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Students compete to create unique all-terrain vehicle

Thu, 06/05/2014

LAWRENCE — Students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering recently took part in an international competition that challenges collegiate teams from around the world to design, build and test an all-terrain vehicle that’s part dune buggy and part go-kart.

The competition, known as SAE Baja - UTEP, took place in late April at the University of Texas-El Paso. This is the first time in more than two decades that a team from KU participated in a SAE Baja Competition.

“Getting involved with this project is a great way to learn what real engineering is. To design and actually build this vehicle from scratch is an experience you don’t typically get in a classroom,” said Homer Kay, junior in mechanical engineering from Leawood. “Knowing every nut and bolt – where they go and how the vehicle is put together – is a lot different than analysis.  You can immediately see the flaws and learn, as opposed to theoretical application.”

The competition challenges teams to adhere to guidelines outlined in a 60-page rulebook, conduct business and design presentations, and operate a vehicle that can successfully navigate four course competitions: Acceleration, Hill Climb, Suspension and Traction, and Maneuverability. It also includes a four-hour endurance race where teams try to complete as many laps as they can on a track laid out on the rocky, hilly and sandy terrain of west Texas.

“Competing was a great experience. You are learning something every minute of every day, for all four days of the competition,” said William Hamilton, senior in mechanical engineering from Wichita.

The idea to participate in the SAE Baja Competition formed last year when Hamilton noticed ‘Baja Competition’ on a list of Society of Automotive Engineers student events and approached Robb Sorem, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Sorem agreed to serve as team adviser.

“I asked Sorem about getting involved with the team, and he told me KU didn’t currently have one. So I decided I’d start one, and I just ran with it. It was tough in the beginning – especially the fundraising – but in the end it was definitely worth it,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton and Kay hope to see KU build on this year’s experience and make the Baja competition an annual tradition.

“The great thing about this for students who might want to get involved is that it’s not just a senior design class. It’s a hands-on project for underclassmen. All students can get involved in design and construction and really participate in the entire experience,” Kay said.

KU finished in 48th place overall. More than 100 teams registered for the event. See the full results here.

Team members:

  • David Bedford, Lenexa
  • Benjamin Dieker, Ogden, Utah
  • William Hamilton, Wichita
  • Taylor Joyce, Leavenworth
  • Michael Just, DeSoto
  • Homer Kay, Leawood
  • Austin Merritt, Goddard
  • Shane O’Brien, Cheney
  • Alex Staton, Salina
  • Ian Thompson, Westminster, Maryland
  • Richard Wagner, Kansas City, Kansas
  • Kevin Walbridge, Overland Park.


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