted of Payton Parker, Andrew Sheedy, Daniel Strode, Robert Sylvester, Ed LaLumiere, and Dylan Hathaway.
Now, the 2024 team is hard at work readying the vehicle for competition. Cameron Fitton (team lead), Andrew Boardman, Fellipe Rouillard, Elias Medeiros, and Kyle Montague make up the 2024 Baja team.
More than just an assignment
Hamed Samandari, assistant teaching professor of mechanical engineering, is the faculty advisor for ASME and has seen the Baja vehicle come to fruition. "The dedication and teamwork of our students are off the charts," he said. "They've transformed a vision into a powerful Baja car in the three years during a pandemic. Our ASME students and Baja SAE team members are more than just students; they are the engineers of tomorrow in pursuit of excellence."
Afsoon Amirzadeh Goghari, assistant teaching professor of mechanical engineering and capstone advisor for the Baja team, says, "They dedicated a lot of time and hard work and went beyond the scope of their assigned project. There were weeks where the team was working literally day and night."
The Baja SAE competition: Putting the Baja to the test
Presented by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the Baja SAE is an international competition that challenges engineering students to design and build an off-road vehicle capable of surviving punishing terrain. Each team's goal is to design and build a prototype of an all-weather, rugged, single-seat, off-road recreational vehicle intended for sale to the nonprofessional weekend off-road enthusiast. As in real work situations, these future engineers work together as a team to identify and overcome technical challenges in design, testing, and manufacturing.
The Baja SAE competition consists of multiple dynamic events including a hill climb, maneuverability test, and suspension test as well as a single four-hour endurance race. With the same engines, success in the competition is not dependent on engine size or tuning, but rather overall design. Teams are also assessed in static events such as ergonomics, functionality, cost, and manufacturability of their designs in a business and marketing presentation.
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Corsair road trip
Come April, the capstone team will drive more than 3,000 miles across the country with the Baja vehicle in tow for the international SAE competition in Gorman, CA.
What has been your favorite part of this project?
The 2024 Baja team all agreed: "Driving it is definitely the most fun!"
"We all like cars and have worked on them in the past, so this is a way for us to further that passion while also applying what we learn in classes," said Fitton, the team lead.
What's been the biggest challenge?
The team members explained that in addition to making the Baja drive better, they need to ensure it complies with more than 300 SAE regulations designed to keep drivers safe and ensure fair competition.
The value of this project
"ASME students have not just built a car; they've created a community of passionate engineers, from freshman level to senior level, dedicated to conquering the off-road challenge," Samandari said. "Over the past few years of mentoring ASME students, I've witnessed their transformation into confident problem solvers and effective communicators, all while taking on real engineering challenges."
Leading up to the competition in April, the ASME will be accepting donations to help fund their travel. To learn more, contact ASME faculty advisor Hamed Samandari.