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Formula Student 2024 gets diversity and sustainability on track

Professional Engineering

More teams than ever will also be taking part in the FS AI autonomous category
More teams than ever will also be taking part in the FS AI autonomous category

We spoke to Formula Student project manager Naomi Rolfe about the upcoming edition of the student event (17-21 July), which promises to be the most diverse and sustainable yet.

What’s new for Formula Student in 2024?

We’ve seen a real increase in our entries for FS AI, particularly for the dynamic driving task (DDT) class, which is where they design computer systems so the ADS-DVs (autonomous driving systems – dedicated vehicles) can drive themselves autonomously. This year we have more entries for that, particularly from new teams, which is very exciting. Last year we had 20 on site, this year we’ll have 25. 

I’m really pleased to announce we have also secured sustainable fuels (95 Ron E10 and E85) for all of our internal combustion engine teams this year. Last year, a third of the teams took up the opportunity to use sustainable fuels, but this year all of them will. We secured that with support from Motorsport UK, who are funding it as part of their sustainability strategy, and Coryton Fuels, who are providing the fuels and services on site. 

We’re seeing an increase in electric vehicle (EV) entries across the board, and there’s a big push from government for EV technology. However, by restricting the teams and saying ‘We’re only going to have electric vehicles, because they’re better for the environment,’ we would be turning away teams that don’t have the necessary finances to build an EV. We’re offering sustainable fuels so they can still participate. 

Are you building more ADS-DV cars to expand FS AI? 

We have received a grant from the Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), who helped create the initial FS AI competition in 2018 through their funding. We’re going to build two more ADS-DVs and re-engineer the two that we already have, because there are some parts that are obsolete. We’ll also be building some simulators, so that the teams that don’t necessarily have access to the cars can access our ‘on the table’ box simulator. 

With the CCAV funding we also want to grow the ADS category, where they’re not just building computer systems, they’re designing and building an autonomous car. We see a real importance in the interface between AI and mechanical engineering.

CCAV are passionate about equipping students with the skills to enable them to be part of the future CAM (connected autonomous mobility) sector in the UK. They see Formula Student as a big part of this. 

We want to equip students with the skills that they’re going to need in the workplace. There’s no point in having a competition that is testing you on something that you’re never going to use. We want to give them the opportunity to be as innovative as possible.

Formula Student project manager Naomi Rolfe

Formula Student project manager Naomi Rolfe

How do you expect Formula Student to change over the next five to 10 years?

We’ll see continued steady growth in AI, particularly if we have these two extra vehicles. I think we’ll see more EV entries, because the teams are slowly getting to grips with the technology, and maybe a drop in internal combustion engines. 

I’d also expect to see more overarching sustainability across the competition, not just what’s on track. We have a responsibility, as a motorsport competition, to show that motorsport and sustainability can go hand-in-hand, and that doesn’t just end with the fuel type. That is also what we’re using on site, how are people arriving, how are they getting about, the carbon footprint of our volunteers, materials used on site – so I think that will be quite significant.

I’m hoping that the diversity of the teams will change as well. We’re going to be offering support for teams from diverse backgrounds. Our aim would be really trying to work with more organisations to get more people from diverse backgrounds and involved in motorsport. 

We normally have STEM events at Formula Student, and one of the aims is to invite children who wouldn’t normally be in a motorsport environment, so they can start thinking about their university choices and their career choices at a young age. My hope is that those people would come at 14, learn about it, and then five years later be participating.

Why is Formula Student such a valuable experience for young engineers?

I’m a language graduate, I spent years sitting in a classroom learning French and Italian. But it wasn’t until I moved out to Italy and had a year abroad that I got to practise, to live that out, to learn and absorb it. 

Formula Student is a bit like that for engineers. They’re learning so much in the classroom, they’re gaining all these skills, but they don’t necessarily have that practical outlet.

At Formula Student, it’s almost like you’re abroad, using your skills in real life. We’re equipping them with the skills that they will need in the workplace, but not just engineering skills. We give them business skills, project management skills. It teaches you about resilience, the fact that, if something goes wrong and your car doesn’t get through scrutineering, you’ve got a few hours to solve it. 

I’ve spoken to companies and they say there’s something different about Formula Student graduates when they hire them, they know what they’re talking about. It’s not just the engineering – it’s the teamwork, the leadership, managing a budget. All of that comes together to give them a really well-rounded graduate. That’s what Formula Student offers.

Is it important that that opportunity is available to as diverse a group as possible?

Absolutely. It’s so valuable for them, and that’s why we have so many Formula One teams and large companies in motorsport that want to be part of Formula Student, because they know these are the graduates they’re looking for. This is the standard that they’re expecting.

Visit the IMechE Formula Student page for more information and to buy spectator tickets.


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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