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Extraordinary Vehicle Design

Student Design Competition Profile: The RIT Baja SAE

Vehicle design assumes a different dimension when students design vehicles that aren’t so ordinary. That’s the case with the SAE International Collegiate Design Series that focuses on Baja vehicles. At Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), students participate in the competition, which is led by Martin Gordon, a professor of manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology in the College of Engineering Technology at RIT and also the faculty advisor to RIT Baja SAE. We spoke to Gordon to learn more about the competition.

A competitor in the Baja Student Design Competition gets some air. Image courtesy of RIT. A competitor in the Baja Student Design Competition gets some air. Image courtesy of RIT.

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the RIT Baja SAE?

Martin Gordon: The Baja Student Design Competition, established in 1976, is sponsored by SAE and is an international series of events where student engineers design and build off-road vehicles.

RIT has competed for more than 25 years, winning national and international competitions. The university also hosts an international event every three years and will do so again in June 2019. At the previous event in 2016, more than 1,200 students participated. More than 100 teams from across the U.S., Canada, Brazil, India, Mexico, Venezuela and South Korea participate.

Students on the teams are predominantly from engineering and engineering technology programs, but [there are also] students from business, computing and imaging science programs to emulate the project teams found in businesses today. Teams must provide information during competitions about how Baja SAE vehicles are designed, built and tested as well as compete in field events such as rock and hill climbs, acceleration and maneuverability challenges and a four-hour endurance race.

DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs that are part of the event and how they came to be?

Gordon: The events produce amazing off-road vehicles, strong engineers who can successfully work on teams and employment opportunities—for both companies and students.

All the vehicles start with a single-cylinder commercial engine—similar to one used for go-carts and smaller motorcycles. There are set design requirements for size and weight. From there, teams develop off-road vehicle designs that are unique in style. RIT is one of the few universities that build many of the parts and equipment in house because they have available top-notch fabrication facilities and wonderful support from the university—all the way up through the president’s office.

Individuals from companies such as GM, Cummins, Caterpillar, General Electric, Honda, Toyota, SpaceX and Polaris not only volunteer as design, safety and event judges, they also recruit prospective employees from the different teams competing. They are able to see firsthand how students interact with each other and with other teams as well as how they contribute to the design process.

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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