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Engineering basics drive Mizzou team to top-three finish

Mizzou Engineering senior Matt Haseltine helps lead his team to a third-place finish in the April 18 basic utility vehicle competition.

Mizzou Engineering’s Basic Utility Vehicle team recently brought home third-place honors in a national design competition, turning in its best performance since the engineering college first fielded a team.

The Mizzou BUV placed first out of eight teams in the design and oral report portions of the Institute for Affordable Transportation’s BUV Design Competition, held each year since 2001 to generate low-cost vehicle designs for impoverished areas throughout the world. Second-place finishes in the endurance and mudpit drive portions of the competition as well as in the “judge’s drive” category—a subjective measure of general drivability and design—helped propel MU’s five-member team into a top three spot in the overall event.

This year’s April 18 contest in Indianapolis, Ind. was something of a comeback for the MU team, which lacked the financing to compete last year. The BUV team last finished in the top three in 2003, when MU came in third at its competition debut.

“Since we didn’t compete last year, we were starting from scratch,” said team member Kevin Malick, a mechanical and aerospace engineering senior. “We kind of designed as we went.”

This year’s competition, which also served as a senior-level capstone project for MU team members, called for building a simple, low-cost three-wheel vehicle that polio or landmine survivors could operate with their hands. The vehicle, whose top speed could not exceed 20 miles per hour, had to be capable of carrying 1,200 pounds of sand and hauling a small trailer. Entries also had to run on biodiesel fuel, and feature “motorcycle” rather than side-by-side seating, according to the competition requirements.

Other requirements mandated basic safety features, such as seat belts and a rollbar. Such things as a headlight and brake lights were optional, but improved a team’s score.

Those extras presented some of the competition’s greatest challenges, said team member Matt Haseltine, also a mechanical and aerospace engineering senior. Incorporating everything from a sunshade to taillights while keeping the BUV’s weight between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds was difficult, Haseltine said. Yet he said the prospect of putting together an entire vehicle is part of what drew him to the contest.

“It’s a lot more dynamic and maybe more of a challenge,” Haseltine said.

Also appealing to BUV team members since the group’s inception has been the competition’s goal of providing opportunity for low-income residents of developing countries. The Institute for Affordable Transportation, an Indianapolis-based not-for-profit organization, may borrow particularly successful BUV design elements to help make easily assembled low-cost vehicles more readily available.

“I like the idea of possibly designing something to help a Third World country,” Malick said.