BUV team extends Trine win streak in first post-pandemic competition

May 02, 2022

BUVBATAVIA, Ohio — Though three years had passed since the last Basic Utility Vehicle (BUV) competition was held, Trine University was able to pick up where it left off.

After winning the event outright for the first time in 2019, a new team of Trine seniors did the same at this year’s event, the first held since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 23.

Team members Adam Ellert of Angola, Indiana, Wesley Gates of Stilesville, Indiana, Derik Gunthorp of LaGrange, Indiana, Manuel Urcino of Frankfort, Illinois, and Braeden Wallen-Frye of Kendallville, Indiana, all mechanical engineering majors, were able to improve their design process by implementing virtual reality technology. 

In the BUV competition, each school designs a simple, low-cost vehicle that could hypothetically be used in a developing African country to perform daily tasks over rough terrain. The vehicles must be capable of pumping water onto their vehicle from a pond, successfully navigating a muddy 2.2-mile course and returning the water to the pond. The team that transports the most water during the allotted time period is declared the winner.

The Trine team completed 11 laps, seven fully loaded with water.

“Two of the empty laps occurred from our water system leaking, resulting in us losing some points, while the other two were victory laps since we were far ahead in terms of points,” said Urcino.

Trine scored 440 points. The University of St. Thomas from Saint Paul, Minnesota, earned 385 points for second place and the University of Cincinnati came in third with 345.

This year’s Trine vehicle featured a completely new frame that was sturdier while being 10% lighter than the 2019 version.

“We also reoriented the water system to shorten the vehicle, added a shock-absorbing seat, created a more ergonomic pedal, added a Raspberry Pi connected to a touch-screen display to show our engine temperature and speed, and added an adjustable steering wheel,” said Urcino.

The group also designed a front-wheel assist system but was unable to complete it for the competition.

As the team began the design process, Wallen-Frye, who owns an HTC Vive virtual reality headset, was able to import the BUV design into a virtual reality (VR) environment. The team was then able to utilize Trine’s VR laboratory, established as part of a grant the university received from Lilly Endowment Inc. in 2020, to allow multiple members to work in the VR environment at the same time.

The team set up a mock seat for the BUV inside the VR lab and then measured the distance to elements like the pedals and the roll cage bar.

“We can get inside what we are designing and see in a 1:1 scale what we are planning on building,” Wallen-Frye said. “There are faults in designs that you would never have seen otherwise seen just by using a CAD program.”

“Virtual reality not only saved the group many hours of trying to fix problems with pedal placement, steering wheel placement and hydraulic line placement, it greatly increased the ability of future students to have proof of concept before building a prototype,” said Urcino. “Without the help of VR, the only way to verify these placements would be to build them, which would be too late if they were not in a comfortable position.”

Urcino said the team was especially grateful to Nick Wentworth, assistant director of campus operations, John Liu, Ph.D., faculty advisor, and Joe Thompson II, laboratory manager and instructor, for their guidance and help throughout the year, as well as the support of sponsors Bill's Towing, ProFab/JICI, SOS Hydraulics and DAS Hydraulics.

“Winning the competition has meant so much to the team,” he said. “We've put in everything on this project for the past nine months and winning the competition has given us a sense of accomplishment and validation that our hard work has paid off.”

Trine, St. Thomas and Cincinnati were the only schools that competed this year, as other universities failed to field a team following the pandemic. Five competed in 2019.

Photos: Top, Trine University Basic Utility Vehicle team members — from left, Braeden Wallen-Frye of Kendallville, Indiana; Wesley Gates of Stilesville, Indiana; Derik Gunthorp of LaGrange, Indiana; Dr. John Liu, faculty advisor; Adam Ellert of Angola, Indiana; and Manuel Urcino of Frankfort, Illinois — make measurements and adjustments to their vehicle’s design last fall using equipment in the university’s Virtual Reality lab. (Photo by Dean Orewiler)

In the photo at right, Trine University Basic Utility Vehicle team members, from left, Manuel Urcino, Braeden Wallen-Frye and Derik Gunthorp with Nick Wentworth, assistant director of campus operations, and the university's winning vehicle following competition on April 23.

Last Updated: 05/02/2022

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