Redback Racing’s first electric car is on track to compete against 27 student teams in the global Formula SAE-A competition in Winton, Victoria, on 8 December 2022.

Under the professional guidance of Academic Lead Dr Jin Zhang, technical supervisor Ben Willis, and electrical expert Dr Priestley, the car has undergone multiple electrical and mechanical inspections.

“Building our first dynamic electrical car involved lots of learning and fact finding. We learn from each inspection and improve the car, going back and forth as many times as it takes,” said Ben Willis.

Redback Racing is a student-led project. Some of the brightest student minds of UNSW collaborate to design, build and test a race car based on a series of rules.

The project gives students the opportunity to enhance their engineering design, business, and project management skills, and prepares them for their future career.

“We challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to the real world. They apply concepts of designing, manufacturing and testing to a full-scale racing car,” said Redback Racing Academic Lead, Dr Jin Zhang of the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

The team is made up of 120 students studying various disciplines, ranging from engineering and design to business and media.

“It is extremely rewarding to work alongside people who are involved in different disciplines. You learn to understand the way people think and the different perspectives they hold,” said Redback’s business director Haylee Hulbert, a second-year student of Media, PR and Advertising.

“You develop your communication skills and your teamwork skills. It is insane how much I’ve learnt this year compared to what I would have learnt just by being in class.”

Team Leader Jeet Shah, a fourth-year student in Mechatronics (honours)/Physics, added:

“Everyone can join. You just need to be willing to learn the skills. If you are, we will teach you, we will offer you resources, and then it’s up to you to step up.”

And stepping up is what the team has done, throughout what has been a challenging two years. COVID lockdowns not only severely delayed manufacturing, but also caused several team members to have to return to their home city or country, sometimes taking their knowledge with them.

The result of the team’s effort is the RB21-E, which only weighs 200kg and can reach speeds of up to 110km/h.

“We managed to significantly reduce the weight of the vehicle, by eliminating the blunt and heavy aluminum head. That made a big difference in terms of aerodynamic behavior,” said Dr Zhang.

RB21-E, built by the UNSW Redback Racing team

Since 2000, UNSW Redback Racing has participated in Formula SAE-A, an international design competition. Entrants are judged on their engineering and business skills in a real-world environment.

The competition is set up to simulate a manufacturing company contracting a student design team to develop a small Formula-style race car. The car is evaluated for its potential to be a production item.

The teams, both international and domestic, take part in various events. There are dynamic events, such as Acceleration and Endurance, and static events, in which the design and manufacturing methods as well as business decisions are examined.

“It’s not just about building a car. You need to show that you have a business plan, a business model. How do you promote the car to a specified target audience?” said Haylee.

“The competition is an opportunity to step outside of your own degree. Designing an integrated product requires different disciplines to work together. This means you can branch out and try different fields,” said Jeet.

“It actually teaches you how a business works. This better prepares you for employment. Once you step into an actual company or your first job, you’re not surprised by the fact that there is more to engineering than just designing,” he said.

Redback Racing has consistently performed well in the competition. In 2018, they placed second overall, second in the Cost Event and Efficiency, and third in Endurance. Most prior years saw a top 3 result in at least one of the categories as well.

The team is hoping to achieve similar results in December, before turning their hand at their first autonomous, driver-less car next year.

“It’s a developing field, and one we want to take part in. We will use this car as the base point and convert it towards an autonomous driving system. We will look at other universities’ designs and learn from problems we faced this competition,” said Jeet.

Dr Zhang is extremely proud of the team. “It’s such a dedicated effort from the whole team, and it is rewarding to see it all come together.”

“Everyone has contributed so much, even more than was expected of them,” adds Jeet.

“It’s extremely rewarding to be part of a student project and work towards a common goal. It’s uniting, and you form great friendships in the process,” said Haylee.

“There is a great sense of pride in the commitment to build something as cool as a race car, and in seeing your team members grow.”