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The Northern Illinois University football team isn't the only team to compete for championships in Detroit.
From April 10 to 12, the NIU Supermileage Team will compete in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2015, a global program that challenges high school and college student teams to design, build and test the most energy-efficient vehicles.
In fact, the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology’s (CEET) accomplished Supermileage Team helped out with the event's promotion by recording a television commercial with Jay Leno that aired this week on NBC's Today Show.
About a month ago, four members of the team made their way to Los Angeles for a video shoot at Jay Leno’s Garage. Mechanical engineering graduate student Kallol Barai, senior Lindsey Dodis (mechanical engineering, mechatronics and robotics), senior mechanical engineering major Kevin Kuebrich and junior energy and environmental technology student Christian McAdoo represented NIU at the Shell-NBC production.
"The trip was amazing," said Dodis, who serves as the team's president. "Jay was incredibly friendly and hospitable the entire time we were the there. The first day, I went to his garage just to receive our car off of the shipping truck, and he unexpectedly showed up in a 1925 steam engine car and immediately had me hop in and took me on a joy ride around Burbank!"
The NIU Supermileage Team is consistently among the nation’s best, finishing among the top 10 in the SAE Supermileage Competition® – a similar event – each year since 2010, including third place finishes in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Last year NIU finished seventh in both the SAE competition in Marshall, Mich. and the Shell Eco-marathon event in Houston, where the NIU vehicle traveled 1,359.4 miles on a single gallon of gasoline.
This year, the team is working on a lighter carbon-fiber body for the vehicle in hopes of getting up to 1,800 miles per gallon. Ironically, all the publicity has put the team a little behind schedule in making the conversion, a trade-off Dodis says was worth it.
"The shoot was nothing like we would have imagined," she says. "Very fun, especially getting to tour around his garage and shop!"
With annual events in the Americas, Europe and Asia, the Shell Eco-marathon innovation competition pushes future scientists and engineers to travel the farthest distance using the least amount of energy.
“They give you a set amount of fuel at the beginning of the race,” 26-year-old Kuebrich says, and at the end of the race, the fuel is weighed, and the miles per gallon is calculated based on the difference.
The NIU entry is making its final preparations in advance of the event in the Motor City, which will welcome more than 120 teams driving their low-slung, futuristic vehicles around the downtown streets of Detroit, through Campus Martius and historic Woodward Avenue. The course is 0.9 miles, and vehicles travel 30 to 40 miles.
The team has been putting in long hours, 12 to 15 hours a day as time permits, getting the vehicle ready for the competition, which is expected to draw thousands of spectators to cheer on more than 1,000 high school and university students from across the Americas – Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.
In addition to the Eco-marathon, more than 8.5 football fields of space inside Cobo Center will be turned into a multi-sensory journey of the past, present and future of innovation with free activities for visitors as part of the 30 year anniversary of the event.
“We are thrilled to bring Detroit-area residents a free, fun, family-friendly event showcasing innovation and human ingenuity that will help make the future,” says Niel Golightly, Shell vice president of external affairs for the Americas.
“The interactive, multi-sensory experience is set against the backdrop of Shell Eco-marathon, highlighting brilliant young innovators in a fitting nod to the automotive heritage that made Detroit the automotive capital of the world it is today.”