RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) — If the car of the future is here today, you will find it in Russellville.
A group of Arkansas Tech students built a car that gets nearly 1,000 miles to the gallon.
“I was shocked when he said 993,” Brayden Butler recalled. “I was like, ‘say that one more time
Butler was part of the team that competed in the Shell Eco-marathon in Sonoma, California last weekend. Their car achieved a top rating of 993 miles per gallon during one of its five runs on the track at Sonoma Raceway, finishing seventh among teams from across the Western Hemisphere and third in the United States.
“And I was kind of hoping for 500, just to not get my hopes up too much,” Justin Duke said. “Last year, we only got 212.”
Last year, the team used a car that a previous group started a few years prior but left unfinished. This time, they built a new model from scratch, designing it during the fall and beginning the build in January.
“We were rushing pretty hard to get all the goals and deadlines met,” Duke said.
“It was a little sketchy for a while,” Stephen Kajdan agreed. “Because, it didn’t seem like things were really happening fast. Because, you get a lot of big things done, and then there are those sort of lulls in between where you’re just doing little stuff, but that little stuff really adds up, and once it all gets put on there, you go, ‘okay, it’s gonna be all right.’”
The team spent approximately $2,000 on materials, while some of their rivals had budgets of $50,000 or more.
“This was built, not bought,” Andrew Lea said. “All the students here, just the eight of us and a very small amount of money, put this car together.”
Lea said the small budget was the biggest challenge the group faced. “I would’ve loved to have seen a full mold, you know, with a vacuum-resin infusion and just, like, absolutely aerospace composite work,” he said Monday. “But I knew that we didn’t have that budget and it wasn’t going to happen.
“So, I kind of brought it down to the level of boats. And we ended up folding it out of foam. Actually, we ended up using polystyrene foam, just like you could find in the foam boards in your house, and so, it’s got half-inch foam that we purchased from Home Depot, and then we covered it with a really nice fiberglass, 2x2 twill that also is for boats, and we used boat epoxy, and all of that saved us a lot of money.”
Butler, the team’s primary driver, said he worked 20-30 hours a week on the car, and that his teammates combined to spend thousands of hours in the shop putting it together and testing it. He joined the team this year for the opportunity to create the car from nothing.
“Because, in labs, we’re not really building anything,” he explained. “We’re just kind of seeing equipment that’s already built and just using it. So, actually, like, helping to build this body, like, doing fiberglass work and stuff—cause I didn’t ever do anything before with anything like that—so that was, like, really cool.”
Jacob Weidenfeller, an electrical engineering instructor, and the team’s faculty adviser said the group learned lots of skills that will prove valuable after graduation. “It’s going to be hard to go out there and find a job where it’s just you working on a project,” he mentioned, “so, you are going to be working with people. You’re going to have to learn how to work well and efficiently with those people.”
“What’s great about working with this team,” Kajdan stated, “is that, if I didn’t know how to do something, or another guy didn’t know how to do something, there was someone else that was able to do it, so that was fantastic.”
Butler described the car as a coffin with a window, but it passed its technical and safety inspections in Sonoma and was the only car to complete all five of its runs without breaking down.
Duke credited the camaraderie within the group for its success.
“Having them working on the subsystems, each individually, and keep up with everything and meshing everything together is what made the car stay together,” he claimed. “Because, if one part fails in any of those subsystems, then the whole car’s not gonna complete that run.”
Butler and Lea said the team was shocked and ecstatic with the result. Their next challenge will be to keep the team alive in 2019-20, because Lea, a junior, is the only member who will not graduate this year.
“It’s going to be very hard to recruit students that are just as enthusiastic and motivated to come in countless hours each night working on something like this,” Weidenfeller said.
Weidenfeller and Lea both said they would try, however. “I would like to see the companies of Arkansas come out and support Arkansas Tech University,” Lea said. “We can take donations, we can take sponsorships. I think, if we take more money and more support going into future years, we’ll definitely be a top team in the world.”
A car such as the one they designed will not likely hit dealerships any time soon. But Duke said the technology in their single-person vehicle is easily adaptable to commercial vehicles.
“I mean, there’s, a lot of the advancements we’re working on, they’re being developed right now,” he stated. “This is just a fuel-injected, four-stroke, gasoline engine. There’s tweaks that we’ve made. But, I mean, a lot of these can be carried over to vehicles. You know, making it lightweight, more aerodynamic, those kind of things are somewhat easy to bring over to the car world.”
The ATU Society of Automotive Engineers, to which these students all belong, will host a public car show on Saturday, April 20. It is the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year, and some of the proceeds will go