International hybrid race showcases future car engineers

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Formula hybrid

Formula hybrid racing. Ladies and gentlemen, charge your batteries. Image: Plug In America/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Hybrid car racing, while still somewhat of a novelty, is nothing new. The Formula Hybrid International Competition, being held this week in Loudon, N.H., is unique in that all the cars in the race are student-designed and built. The event is a recruiting forum for automakers seeking engineers.

An engineering showcase

Nascar fans might be disappointed at the conspicuous absence of vroom-vroom, squeal, screech. But what these cars lack in exhaust notes they make up for with engineering ingenuity and fuel efficiency. They were all the creations of engineering students from colleges and universities from six different nations.

Forty different teams descended on Loudon early this week for the competition, which started Monday and wraps up today, May 3.

An innovative educator

The competition, which has been held yearly since 2006, is the creation of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, which prides itself on its innovative methods. The school emphasizes three areas of engineering: medicine, energy technologies and complex systems. According to the hybrid competition’s web page, “These areas crosscut traditional engineering disciplines and address critical human needs.”

A variety of events

Since the competition is mainly about preparing eager young engineers for careers, one of the challenges each team has to face is making a mock-pitch to potential investors. Other events test the cars in various aspects of engineering, such as acceleration, braking and handling.

The main event of the week, however, and the victory coveted by all involved, is Thursday’s endurance race. For that event, each car gets equal stores of energy. Cars with more battery power receive less gasoline than do those with smaller electrical storage capacity. The winner of the event is the fastest car that doesn’t run out of juice before the end.

Doug Fraser, organizer of the Formula Hybrid International Competition, said:

“If they finish with a lot of fuel left in their tank … they’ve wasted it, because they could have used it to go a little faster.”

Speaking of the Italian team that won the event in 2010, Fraser continued:

“When they came in from the end of the endurance event, there wasn’t a thimbleful left of fuel in their tank.”

This year, for the first time, the event was available to watch streaming live via the online streaming service, VBOSS.

Judges represent automakers

The judges of the competition are mostly representatives of various automakers. Plus, the event is heavily attended by automotive industry recruiters. At times, it has the atmosphere of a job fair event. There are even career counselors in attendance to evaluate resumes and discuss the realities of working for a large automaker.

Fraser explained what sets the judging process apart from other competitions:

“They’ll look at a car with a student standing there and they may see something interesting on the car and they’ll discuss the design … and it’s really not unusual at the end of that discussion to see the judge hand the kid a business call and say, you know, give me a call.”

[No need to look for other car dealers: buy here, pay here.]

A win-win competition

The Formula Hybrid International Competition is a win-win event for automakers and student engineers. The students get a showcase to pitch themselves to potential employers. And having so much new engineering talent in one room saves automakers a fortune in headhunting fees.


Formula Hybrid
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