THE Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) team at the Shell Eco-marathon challenge this year was a sight to behold.
Comprising 13 female engineering students, they made heads turn when they competed at the recent Asia leg of the oil company’s challenge in Singapore.
The competition challenged undergraduates from across the Asia Pacific and Middle East to design, build and drive their own energy-efficient vehicles.
In its ninth year, it was the highlight of Make the Future Singapore ― a four-day public festival of ideas and innovation in Asia.
UiTM won the Urban Concept category for four consecutive years using a hydrogen fuel cell. Its all-girls Team Eco-Planet aimed to continue the university’s winning streak and prove that they can make it in a male-dominated arena such as science and engineering.
Team Eco-Planet manager Sollehan Suhana Zainuddin, 23, said UiTM is well-known for its sleek car designs in its more than five years of participation in the competition.
“I joined the team last year. I viewed it as a chance to put theories into action. I did find it a challenge to juggle campus life and manage the team since this is my final year of studies.
“But this is a stepping stone to better learning and a way to boost my confidence when I join the workplace,” said the electronic engineering (system) undergraduate.
As team manager, it is her task to motivate the members despite the challenges.
“Last year was quite an experience. It blew my mind away. I joined the challenge to gain exposure and came back with innovative ideas.
“Last year we used 100 per cent fibre glass for the body but we now understand that a combination of carbon fibre glass will make the car lighter and smoother.
“We changed the engine this year so the car runs without wasting a lot of energy,” added Sollehan.
Team member Nur Amalia Zulkepli, 22, said she has her brother to thank. “He has taken part in this competition and since then my interest has been piqued by the vehicle-making process.
“By taking part in the challenge, I got to see the step-by-step process from the beginning till the end. Sketches were transformed into a mobile vehicle. It was a priceless experience,” she said.
“Working on the car, I got to spend time with friends who share the same interest. Every input I gained will be shared with the juniors.”
The chemical engineering student said she was also involved in enhancing hydrogen fuel efficiency and helped to design an innovative body part to enhance the performance of the car by sensing and reporting car-related parameters to the driver.
It was the act of taking something apart and putting it back together that started her on the path to become an engineer and now modifying cars is a pastime among her circle of university mates.
MORE THAN TECHNICAL DETAILS
Meeting deadlines and managing the project is just as important as overcoming technical challenges.
Sollehan said: “As a team manager, I also had to deal with various parties regarding logistics, placements and transportation.
“It was not easy to get sponsorship from government agencies and private companies. We created a campaign on social media platforms such Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and raised more funds than the previous year.”
Having made it to the competition technical inspection last year, Sollehan said she has silenced naysayers who used to tell the team members to send boys instead when they wanted to buy raw materials.
“I want to prove that girls can also work in a male-dominated environment.”
Team member electrical engineering student Amirah Sofianna Mat Isa, 23, said: “I woke up early to do administrative work and at night I learnt to build a car from my teammates.
“We only slept for four hours every day in the run-up to the challenge.”
Mechanical engineering student Nasyitah Othman, 22, said being a female in a male-dominated sport is difficult but it is not going to stop her from enjoying and competing in it.
“You need a lot of strength and the cockpits are extremely hot. You have got to be very fit to withstand the G-forces and extreme temperatures.
“We may not be as physically strong as men but we can work on building our strength and stamina. It just makes me even more determined to compete against them.”
The challenge, which was held at Changi’s Exhibition Centre in Singapore, saw the team competing against more than 120 teams from 18 countries.
Unfortunately, luck was not on Team Eco-Planet’s side as it came home empty-handed. But the experience gained from joining the competition is invaluable.
Sollehan Suhana said: “Losing isn’t always the end, as sometimes it becomes the beginning. Even though we lost, we gave good competition and brought the team members closer together.
“We will use what we learnt ― be it technical knowledge or management skills ― in future challenges.
Shell Eco-marathon 2018, which ended on March 11, saw Team NTU Singapore 3D-Printed Car from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore clinched the top spot in the hydrogen fuel cell under the Urban Concept category with its best attempt at 46km per cubic metre.
In the mileage challenges, Team Eco-Planet showcased an economical and innovative vehicle which resembles regular cars on the road.
At the event, the student teams were challenged to stretch the boundaries of fuel efficiency in a real-world urban environment, and winners were determined by the mileage achieved on a litre of fuel, rather than speed.
There are two vehicle categories ― Prototype (aimed at building the most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient vehicle possible) and Urban Concept (aimed at building fuel-economy vehicles which resemble more cars on the road).
Another six Malaysian teams from five universities also competed: Monash University Malaysia (two teams), Multimedia University Melaka, University of Malaya, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and Universiti Malaysia Pahang.
With increasingly vital roles that women play, watch out for girl power in the future Shell Eco-marathon competitions.