April 15, 2009

Cornell 100 MPG Car Design Team to Participate in Int’l Competition

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The Cornell 100+ MPG Team is on its way to putting the 2010 Toyota Prius — and its Environmental Protection Agency estimate of 50 miles per gallon — to shame. Up against more than 100 teams from around the world, the Cornell team is now officially competing in a multi-million dollar contest to not only create a car that exceeds 100 mpg or its fuel equivalent, but also present a feasible business plan to sell 10,000 such cars.
On April 7, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize released the official list of 111 registrants, hailing from 11 countries, in the $10 million X Prize competition. Prize winners will be decided after a series of competitions, scheduled to begin as early as May 2010, that will culminate in road competitions in four U.S. cities.
Last week’s press release, however, was no surprise for the Cornell 100+ MPG Team, which has been planning, designing and implementing since the winter of 2006, when Phillip Bell ’07 helped found what was formerly called the Cornell Automotive X Prize Team.
At its inception approximately two years ago, there were six students in the 100+ MPG Team. Now, headed by William “Trey” Riddle grad, the team boasts a membership of approximately 90 students, both undergraduate and graduate, and three faculty advisors: Prof. Albert George, mechanical, aerospace and systems engineering; Prof. John Callister, mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Prof. Bruce Land, electrical and computer engineering.
David Zlotnick ’11, the Business Administration Team Leader, expressed relief upon the finalizing of the official registrants. “Now we know exactly who we’re competing [against,]” he said.
As the multi-stage competition progresses, the Cornell 100+ MPG Team and the other competitors will eventually face timed road competitions that simulate typical road conditions. Citing existing high-mpg vehicles that feature low top speed and must be driven meticulously to maximize miles per gallon, Prof. George emphasized the practical aspect of the competition.
“Sure, there are already vehicles that can achieve 2000 miles per gallon,” George said. “But the idea here is to build a car that will be sold and driven as a normal car.”
Before the Cornell 100+ MPG Team and its rivals can advance to the starting line, however, it must submit design and business plans for the profitable production of the car on a scale of 10,000 units.
According to Zlotnick, the projected price estimate for the team’s car ranges from approximately $40,000 to $45,000 per unit. “It’s important to note that this [car] is not a science project. It’s going to be something that people can buy,” he said.
The contest’s focus on production-capable cars rather than concept cars is emphasized. Instead of showcasing new technology or designs, teams are required to build a car that people will want to buy and drive. All vehicle submissions, in addition to being marketable to the general public, are required to come equipped with seatbelts, windshield wipers, mirrors, lights, odometers and lights, as well as enclosed cabins.
By optimizing a very complicated system and making sure all the pieces of the project fit together and run smoothly, the Cornell 100+ MPG Team is taking a systems engineering approach to build the car, according to George.
The team is currently testing individual systems on a modified 1991 Geo Metro, which serves as a test bed for the team’s ideas. It will not be entered into the final competition. Instead, the team has now integrated a Honda Civic cabin with a Subaru Sambar suspension and drive train to serve as the foundation for the plug-in hybrid vehicle that its members envision.
The team’s Automotive X Prize submission will eventually need to hit 60 miles per hour in under 12 seconds, achieve a minimum top speed of 100 miles per hour, and allow a 200-mile driving range. Additionally, it will have to be able to seat four passengers, have four wheels and contain 10 cubic feet of cargo space.
The first qualifying race, in which the car must reach at least 75 miles per gallon, is scheduled to occur next spring.
The Cornell 100+ MPG Team enjoys support from a wide range of sponsors, including Lockheed Martin, General Electric, National Instruments and Toyota Motor Corporation.
Popular Mechanics recently featured the Cornell 100+ MPG Team as one of the nine promising contenders for the $10 million prize, alongside Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors, Inc., which will be entering its four-door Model S sedan. Other notable contenders for the prize include a team backed by music artist Neil Young and another by India’s Tata Motors, Inc., which unveiled the Nano — widely publicized as the “world’s cheapest car” — early last year.
The Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize is one of several high-profile competitions backed by the non-profit X Prize Foundation, including the $10 million Ansari X Prize, which aerospace designer Burt Rutan and financier Paul Allen won in 2004 by building and launching the world’s first private spacecraft into space twice within a period of two weeks. Other on-going competitions include the $10 million Archon X Prize for Genomics and the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.