|Tech Fourth at FutureTruck
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|JULY 6, 2004 -- Michigan Tech finished its final FutureTruck in the money, coming in fourth in a field of 15 schools hand-picked for the prestigious national engineering competition.|
"We ran solid in every area," said the team's advisor, Associate Professor John Beard (MEEM). "Everything we did, we did well." In addition to the fourth-place prize of $3,000, the team earned two $500 awards for finishing third in both the Delphi Advanced Powertrain Controls and the Math Works Modeling competitions.
In FutureTruck, teams of students from 15 top North American universities re-engineer stock Ford Explorers to achieve lower emissions and at least 25 percent higher fuel economy without sacrificing the performance, utility, safety and affordability consumers want. For all nine years of the FutureCar and FutureTruck competitions, MTU's teams have based their design strategy on a hybrid gas-electric engine. They consistently finished in the top half and while working with a Ford Explorer, always ranked among the top five.
The teams squared off in vehicle testing at Ford's Michigan Proving Ground June 9-17 that measured acceleration, towing ability, fuel economy, off-road performance and tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions. The competition is co-sponsored by Ford and the U.S. Department of Energy.
As with all FutureTruck competitions, minor problems can have major consequences. "We overheated during the fuel economy run," Beard said. Tech's vehicle hadn't been driven much in the heat, since Houghton hadn't had any, so it wasn't until the competition that the team found out that a fan might fail when the weather got hot. "We fixed it, but by then it was too late in the day to complete the event. You only get one shot."
"If we hadn't broken down, we'd have gone from fourth to second place," Beard said. However, he notes, all the teams dealt with their share of breakdowns and luck, both good and bad.
An example was the off-road competition, which started with a dry track and ended in a quagmire as the sky opened up. That wasn't a problem for the team accustomed to 200-plus inches of annual snowfall. "People at the event said, 'Your guy knows what he's doing,'" Beard said. "Well, he knows not to floor it when you don't have traction."
While it would have been nice to do a victory lap in this last-ever FutureTruck event, Beard was philosophical. After all, he notes, driving legend Mario Andretti competed 29 times in the Indy 500 and only managed one win.
"I always want to be first, but we've run solid since I've been the advisor, for seven years. Our students design and build a good vehicle, and when you can do that, you're successful."
Other pluses were the comradery and the notable absence of scratched entries. "This is the first year that everyone qualified and actually got a vehicle on the track and ran," Beard said. "That's the stuff you like to see."
"Everybody had a good time, nobody got hurt and everybody learned a lot. And we did it on a small budget," he said.
"And Ford has really gone out of their way to put together a competition to benefit the students," he added. "I'm sure GM will do a good job, too, with Challenge X next year. The auto industry has to be given credit. They are hiring these students; they have about 200 workers who've been through the FutureCar and FutureTruck program."
Tech's FutureTruck team continued that tradition. "We did have people try to hire our team members, but they already have jobs," Beard said.
MTU is the only university in Michigan to participate in FutureTruck. This year's winner was the University of Wisconsin at Madison, with Pennsylvania State University finishing second and the Georgia Institute of Technology finishing third.