Sunday, August 15, 2010

BYU Streamliner

One of the greatest blessings I've had in recent years is the opportunity to get involved using my media background to document the progress of BYU racing teams. The past few weeks (and especially the past 2 days) I've been working with a group of incredibly talented Engineers who completed BYU's electric Streamliner. (Learn more at This car has been under development for 6 years, so in addition to the awesome students I've met over the past few days, there are also countless others who have worked on the car over the years.

Well today was race day. It was fun to be out at the Bonneville Salt Flats and see everything going on. Some of the students who worked on the car in the past were there as well. I got to run around all day with a camera trying to keep up with the team and document what they were doing. I was a film crew of one, so I'm sure lots of the audio didn't come out nearly as good as it could have...but that's what voiceovers and interviews are for!!

Anyway, we had some complications today and when I got home I wrote a long, long email to my coworkers about the day. I figured I'd post a modified version here:

If any of this is a little incoherent, I apologize...but realize that we started our day at 5:45 AM, I drove 3 hours out to the Salt Flats, filmed for about 10 hours, drove 3 hours back, and then moved a truckload of movie gear back into my office.

This marks the end of a very long day! I wanted to just get these notes out to you so that we can act first thing Monday morning. 

The streamliner did run today. This morning they made the minor safety changes required for the car to pass tech inspection and then qualified to run. The final paperwork was filed and the car was cleared to run! That in itself is a major accomplishment. We got in line to run the car at about 1:00 and by 3:30 or so we made the run. Because it was a brand new car, the organization had track officials follow close behind the car. The car made it about 1/4 mile down the road when -- right after I got my camera focused -- the driver started to lose control of the back end so he pulled the parachute (Which didn't inflate...because the car wasn't going very fast) and that was the end of the run. The driver did exactly what he should have done given the conditions, so driver, car, and BYU pride came out completely unharmed. To have a technical glitch on a first run is completely reasonable, to crash on a first run would have been bad. The car didn't get far enough to get an official time from the track (They start timing at mile 1), and because of a glitch with the data acquisition (Which I can explain in detail if anybody is interested), we really have no clue how fast the car got going. We think it got up to 45 or 50 MPH.

The team pulled the car back into the pits and immediately started troubleshooting. I (think I) have some great footage of this and even though they hit a setback I'm glad, because I think we finally captured some engineering troubleshooting and "aha" on camera! 

At this time they believe the problem stems from the rear wheels. They are solid blocks of aluminum and there is no suspension (Springs) on them at all...they're just mounted straight to the car's body. They believe that as soon as the car starts to get up to speed, with nothing to absorb the bumps, the back end just goes airborne. The team captain, confirmed this hypothesis by running the car in the pits. This problem did not show up when they ran the car at Miler Sports Park because there they ran a rubber wheel on asphalt. Salt is totally different. The rubber wheel they used at Miller Sports park was a wheelbarrow wheel and is not suitable at all for running at the Salt Flats.

We packed up and came home tonight. Everything came home: Car, trailer, generator, team. The current plan is to get some rubber wheels onto the car. The challenge will be to find wheels and tyres that are both rated for 200+ MPH and small enough to fit in the space they have in the car. They are hoping to be able to do that Monday. If they can get some rubber tyres on the car they'll go out again and try it next week. The event runs through Friday, so depending on when they get it taken care of...they could still very well have a chance of setting a record this upcoming week. Even if they don't set a record, they're hopeful that they'll be able to get out out on the salt again and do some testing. 

Today was still a major accomplishment! Out of hundreds of vehicles racing out on the salt, our car is one of only two electric vehicles. The other is the Ohio State Buckeye Bullet, and it is a huge vehicle (Almost 40' long) that comes in a huge 40' semi and weighs over 3x what our car does. People seem very very excited to have another electric racer out on the salt. The car looks great, drew lots of crowds, and is generating A LOT of buzz. The fact that passing the tech inspection required only 2 very minor    tweaks to the car shows the phenomenal amount of work and attention-to-detail these students have put in. 

Unfortunately, todays glitches showed up in part because of the unique challenge of racing on Salt, and it's near impossible to test the car on salt outside of an official event.

Julie: Tom Erickson was out to see the car race. He says hi. Let's talk Monday about how to proceed and what I need to do with the Unicom gear. It's mostly salt-free.

Austin: I took the liberty of canceling our hotel reservation so they wouldn't charge us. Even if the team goes out again this week, it's not going to happen on Monday. I think even if they COULD go on Monday, they'd take the day off and go on Tuesday. It was a long and tiring day for the team. We need to take the keys for that Malibu back to motor pool and figure out if we would need a motor pool car later in the week (Or if we could even get one). I suspect that if they go out later in the week, and if we go with them, we could do it with the 2 trucks.

If the team does go out again we need to work with them and figure out if it's worth us going out for. Now that I've seen the event first hand I can say that the team really is doing groundbreaking work here, and I think taking the time to document it is really a great tool to promote the school and show what they are doing. 

It's days like this that I love doing what I do and wonder if I will ever be a real Engineer. Spending time with these teams as a fly on the wall and watching the work they do is an honor to me and these experiences are some major highlights for life.

Alright, that's probably way more than you wanted to know!! But you know.

1 comment:

orangemily said...

That's really cool!