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Florida State University

Students' brainpower fueled vehicle in Homecoming parade

As Florida State University President T.K. Wetherell waved to the crowds during the 2008 Homecoming Parade, he was riding in a unique vehicle. The all-black, battery-powered car was designed and built by engineering students from the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering using a variety of environmentally friendly technologies.

Students use lightweight, high-strength composite materials to assemble 'green' car.
Wetherell takes car for a spin with passenger Alvin Lim, an engineering graduate student who was one of the project leaders. (Photos: Trisha Radulovich/ FAMU-FSU College of Engineering)

"What an incredible accomplishment on the part of these students," Wetherell said of the car, which he test-drove last month. "I am so impressed by their ability to create a working vehicle using the knowledge that they have gained in the classroom.

"I told (the students) we need to take it over to the Daytona International Speedway and do a couple of laps," Wetherell joked. "Surely it is worthy of a world record in some category."

If there is a record to be broken, it might be for the short length of time in which the vehicle was produced. Students only began designing and building it in early August of this year.

"It was a very tight time frame, but we were determined to get it done in time for the Homecoming Parade," said engineering student Alvin Lim, one of the project leaders. "It's exciting to see something we've worked so hard on receive public attention in this way."

Thirty-four students, both undergraduate and graduate, from the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering and FSU's High-Performance Materials Institute worked very hard on this car over the past three months, said Professor Chuck Zhang, chairman of the industrial and manufacturing engineering department.

"They created the car from scratch, including design, fabrication, assembly and testing of the whole system," he said.

Zhang emphasized that the students did all this on their own — it was not part of their coursework. However, he did concede that they may well receive some sort of extra credit for the project.

Ninety percent of the vehicle — 50 percent by weight — is made of composite materials, among them carbon fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass. The hood, fenders, side panels and other parts of the body were made by the students.

The vehicle, a two-seat coupe sitting low to the ground, weighs a mere 800 pounds. In addition to being much lighter than conventional vehicles, its frame and body are able to absorb the force of a collision much better than traditional steel parts, meaning the vehicle's occupants should be at less risk of serious injury.

The three-wheeled car — two in the front, one in the rear — is about 68 inches wide and 127 inches long. It runs on an electric, battery-powered motor. Currently the vehicle's top speed is approximately 40 mph, but engineering student Lim says it would be possible to modify it to go significantly faster — perhaps 70 mph.

Besides Lim, engineering students from the High-Performance Materials Institute who worked on the car were Tarik Dickens, Michael Zimmer, Harold Brown, Maurice Muia, Ana Koo, Jasmine Young, Jesse Smithyman, Xiang "David" Fu, Nemat Hossieny, Nikhil Ashtekar, David Olawale, Olalekan Adewuyi, Garrett Sullivan, Li-Jeng Chen, Aniket Ingrole, Babatunde Agboola, Pegah Azamian, Ramchand Kumaresan, Massiel Abrego, Bryant Click, Micah McCrary Dennis, James Little III, Lambert Parker III, Carlos Peuntes, Thuong Kieu, Jeff Louis and Shanon Wooden.

In addition, the following undergraduate engineering students volunteered their time and energy: Ryan Gory, Brian Conklin, Cammy Wong, Mary Lutz, Carlos Castesoro, Eleanor Myer and John O'Reilly.

The students also received technical assistance from Jerry Horne, a composite engineer in the College of Engineering.

By Barry Ray


"They created the car from scratch, including design, fabrication, assembly and testing of the whole system."

Chuck Zhang
Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering