April 25, 2008

Team Competes to Build Most Fuel-Efficient Car

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While most students are complaining about rising gas prices, others are working to compete for the Automotive X-Prize, a competition challenging participants to create a car that is both more financially sound and fuel-efficient than any other vehicle on the market.
Cornell is one of only two universities to have a team competing. The team is up against nearly 60 companies to create an automobile that exceeds 100 miles per gallon.
“The project is sustainable on more than one level: Environmental — by building more efficient vehicles we introduce less CO2 into the air; and economic — as a country we must reduce our dependence on volatile oil prices. The restrictions on emissions are ultimately an environmental issue. From a practical standpoint, the car must comply with emission standards in all 50 states; however the motivation for these standards is concern for air quality,” William ‘Trey’ Riddle grad, the team’s future leader, said.
James Sherman ’08, deputy team leader of operations for Cornell AXP, estimates that it will cost between $700,000 and $800,000 to complete the project. The money will be used for testing technologies, travel, administration and operation team costs and the manufacturing of the “fully functional, marketable, plug-in hybrid automobile.” [img_assist|nid=30222|title=Getting in gear|desc=Mark Amato ’07 and Dan Gorman ’09, members of the Automotive X-Prize team, display their car on Ho Plaza on Tuesday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“Our biggest sponsor to date is General Electric, who has so far provided us with very generous financial contributions, as well as the benefits of some of their cutting-edge component technologies,” Sherman said.
“Cornell is also a large sponsor,” Sherman continued. “They’ve provided us with the office and lab space, as well as financial grants.”
Other sponsors of AXP include National Instruments, Tektronix, Toyota Motor Corporation, Autodesk, Lockheed Martin, First Manhattan Consulting Group, The Triad Foundation, and Exide Technologies. Sherman explained that the group also has a media sponsor, Popular Mechanics, which posts blog articles from Cornell team members.
Terence Davidovits grad, became involved with the project when it took off last spring. He compared the project to today’s hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius.
“The car is a mix of a conventional internal combustion engine powered vehicle and an electric vehicle,” he explained. “It can drive a certain range, say 40 or 50 miles, on electric power from the batteries alone. It can then switch on the combustion engine to drive further. This is an advancement over hybrids on the road today such as the Prius, because for the first 40 to 50 miles, the car consumes no gas, but rather electricity from the grid. Since most drivers don’t drive more than 40 miles in a day, the common use of such cars would drastically cut oil consumption.”
Davidovitz further explained that the team is actually designing two cars: a “Foray,” which is a mule car used for testing, and another car thatwill be their final conceptual vehicle.
“The first iteration of the Foray was designed and built in 3 months, but it will be successively upgraded. The final car is being designed right now and is still purely on paper,” Davidovitz said.
Don Foley, the senior director of the progressive AXP, described the competition on the competition’s website: “The winner of the AXP will be the consumer — with lower fuel costs, the environment with reduced carbon emissions and a rejuvenated auto industry with an invigorated market. In short, we will all win with competition.”
“The X-Prize Foundation has been using this model of “incentivized competition” to stimulate innovation in research and development in several industries —genomics, space travel, and now, automotive technology,” Sherman explained.
The Cornell team is optimistic about the project.
“We have very bright, capable and devoted students who, although they may not know much when they join the team, learn quickly,” Davidovitz said.