Israeli students race to the future with electric car

Students from BGU's Faculty of Engineering Sciences facing off against teams from across the world.

By PAMELA BLOOM
September 6, 2017 10:48
3 minute read.
Hodaya Hadad (left) and members of the BGR team

Hodaya Hadad (left) and members of the BGR team. (photo credit: BEN GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV)

 
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It’s not just a race car. And it’s not just a race. It’s the prototype for a burgeoning Israeli industry that Ben Gurion University engineering students are tackling from the chassis up. And the showdown comes in the summer of 2018.

That’s when over 60 BGU students from six departments in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences will test whether the racing cars they’ve been developing can match the speed, safety, appearance and marketing plan of those engineered by students from universities around the world. The testing ground will be several prestigious international competitions, including Student Formulas in the UK and Germany, and the premier International Formula SAE Collegiate Design Series Competition in Italy, which attracts some 200 participating universities worldwide.

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Ben-Gurion Racing (BGR), as the team is called, began competing in 2011, the first time in history an Israeli student team tested its mettle in international competition (they came in first out of all first-time competitors). In its second year, BGR placed an impressive 11th out of a total of 42 teams. In 2015 the team placed eighth in Italy and 12th in the Czech Republic with their internal combustion engine vehicle.

BGR’s successes in these competitions are especially impressive as most other student teams, especially from Germany, Italy and Austria, enjoy the support of their local automotive industries. In contrast, BGR depends on the generosity of private donors in the absence of a thriving Israeli auto industry.

This year there are six women on the team. One of them, Hodaya Hadad, an undergraduate in mechanical engineering, is in charge of the steering system. “As a child I loved the automotive world and often went to show events in Israel,” she says. “When I learned there were Formula student teams in Israel I got excited. “At BGU, I’ve received for the first time hands-on experience in engineering design, especially for racing. I’ve also learned important lessons on team work, presentation, time management, and budgeting, and many other things I didn’t know. I never would have learned about vehicle dynamics theory if I hadn’t been part of the team.”

This year Team BGR must design and build two fully functional scale-model Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) race cars. One is an updated version of their fuel-efficient vehicle, a project begun six years ago. Once the cars are built, team drivers train for a few days on a professional simulator that illustrates the dynamic events in the Formula student competition. In addition, the team has a simulator at the university so they can train in their free time.

For next year’s competition the team is developing a “smart” electric race car, which will provide a basis to their planned autonomous race car. The team is also working with local Israeli industry to develop a new electrical powertrain and energy storage system. Team BGR has unique challenges over professional teams. They have to fit their team duties in between school assignments and lectures, not to mention the outside jobs many team members must pursue to support their studies.

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“To make our projects succeed during the design and build of the car,” says Hodaya, “team members have to put in many, many hours of work, sometimes pulling all-nighters on the weekend.” To ensure their future success, Team BGR wants to establish a “core team” made up of six to 10 dedicated team members whose personal and living expenses will be supported through stipends. That way they’ll have the time to amass the technologies and experience needed to best represent BGU and the State of Israel around the world.

“Being part of Team BGR definitely feels like family,” says Hodaya. “Of course we don’t agree on everything but the great bonds we make encourage productive conflict, which improves us as a team. And it makes the work that much more fun!” And who knows? One day…those clean, autonomous, electric vehicles BGR is creating (or, at least aspects of them) might very well be the cars we ride in tomorrow! 

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