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URI students place 5th in national Mini-Baja contest
Competition challenges students to build off-road, amphibious vehicle
KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 2, 2003 -- A team of engineering students from the University of Rhode Island drove through a mud bog, over utility poles, across a lake and through the forests of Florida in the national Mini-Baja competition last month.
The team placed fifth out of 50 university teams, the best placement a URI team has ever had in the contest. Ecole de Technologie Superieure of Montreal placed first, and Bucknell University came in second place.
Sponsored by Briggs and Stratton and held at the University of Central Florida, the competition challenges students to design, build and test an off-road vehicle capable of negotiating rough terrain and floating and maneuvering in deep water.
The URI team, consisting of eleven students and faculty advisor Zonguin Zhang, evaluated the best designs from last years competition and put them together into one vehicle.
"The key to our success was having a lightweight car with good gear reduction," said team captain Jason Van Buren of Wappingers Falls, N.Y. "Our car was one of the lightest ones at the competition. It also had a single stage gear, while most of the others had three or four gears. It was extremely simple to design and build, and the judges liked that. They wanted to see practicality and cost-effectiveness."
Beginning with a ten horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine and a uniform roll bar, team members Jesse Poulin of Foster and Kyle Bober of Amston, Ct. used several computer software programs to design the frame, suspension and chassis. The remaining team members then began welding the vehicle together.
At the start of the competition, the vehicles were judged on their design, safety, sales presentation, and cost. "The judges represent a mock industrial company and base their decisions on the car that would sell the best," explained Zhang, a professor of mechanical engineering at URI.
Day two of the competition featured tests of acceleration, speed, land and water maneuverability, and a weighted sled pull. The URI team finished in the top ten of almost every category. "The one contest where our vehicles light weight was a handicap was in the sled pull," said Van Buren. "I was driving and the whole car went vertical. But our good gear ratio helped us in this one. And we still finished third."
After making a few modifications overnight, the team entered the final contest -- an endurance race that circled a two-mile course over jumps, through mud, across a lake and over obstacles. After four hours of driving, the URI team finished fifth, just one lap behind the winners.
"I think we did really well considering that most of the teams we competed against have 25 years of experience in the competition. They know what it takes to win," said Van Buren. "Weve only had two teams enter since the 1980s."
In addition to Van Buren, Poulin and Bober, the other URI team members were: Adam Giuliano of Pawcatuck, Ct.; Jason Issertell of Merrimack, N.H.; Claire Stegall of Jamestown; Ryan Tanner of West Kingston; Robert Nealon of Schenectady, N.Y.; Evan Thompson of Oak Park, Ill.; Chris Lepore of Cranston; and Kyle Chandler of St. James, N.Y.;
Sponsors of the URI team were Vectorply Corp., Verdant Technologies, WalMart of Wickford, Damons Hardware, and the URI College of Engineering.