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Leaner, Greener and Cleaner

7th Apr 2015 3:10 pm

A look at the Asia leg of a global event focussed on the future of mobility.

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The situation was tense. Fingernails were being bitten and wide assortments of deities were being bargained with. But it was of no use. Team AITHONS from M.N.M. Jain Engineering College, Chennai, were told they'd have to continue working on the required safety measures if they wanted their car, the GreenPanther, to pass technical inspection. Faces hung in disappointment; they slowly rolled their car back to their pit to restart work. They were not the only ones though. Each of the 127 teams from 17 countries would go through the same gruelling tests. Some would pass. Some would fail. But all of them would keep trying. Why? Simple. They were all working on the future of mobility. They had travelled thousands of kilometres to drive the ultra-efficient cars they designed and built, at Shell Eco-marathon Asia 2015.
 
Where it all began
 
It started with a bet. In 1939, a few Shell engineers wagered on the distance they could cover on the same amount of fuel. They stripped their cars of everything they felt was unnecessary for this mileage challenge. This included doors, hood and boot lid, windshield, seats and a few other things. They also used the knowledge and technology available to them and tuned their cars to deliver optimal efficiency. The 1924 Studebaker that won achieved the equivalent of 20km per litre. That figure is impressive, even today. That little bet sparked something new. Today, it is a global event called Shell Eco-marathon. It is now held in three cities across three continents – Detroit, USA, in the Americas; Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in Europe, and Manila, Philippines in Asia and attracts 500 teams from 50 countries. Noteworthy is the fact that all teams comprise engineering students from high schools and universities around the world. The challenge is always the same. Design, build and drive the ultimate energy-efficient vehicle. And this year, from February 26 to March 1,the Asia leg of Shell Eco-marathon saw students from countries all across Asia and some from as far as Egypt and Australia arrive to meet the challenge head on.
 
Breaking it down
 
Shell Eco-marathon has been conceived and designed in a way that allows students to get extremely creative with their cars, while at the same time maintaining an even playing field. Take a look at this short video to understand the basic details of the Shell Eco-marathon.

Pretty clear, right?Teams start off by choosing which category to participate in – Prototype or UrbanConcept. They then choose one of seven fuel types –gasoline, diesel, ethanol, GTL, CNG, hydrogen or battery-electric and put together a car with the purpose ofmaximising efficiency.
 
Getting ready
 
To understand how big this event is, you'd have to have been there. The track where the cars were driven was actually a section of Manila's streets. The pit area and the fan zone in the centre of the track was a local park. All of it was cordoned off for Shell Eco-marathon and every effort was made to minimise disruption to normal life. But it definitely was not low key. When you have students, support teams, volunteers, security personnel and tens of thousands of visitors taking over a section of a city as busy as Manila, how could it be?

Take a quick look at the making of Shell Eco-marathon -

Check the tech

On February 25, a day before the start of Shell Eco-marathon Asia, after the teams arrived and registered, they went on to their allocated pit area to put their cars together. To ensure safety and fairness, Shell Eco-marathon has certain basic requirements that all teams must meet. Vehicle dimensions, weight, turning radius, visibility, safety harness, dual independent braking systems, a sub-10 second exit time, and various other parameters are measured according to the rules and guidelines set up in the three decades this event has been running. This technical inspection is known to be the part of Shell Eco-marathon that students dread. A lot of universities that include the competition in the curriculum of the students who participate, consider clearing the technical inspection a ‘pass’ grade. The technical inspection is a tough test where every minute aspect of the car is checked and recorded.This is required since students are known to find innovative interpretations and loopholes in the rules. A few years ago, there was a team that took advantage of a particularly windy day and erected a sail on their car. Try as they might, the race stewards and directors couldn’t find any rules or suggestions that didn’t allow a sail and had to let it run. Shell, though, is more concerned with ensuring that everyone out on the track is safe. And historically, most teams fail the safety harness and brake test. But all teams are allowed as many attempts as they can manage to clear technical inspection.

The Kencana Hidrogen UKM, #202, Prototype, competing for team UKM 2 Car Fuel Cell from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Malaysia passes through one of the inspection stages during day one of the Shell Eco-marathon in Manila, Philippines.

A participant carries a car canopy through the paddocks during day two of the Shell Eco-marathon.

The Riyadh1, #42, Prototype, competing for team KSUEcoCar from King Saud University, Saudi Arabia goes through Technical Inspection during day three of the Shell Eco-marathon.

Take a quick tour of the technical inspection area -

Running the marathon

Once teams clear technical inspection, they're given time and fuel to run a few practice laps on the track. After the flag-off though, the track is only open for competitive runs. Teams were allowed a maximum of five attempts to complete their competitive runs and the best of these attempts was used to calculate their mileage. It is important to remember that these cars are built by students, so they lack the refinements we are used to in regular vehicles. No air-conditioning, sealed windows, no comfortable seats and most of the cars don't even have shock absorbers. For safety reasons, the driver has to wear a flame retardant racing suit complete with gloves and a crash helmet. Bottom line, the experience, despite the low speeds, is intensely hot, cramped, and thanks to the street circuit, very bumpy. In some cases, driverseven lose up to a kilogram in body weight every time they go out on track. But far from getting bogged down with the conditions, the students couldn't wait to get their cars out on track.

 
The Rinekamaya by team Japati K21 U-Line from Politeknik Manufaktur Negeri Bandung, Indonesia at Shell Eco-marathon.
 
 
The SperMotive-3, #201, Prototype, competing for team UiTM Eco-Sprint from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Shah Alam, Malaysia, seen during the opening ceremony day two of the Shell Eco-marathon.
 
Watch them hit the track -

Experience the excitement -

Off-track action

Even if you weren't participating in Shell Eco-marathon, there was plenty to do at the venue. A large fan zone had been set up with a number of cool, interactive exhibits that engaged and educated visitors of all ages. Each visitor was given an RFID card with a unique code which they could tap at any exhibit and create a record of their time at Shell Eco-marathon. They could also collect e-souvenirs which they could check once back at home with the unique code on their RFID tag. But there were a few things that really got all visitors excited. The salt-water car race where visitors were provided kits to assemble their own cars which would generate power from salt water! Then there was the quiz where teams would answer questions by walking onto an area of the floor lit up with the option of their choice. Incredibly popular was also the Coca-cola machine that dispensed a bottle of Coke every time someone would hug it. The line for this one was really long. The only way they could make it cuter was if it had doors that were programmed to sound happy every time they opened and shut. Always occupied, understandably, was the dance floor that generated energy when people danced on it. Another area that received massive participation was the 'design your own energy efficient car' section. Visitors simply had to sketch out an interesting concept on a post-it and attach it to a wall. The ideas ranged from cool and clever to amazingly out-of-the-world and even downright weird. The fan zone could have been considered 'nerdy' but the long queue of visitors waiting to get in proved that science is super interesting.

 
Visitors engage with the salt water cars in Manila.
 
 

Children interact with exhibits in the Shell Visitor Experience on day two of the Shell Eco-marathon.

Visitors participate in one of the interactive exhibits at the Experience during day two of the Shell Eco-marathon.

Visitors post 'ideas' on an interactive wall at the 'Experience' during day four of the Shell Eco-marathon.

Making their mark

Initially, 17 Indian teams from various universities were participating in the Shell Eco-marathon Asia. Only 11 actually made it to Manila. For a country that's obsessed with mileage, the support for these engineering students, who are working on making cars more efficient, is surprisingly limited. Some did manage to find enough sponsors but for most, this was the biggest hurdle. A few teams even made it without any sponsors except their college. Norman Koch, Global Technical Director, Shell Eco-marathon, said that a lack of resources was the main reason holding back capable and creative Indian students. Despite facing massive challenges, e.g. one team regularly travelled eight hours from college to the nearest city to source parts; the Indian students never gave up. Though almost all teams cleared technical inspection, only one made it with enough time left to make their competitive runs. Team ETA, from KJ Somaiya College of Engineering, Mumbai achieved fifth place in Prototype Petrol (Gasoline) category. Their car managed an equivalent of 152.6 km per litre. The winners of that category, team ATE.1 from Khong Thabbok Upatham Changkol Kho So Tho Bo School, Thailand, achieved the equivalent of 1490.2km per litre. And the Indian teams, despite all their hurdles, showed a lot ofheart. They’ve already started planning on how they’ll definitely be back on the track next year. Who knows, they may even find a few sponsors.

 
The arya, #21, Prototype, competing for team ETA from K.J.Somaiya College Of Engineering, India poses for a portrait during day one of the Shell Eco-marathon.
 

The GREENPANTHOR, #541, UrbanConcept, competing for team AITHONS from M.N.M Jain Engineering College, India goes through technical inspection during day three of the Shell Eco-marathon.

The FT-01, #16, Prototype, competing for team Go Viridis from Government Engineering College Barton Hill, India in the paddock during day three of the Shell Eco-marathon.

The THE STALLION, #514, UrbanConcept, competing for team FUTURAMIC from Sir M Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology, India on the track during day four of the Shell Eco-marathon.

Make it or break it!

Shell Eco-marathon, despite being a lot of fun, is a serious event. The turnout, the quality of the cars built, the innovations and the way these innovations have been applied, is truly mind-boggling. One of the best things is that Shell does not claim ownership of any of the innovations the students develop. They only provide the platform. And what a platform it is. Sure, this mileage challenge gives Shell fantastic brand mileage, their effort to create a more energy efficient future will earn them goodwill, and this event brings a large potential talent pool for Shell under one roof.But there’s more. Our way of life is slowly turning the planet into a place that may soon not be able to sustain us. So, any effort to enhance efficiency, to create a sustainable future must be championed. Shell Eco-marathon is an event focussed on the future. A future that’s leaner, cleaner and greener.

Final results for Shell Eco-marathon Asia, 2015 are available here.

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