|Bright sparks: Nitin Modi (centre) and Rajeev Jain (second from left) after winning the prize
They call themselves Team Yantrikz ' a group of students pursuing mechanical engineering at the Indian School of Mines (ISM) in Dhanbad, but thinking big, striving to compete, and struggling for originality. Yantrikz member Nitin Modi, a third year student, recalls advice that a senior student gave him about college competitions. Go ahead, the senior told him, surf the net, read text books, scan journals. But when you get a problem, construct your own solutions.
So when they got an opportunity to participate in an undergraduate engineering competition, the Yantrikz team members decided to devise novel ways to design a low-budget, four-seater car. The result is Phoenix, a 573-cc car with a petrol engine. It's only a design, but Phoenix bagged the first prize last week at Mind Advantage, the first auto industry technical paper contest for engineering students organised by the Minda group that make instrument panels, security systems and connective systems for automobiles.
Modi and classmates Rajeev Jain, Samarth Nehrotra and Karamveer Tanwar designed a car with identical front and rear zones, the headlights built into the dashboard, and the roof built out of canvas or leather. 'A family car with the feel of a convertible,' says Modi.
Ironically, Modi may not have been designing cars if he had got his first choice in the IIT JEE exam. 'The top course on my list was paper and pulp engineering at IIT Roorkee ' I guess I had this fascination to get into an IIT,' says Modi. 'But I'm lucky I got into mechanical engineering at ISM. I now realise that the branch is more important than the institution,' says Modi. He says he knows friends at IIT Kharagpur who are pursuing chemical engineering, but thinking of software careers.
Modi and Jain who picked up the first prize were among five finalists to present technical papers before automobile experts. The Yantrikz members admit that they only have a design and quantitative cost estimates still need to be worked out.
The contest was an attempt to draw out innovative ideas from engineering colleges across the country. Several weeks before the final, colleges were asked to send written papers as part of the initial screening process to pick the finalists.
The contest wasn't a cakewalk. The judges were inquisitive. The finalists had to answer questions about their own projects as well as general automobile technology issues ' from emerging materials used in cars to the economics of exploiting biofuels, an alternative to conventional petrol or diesel. One team was even cautioned that downloading stuff from the Net wasn't going to get them the prize. The presentations had to be quick and slick.
Finalists Tushar Sethi and Reuben Buthello from the MHSS College of Engineering in Mumbai proposed new instrument panels with colours and sounds to warn car drivers. The speedometer dial, for instance, would turn amber when the speed exceeded 80 kmph, and bright red when it crossed 120 kmph. An audio prompt would also signal the driver to slow down. Similar colour-and-sound systems could also be incorporated into the fuel gauge and engine monitoring systems, says Sethi.
Delhi College of Engineering (DCE) finalists Neha Juneja and Rajagopalan Arvind made a presentation on how composites could replace conventional metals in future cars. Juneja and Arvind, both third year production engineering students, showed that composites could be used to build a single-seater, teardrop-shaped, high mileage vehicle. Their computer simulations indicate that such a car could deliver up to 300 km per litre, but travelling less than 35 km per hour.
Automotive industry experts who judged the contest said the presentations were interesting. 'But they demonstrated a gap between the students' ideas and the realities of life,' says Maharaj Kishen Pajan, advisor to the Minda group. The contest is designed to nurture innovative thinking among tech undergraduates and get them to look at problems from the industry point of view.
After all, many of the finalists, have already set their sights on careers in the automotive industry. Modi, for instance, says he wants to gain experience in research and development. And DCE's Juneja says her top career choice would be automobile design.