University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Vroom Vroom

The name of the sleek vehicle with the teardrop design is Vroom Vroom Carbon Fiber 1, or VV-CF1. It was reportedly named by the four-year-old son of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Professor David Schmidt, faculty advisor for the University of Massachusetts Amherst Supermileage Vehicle Team, which will compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) national supermileage competition in Marshall, Michigan, this June 10 and 11. The “Vroom Vroom” part of the name must be pronounced with tongue planted firmly in cheek, especially since the object of the competition is to glide through the course on the Eaton Corporation Proving Grounds at only a few miles per hour, while using as little fuel, or iso-octane in this case, as possible.

Actually, VV-CF1, or at least one version of it, competed in last year’s supermileage competition against a record 44 other teams. VV-CF1 was an experimental second car actually being developed for this year’s competition, but the UMass team unexpectedly completed it just before the competition and entered it at the last minute. A Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine is given by SAE to every team registering for the competition as a “starter” engine, and most teams extensively modify this stock engine to get better gas mileage. But, since the UMass team had no time to modify the VV-CF1 stock engine, it had to run the course as is.

Amazingly, not only did VV-CF1 get the best mileage ever for any supermileage vehicle with a stock engine (536 mpg), but it won the award for "Vehicle with the Greatest Visual Appeal." Vroom Vroom!

“We were very happy to have it put together in time to run,” Professor Schmidt said at the time. “Our plan for next year is to use a sleeved-down engine and a new transmission in it. We expect great things from this car.”

With that plan in mind, this year’s SMV team has nearly completed its new transmission for VV-CR1, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that can shift seamlessly through an infinite number of effective gear ratios. This contrasts with other mechanical transmissions that allow just a few different distinct gear ratios to be selected. A CVT can provide better fuel economy than other transmissions by enabling the engine to run at its most efficient revolutions per minute for a range of vehicle speeds.

“We are expecting that it is the best option for fuel efficiency,” says mechanical engineering major Joe Usowski of Southampton, Massachusetts. “But it’s very complicated.”

The “sleeved-down engine” spoken about by Professor Schmidt has actually turned into two engines, both of which will be tested thoroughly to determine which one is more efficient and, at the same time, reliable. One engine is much more experimental, meaning greatly modified, than the other.

“Ideally, we will use the experimental engine,” says Usowski. “But it’s still kind of…well, experimental. The experimental engine has more potential, but it’s also riskier at this point. It’s heavily modified.”

The supermileage competition provides engineering and technology students with a challenging design project that involves the development and construction of a single-person, fuel-efficient vehicle. Each vehicle is powered by a small four-cycle engine. The vehicles run a specified course. The vehicle obtaining the highest combined kilometers per liter (miles per gallon) rating, with design points figured into the calculation, wins the event. Students have the opportunity to set a world fuel economy record and increase public awareness of fuel economy.

Besides Usowski, several of the 18 SMV team members are from local home towns in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts: Joshua Oldread from Palmer, Roy W. Gero II from Wilbraham, Mark Waller from Holyoke, and Joe Moriarty from Greenfield. They are all mechanical engineering majors.

The students manage every aspect of the project, including research, design, development, construction, tuning and, last but far from least, fund-raising. Usowski, who is in charge of the fund-raising, says that finding donors for the SMV team has been especially challenging this year because of the economy. Still, the team has raised about $5,600 in funds and in-kind donations (mechanical parts). Last year’s team needed $14,000 to build two vehicles and send its members to Michigan for the competition. So the SMV team needs support.

Current and previous sponsors for the team include Kollmorgen, Bueno Y Sano, Scuderi Group, Raytheon, Bose, SAE International, PolyFab, SolidWorks, and Vermont Composites (where the body of VV-CF1 was actually created).

Anyone interested in sponsoring the team in any way, please contact Joe Usowski at giant016@hotmail.com; or contact Paula Sakey in the College of Engineering Development Office at 413-545-6396 or psakey@ecs.umass.edu.

(March 2010)