When I posted on the SAE Supermileage competition a couple of weeks ago, some commenters felt that it wasn't practical or useful. I feel differently, thinking that it's better than classroom work for educating young engineers. But if you're looking for something that's perhaps a bit more exciting, then check out SAE's FormulaSAE series. The goal is to design and fabricate a prototype for a high-performance single-seat open-wheeled racecar with a projected production price of under $25,000.
Teams must consist only of degree-seeking students of a college or university, and must be SAE members. There?s a static evaluation of engineering and cost, and dynamic testing including acceleration, handling, fuel economy, and an endurance trial (exhaust noise is also a consideration, with a strict 110 dBA limit enforced throughout the competition). The safety rules are extensive and comparable with what one might find within a major sanctioning body. Engines are limited to 610 cc in displacement, with a intake restrictor of 20 mm (19 mm for those cars fueled with E85). Forced induction (except nitrous oxide) is allowed, provided that the system is engineered by the team (the system cannot be factory-installed on the team?s engine of choice). Any transmission and drivetrain may be employed, with the exception of those using hybrid technology. A suspension system must be employed with a travel of at least 2 inches.
With considerable rule complexity, the requirement to consider material and manufacturing costs, and the emphasis on documenting the design and fabrication process, the competition is an ideal way for the participants to apply their theoretical knowledge to a real-world engineering problem. I?d highly recommend that prospective automotive engineers find a way to involve themselves with this competition, and if you work for a company that can provide assistance to a participating school, please do so.