UP team finishes 13th out of 100 teams in global off-road vehicle engineering competition

Posted on June 30, 2020

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) TuksBaja engineering team has placed 13th in an online international competition in which 100 teams competed.

UP students from the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology recently took part in the Baja SAE, an intercollegiate design competition run by SAE International in which teams of engineering students from universities all over the world compete against one another.

“Each team was required to design, manufacture and build a small, rugged, single-seat off-road vehicle that has to survive the severe punishment of rough terrain, steep rocky hills and mud,” says the team’s faculty advisor, Wietsche Penny.

Team members Dylan Cornew, who was the captain; Nathan Mills; JE Honiball; Ryno Smith; Elzandé Fouché; and Thomas Kabutz were meant to compete in Tucson, Arizona and were prepared to ship their vehicle to the USA, but the physical event was cancelled in favour of a virtual one due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TuksBaja car 70 from the 2019 competition.

The aim of the competition is to expose students to the engineering challenges that the real world will have in store for them, such as working according to a budget and various other constraints they might face. “This sort of practical experience ultimately delivers well-rounded engineers to the industry and gives these graduates an edge over their peers in the workplace,” says Penny.

“Under normal circumstances the competition would have comprised of four parts: design evaluation, sales presentation, technical inspection and dynamic events,” adds Penny. Usually, a group of engineers evaluates the teams’ design report and presentation, and how team members respond to relevant questions. In the sales event, entrants have to present their business plan to a potential investor, while during the technical inspection, the vehicle’s safety requirements are assessed. Only once the vehicle has been declared compliant by the inspectors is it allowed to compete in the dynamic events, which entail acceleration, suspension performance, and a four-hour endurance race. 

However, on the virtual platform, only the design and sales parts of the competition were evaluated. “This was done via online meetings at obscure hours because of the time difference between South Africa and the USA,” says team captain Cornew.

TuksBaja was disappointed to see the dynamic events cancelled. “There are lots of points to score in this part of the competition, and we spent a lot of time preparing for this,’ says Cornew. “We believe that we have a well-designed and tested vehicle, and we are sure that we would have performed well if we’d had the chance to prove what we could do in the endurance race.”

They did, however, place seventh in the sales competition element, mainly by highlighting how their vehicle could be used to combat rhino poaching in South Africa. “Our design highlighted some of the niche things that sets our vehicle apart from the other teams such as a removable sub-frame for easy engine servicing and custom-built dampers, which we designed and manufactured ourselves,” added Cornew.

- Author Primarashni Gower

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