Lawrence Technological University’s Formula SAE Electric Team is pushing the bounds of innovation by designing and creating their own electric car.

Photography by Eric Pope/LTU

At Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, the Formula SAE Electric Team is pushing the bounds of innovation regarding electric cars. The team is designing and creating their own electric car to compete at two national events this coming year.

Consisting of roughly 20 students ranging in ages and majors, the team has been working since May on formulating designs and piecing together their car.

“Being a member of this team allows us to do things that we couldn’t do alone,” co-captain Austin Wexler said. “We’re developing a lot of different systems on this car from scratch so working as a team allows us to take pieces from everyone’s curriculum and make something that is truly unique.”

Not only is their car unique, it’s also the beginning of pushing the bounds of innovation in the automobile industry.

Noah Janke showing the others their motor design.

Future of Electric

“As the electric team, we’re developing a lot of new power train systems and continuing our research into suspension and chassis design,” co-captain Noah Janke said. “For the power train, we are implementing cutting-edge designs within our motors that are direct drive in the wheel assembly. This means there is no shaft or motor assembly inside the chassis, but it’s all directly in the wheel.”

Their motor design allows their car to be more efficient and lighter than any other electric car that is a part of the competition.

But their electric motor design is not the only part of their car that is pushing innovation. The vehicle dynamics side is also developing features unique to their electric car.

“Because of the electric motor design we developed, we now have to design and fabricate our own custom brake caliber because there is no off-the-shelf component to fit the environment we designed,” Kevin Campion said. “We also designed our own rotor system for the actual caliber to mount to. The whole steering system is also completely redone because we have to account for it being an all-wheel drive vehicle.”

In addition to their custom brake calibers, the team has designed a regenerative braking system, which allows them to use some of their energy output from friction to charge their batteries.

“When accelerating, you use energy from the battery pack to speed up the car and then the regenerative braking allows you to use the motors to collect some of that energy from the car moving to put it back into the battery pack,” Janke said. “It’s another way for our car to be energy efficient.”

As Campion touched upon, their electric car is all-wheel drive. This is a huge advantage for their team going into their competitions because not many other teams can accomplish an all-wheel drive vehicle.

“When you only have two wheels driving, which is what most vehicles have, you’re only utilizing the traction of those two wheels,” Janke said. “But with our vehicle, we can use all four wheels and it gives us an edge in some of the events at the competitions, such as the acceleration event or any of the auto-cross events that are all about how much grip you can get to the ground.”

Austin Wexler describing their designs for the chassis.

Opportunity to Shine

The innovation being designed by these students is indicative of the knowledge and passion they have for engineering. The team is thankful for their opportunity to come up with their own designs and witness their car come to life and compete in two national competitions.

“The most valuable part of this project is the teamwork aspect. The work that we do in class is mostly solo work and for the sole purpose of just receiving a grade,” Wexler said. “This team is working toward a common goal, and this is what you see occurring in the workforce and allows us to show future employers that we can work as a team and be successful.”

Wexler, who is from Commerce, owes his enrollment and engagement at LTU to his grandfather, Dr. Murray Sack, who attended LTU but had to leave due to his Jewish faith and the rise of anti-Semitism there during that time.

“I was previously at Oakland University for political science, but my grandpa suggested that I transfer to LTU and pursue an engineering degree,” Wexler said. “I decided to follow his advice and I couldn’t love it more. It’s a perfect fit for me, and I hope that my experience with this team will allow me to pursue my goal of working in the aerospace industry.”

The electric team is in the building phase of their car and is raising funds not only to create their car, but also to compete in the Formula Hybrid competition in Loudon, N.H., and the Formula SAE competition in Fontana, Calif. The team has raised $47,000 in cash but are short of their $70,000 goal.

Without the gracious donations from their sponsors and people in the community, the LTU team wouldn’t be able build their car or travel to these competitions. If you would like to donate to the LTU electric team, follow pitchin.ltu.edu and the team name is “2020 Formula SAE Electric Team.”

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