RPI Formula Hybrid invites freshmen into shop


On August 20, the Rensselaer Hybrid Racing Team held their NRB event. Any RPI student is welcome to join the club; whether a business or mechanical engineering major, there are plenty of opportunities to take part in designing, fabricating, and maybe even racing a compact race car. Funded mainly by the School of Engineering, the team has access to a lot of campus resources and tools. In addition, companies sponsor the team by donating various automotive components.

Thanks in part to the Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond program, a few incoming freshmen students were given opportunities to reassemble the team’s race car. From designing the skeletal frame structure, connecting sprockets and chains, to fastening the wheels to the axel, the incoming students got a hands-on experience of what it is like to put an entire race car together. Of course, the frame was already welded together and the current team members guided the new students through the process, but it is definitely a thrilling experience to work behind the scenes of what we see in real life.

The racing cars are built with a combination of steel beams and aluminum parts to balance stability, structural integrity, and weight. Prior to the manufacturing phase, the cars are designed using Computer-Aided Design software. Following a completed design, a finite element analysis is performed to optimize the structural design. Then comes the most exciting part: fabricating, assembling, and bringing to real life the imagination of several minds. The team manufactures a majority of the components on campus using available CNC machines (Computerized Numerically Controlled machines), water jet cutting devices, and a variety of other conventional machine tools. In certain applicable situations, three-dimensional printing is used. The team also utilizes a conventional motorcycle-class 2-cylinder combustion engine with a turbo-charger for additional horsepower and a standard, built-in bike transmission to power the car. Classified as a hybrid car, electric motors work in conjunction with the petroleum-powered internal combustion engine to achieve greater overall efficiency. Once put together, the mini race car can reach speeds up to forty miles per hour, according to a team member. And apparently, the Rensselaer team’s car accelerates faster than a Ferrari. To put the car to test, the team participates in an annual intercollegiate competition, where the design and performance are evaluated.

Based on a conversation with the club’s president Ben Peacock ‘16, participating in the hands-on design and fabrication process compliments the concepts learned in classes. The concepts and ideas learned from classes assist in developing better design and fabrication techniques, and the direct, real-life experience gained from participating in such projects reinforces concepts and brings fresh ideas to the classroom.

If you are interested in getting involved, please feel free to contact Peacock at peacob@rpi.edu or on the club’s Facebook page.