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May 10, 2004

Baja competition leads to Army interest for Purdue engineers

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The U.S. Army will study a Baja vehicle designed by Purdue University students to help develop new methods of off-road transportation.

Purdue University's entry
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A group of about 20 students in Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering designed a lightweight off-road Baja vehicle that can be switched from four-wheel to two-wheel drive while in motion. The vehicle recently was awarded second place for engineering out of almost 100 at the 2004 Mini Baja West endurance competition in Portland, Ore.

Purdue also finished in the top third of the endurance portion of the competition, and E. Daniel Hirleman, William and Florence Perry Head of Mechanical Engineering, said the highlight was an award the team received from the Army as one of the competition's most innovative designs. The Army is exploring the design of a new generation of all-terrain vehicles.

In addition to recognizing the innovation of the Purdue team's engineering, Army officials asked the team for permission to study the design. The vehicle will be shipped to an Army base for two weeks after a second competition in June.

"It is a testament to the ingenuity and the talents of Purdue's mechanical engineering students," Hirleman said. "Not only is this an incredible accomplishment, the students have gained valuable experience by taking on a difficult task and completing it on a short timetable."

In the competition, students run their vehicles on a rugged track for four hours. Vehicles are judged on how far they can go in the allotted time.

The vehicle's lead engineer, Dan Burt, a senior from Chicago, said Purdue's entry into the contest is unique because the students were able to employ a four-wheel drive system that was efficient enough to remain competitive. The vast majority of entries were two-wheel drive.

While four-wheel drive is common in commercial sport utility vehicles and other large vehicles, the weight of the components make it almost impossible in small vehicles like the Bajas, he said.

"Usually in the contest, vehicles with four-wheel drive are very slow because of extra weight," Burt said. "We were able to make ours lighter, and that made it able to compete with the two-wheel drive Bajas."

Burt said the Purdue Baja also benefited from being the only vehicle in the contest that could switch from four-wheel drive to the faster two-wheel drive. The change allowed the team to further improve the efficiency of the vehicle by disengaging many of the drive mechanisms while in two-wheel drive.

Anthony Perfetto, team president and a senior from Rochester, Ind., said the team was proud not only with their success at the contest but also in the Army's interest. Unlike most teams, which usually make small modifications to their vehicle each year, Purdue's entry was built from scratch.

"We set out to do something pretty challenging," Perfetto said. "Unlike most teams, we designed and built everything new. That means this is entirely our design that won and that the Army wants to study. We are all very proud of that."

Writer: Matt Holsapple, (765) 494-2073,

Sources: E. Daniel Hirleman, (765) 494-5688,

Anthony Perfetto,

Dan Burt,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Anthony Perfetto, from Rochester, Ind.; Dan Burt, from Chicago; and Brett Zook, from Henryville, Ind.; examine Purdue University's entry into the 2004 Mini Baja West competition. All are seniors in Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering. The vehicle, the only entry that could shift from two-wheel to four-wheel drive, was awarded second place for engineering. The U.S. Army wants to study the Baja with hopes of using it in the design of new vehicles. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

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