Engineering students gear up for competition

By Tom Ballard
News Assistant

What has four wheels, a suspension and is student-produced here at the College? The answer is the Mini Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the oldest ongoing senior project in the School of Engineering.

Students work hard throughout the year to prepare an off-road vehicle for competitions. (Photo courtesy of John Sperduto)
Students work hard throughout the year to prepare an off-road vehicle for competitions. (Photo courtesy of John Sperduto)

The Baja SAE is a small off-road car that is designed and assembled by senior-year mechanical engineering students. This year’s team consists of John Sperduto, Michael Rossini, Michael Sebok, Louis Press, Paul Kurimella and Tanner Muir.

“Designing, manufacturing, testing and competing a performance off-road vehicle is a tremendous task,” said Sperduto who serves as the team manager and lead designer for the front suspension and steering system. “The most rewarding aspect is completing the project. It is also rewarding to collaborate with teammates, industry and faculty to ensure the vehicle is the best it can be.”

Students working on the project work on every component of the vehicle — from the suspension, which allows the vehicle to remain stable while driving, to ergonomics, which involves putting in place comfortable features such as seating and easy to navigate interfaces. The features allow the driver to be more at ease while driving. Sperduto said that all this work consumes a lot of time.

“Work on the project is non-stop beginning in the summer,” Sperduto said. “During the semester, it is anywhere from a 10 to 30 hour per week time commitment.”

According to Sperduto, the competition that the Baja SAE takes part in has changed greatly from the previous year. The project has become more competitive and the SAE, the organization that sponsors the competitions, has “consistently increased the expectations and difficulty of the competition to ensure teams continue to innovate and remain in the forefront of design and manufacturing,” Sperduto said.

The team has a history of performing well, according to Sperduto. This year’s team plans on bringing new innovations to the project and to set a high standard for future TCNJ Baja SAE teams, according to Sperduto. This academic year marks the 25th anniversary of the College winning the Mini-Baja East National Championships.

The team members are working on the College’s Mini Baja SAE to participate in the Baja SAE Rochester competition in Rochester, N.Y., from Thursday, June 9, to Sunday, June 12. According to the SAE’s competition website, competitors will have their projects tested for acceleration, a hill climb, maneuverability and suspension.

“The team is confident, but aware of the difficulty and work associated with the project,” Sperduto said. “We are constantly evaluating designs and planning to ensure the project remains on schedule and engineering work is of the highest quality.”

Sperduto said that there are now three competitions in the United States where approximately 100 teams participate. The competitions are also global, with events taking place in India and Brazil, typically having 40 competing teams.

According to the School of Engineering’s website, the College’s team last received recognition at a national student project competition in 2011 where the team placed first in water maneuverability, seventh in endurance, eighth in cost and 10th in land maneuverability — placing eighth overall in a field of 59 entries.

“The project is a constant learning process that challenges one to cumulatively apply mechanical engineering concepts and techniques,” Sperduto said.

Other ongoing projects currently in the works in the mechanical engineering department include a solar-energy-powered boat, a human-powered vehicle, a large-scale RC plane and an autonomous ground vehicle.