Northern Illinois University

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Daniel Donovan, Doug Meenan, Andrew Otiento and Josh Malmassari
Engineering students from Northern Illinois University (from left) Daniel Donovan, Doug Meenan, Professor Andrew Otieno and Josh Malmassari were the winners of a competition to design and build a simple vehicle for use in Third World countries.

John White pilots his team's vehicle

NIU engineering student Josh Malmassari pilots his team's vehicle through the swamp crossing at the recent BUV Design Competition in Indianapolis. The NIU team beat out six other schools for top honors.

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News Release

Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-4299

May 7, 2007

NIU students win vehicle design competition

DeKalb, Ill. — When the last vehicle had been pulled from the mud pit and the final obstacle had been negotiated, a team of four engineering students from Northern Illinois University came out on top at the 2007 Basic Utility Vehicle competition in Indianapolis.

The April 28 contest featured teams from seven universities, all striving to design and build what they hope will become a 21st Century version of the Ford Model-T for rural villages worldwide.

Rigid Rules

The rules for the competition, which were established by the Institute for Affordable Transportation, stipulated a front-wheel drive vehicle that utilized the front axle of a Toyota Corolla or Tercel (vehicles that are easy to find in Third World junk yards). The rules also required that the vehicle have 95 percent fewer parts than a standard automobile and be built at a cost not to exceed 20 percent that of a small truck.

Just as importantly, the vehicle had to be flexible (capable of comfortably transporting people or up to 1,100 pounds of cargo); tough and agile (able to negotiate rutted dirt roads, muddy roads or no roads at all); and fuel efficient (able to coax at least 30 miles per gallon out of its 10-horse power engine).

Simplicity a key

The NIU team took a minimalist approach to the vehicle design.

“Our goal was simplicity,” said team leader Josh Malmassari, from Sycamore. “We wanted it to be very simple to make, fix and maintain. For instance, the only thing that could break on power train was a belt.”

That approach resulted in a rugged vehicle that the team felt good about.

“We knew we had a very good vehicle, we were very confident,” said Professor Andrew Otieno who oversaw this year’s team, as well as a group that placed fourth at last year’s BUV competition.

That confidence proved well-founded as the team finished in the top two in all events except one, and finished third in that category. Events include an agility test, acceleration test, endurance run, obstacle course, mogul field and hill climb.

Down to the wire

The NIU team trailed Purdue by only three points heading into the finale, the swamp crossing. The two teams finished in almost a dead heat, but NIU emerged victorious.

“It was a wonderful feeling to beat large schools like Purdue and the University of Missouri,” Otieno said. More important than winning, however, was all that the team learned on its way to the finish line, he said.

Malmassari agreed, saying that the project taught the team not only about things like design and fabrication, but also about project management and team dynamics.

Other members of the team were Daniel Donovan, McHenry; Doug Meenan, Cherry Valley; and John White of Chicago. All four seniors are graduating from NIU’s Manufacturing Engineering Technology program from the Department in the CEET Department of Technology

In recognition of their victory, members of the team received a trophy and tickets to this year’s Indianapolis 500.

A demonstration of excellence

Promod Vohra, dean of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, hailed the victory, saying that it showcased the quality of programs at the school.

“Successful student projects are the best testimonials to the quality of our students and programs,” he said.

The team relied heavily upon generous donations from various companies to assist in the construction of its vehicle. Those companies were: J&J Sports, Rondo Enterprises, Banner-Up Signs, Lovell's Discount Tires, Minuteman International, and Joyce Superstore and Bilderback Auto Parts. The team also received financial assistance from the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, and the university’s USOAR Grant program.

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