AKRON  Green native Adam Long was the electrical design engineer on the University of Akron’s (UA) formula electric race car student design team this past year. Long was part of a 20-member team that built a full formula electric car, and participated and placed in two different competitions.

The first competition was the Formula SAE North in Barrie, Ont, Canada, from May 30 to June 2 against 13 teams. The team placed sixth overall and seventh in design and cost categories. The second competition was the Formula SAE Lincoln at Lincoln Airpark in Nebraska on June 19 against 30 teams. For this competition, there were only eight team members involved and the team placed fifth overall and second in efficiency.

Daniel Deckler, professor of engineering at UA and the team’s faculty advisor, said this was the first UA team to create a full formula electric car and take it to race in a competition.

“It is a huge accomplishment for a first-year team to place this high in design. Judges and other teams were amazed that these students could do what they did in only nine months and with so few team members,” said Deckler. “I am extremely proud of their accomplishments. I am confident this is the beginning of a new future for UA’s Formula E Team. This year’s team laid the foundation for future teams.”  

Both competitions required a collegiate team to design, construct, and run an electric-powered vehicle. Similar to UA’s formula combustion race car, the formula electric vehicle must have high performance in terms of acceleration, braking, and handling capabilities. The difference is the formula electric car runs on 432 lithium-ion batteries. The race car had to be aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, and easy to maintain. With the same considerations as any engineering business, the students must also evaluate cost, manufacturing capabilities, and reliability of the race car.

Deckler said the team built 80 to 85 percent of the car including the frame and the circuitry. He added that the engineering students take what they learn in the classroom and apply to building the car. A new car has to be built each year.

“There were two electrical engineers on the team, and we were responsible for the schematics, wiring the car, wiring of the battery pack and the computer programming," Long said. “This year’s car weighed 520 pounds and we got 60 horsepower out of it with a top speed of 70 mph. The motor went faster than the tires and we could actually brake traction to get the car to do burnouts.”

Elena Falcione, the incoming team vice president, an electrical design engineer and the driver of the car in the competitions, said it was an “awesome experience.”

“I started out as the secretary and then Adam got me working with the circuitry and printed circuits,” Falcione said. “When we got to Canada, I found out I was going to be the driver. I had driven two times before competition day. It took six seconds to reach the 75-meter mark. It felt like it was flying.”

Falcione said one of the biggest learning experiences for her was realizing the difference between learning in the classroom and learning through hands-on.

“I used a lot of what I learned in the classroom on the project. But I think physically building something takes the classroom experience one step further,” Falcione said.

Zach Demetriades, the lead brake engineer for the team, said the experience was great. Plus, the students got to meet a lot of people from the industry.

“The judges were engineers,” Demetriades said. “This was a unique experience because in class you build something for a grade. This was a project where you wanted to build the best car. The problem-solving aspect was the biggest learning experience for me. It was solving real life problems with real world application. I’ll be able take that experience and knowledge into the work world.”

Prior to competition, teams are responsible for passing a series of tech inspections to make sure the vehicle is fit to compete. UA’s team passed all inspections on the first attempt and went on to compete in each of the dynamic events including acceleration, skid pad, and autocross. 

“This was an amazing experience," Long said. "It’s why I came to school every day at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until midnight. People from Honda and Tesla were at the competitions and were talking to the teams. Electric cars are the future and I feel like I’m making a contribution to that future.”