Baja Buggy

Murray State University student Christian Kester, a senior from Greenville, Illinois, checks the suspension of the left front portion of the electric all-terrain vehicle that he and his team will unveil today and actually drive on the campus.

MURRAY — At 3:30 this afternoon, anyone who gets excited about history-making occasions will have the chance to witness one on the Murray State University campus.

That is when the university’s School of Engineering will add another chapter to its list of accomplishments when the senior project of six seniors is unveiled to the world for the first time. Near the front entrance of the Engineering & Physics Building along North 16th Street, those six students will unveil an all-terrain vehicle that is powered by electricity, not gasoline.

At 3:30, not only will it be shown to anyone who wants to see it, two of the team members will then take the machine for a spin.

“This is an innovation for us and a pathway we’ve never really explored before,” said Dr. Danny Claiborne, chairman of the School of Engineering. “You’ve got high-end universities — the Georgia Techs, Purdues, Clemsons of the world — that are exploring this opportunity for vehicles, the ones we drive every day, but, for our students at Murray State, to have the opportunity to be part of some of the more cutting-edge type of research in the country is really exciting.

“And you can do it right here.”

Claiborne said that, each year, a group from a senior design class forms a team that designs, then constructs a project that results in a functioning prototype. And he said past such teams have been involved in developing ATVs such as this, commonly known as a “Baja Buggy.”

This year, though, was different.

“This team said ‘We’d like to do something more innovative and more exploratory,’ so they said, ‘We’d love to build an electric vehicle,’” Claiborne said, adding that this is not a cheap project. “This is one of the most expensive things that the School of Engineering has ever built and not one that many of our students get a chance to explore, but we’re very fortunate to be able to fund these students in their senior year to produce this type of product.”

“In past years, they had built a Baja car, which was mechanically powered and had like a 10hp engine on it,” said team member Christian Kester of Greenville, Illinois. “There’s also a competition and a lot of universities competed and Murray State actually competed in it for years, when they could get a team going. So we decided to build an electric buggy and decided to do it our own way so that we wouldn’t be necessarily bound by the rules and constraints of a competition. We could do whatever we want with it as opposed to trying to optimize it for something specific.

“So that was part of it. Another part of it, though, is we wanted to get more people involved with it because we’re able to have six people working on the project right now. Three of them are mechanical and three are electric, so if it was just a mechanical device, there wouldn’t be anything for the electrical students to do and get involved with.”

“This allows for real-world experience, where mechanical engineering folks work with electrical engineering people to come up with a solution,” Claiborne said. “That’s real world. I don’t care if you’re in aerospace or car design, you’re building electric components and that means you have mechanical and electric engineers working together as a team.”

The Baja Buggy that will make its appearance today is powered by a 17-horsepower electric motor. Kester said the power is supplied by batteries that produce 48 volts. That is enough to keep the vehicle running for about two hours before recharging is necessary.