Lagos — It might be unthinkable, yet it did happen. The University of Lagos community developed a racing car which beat many competitors at a global automobile competition
It is a racing car! It is one that may not be too common in this part of the world but was conceived, developed and put to test here and abroad. Known as Autonov II, the racing car is a brainchild of staff and students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and has competed for, and gained fame on the global automobile stage.
Former Minister of Information, who is now Chairman, Governing Council of UNILAG, Prof. Jerry Gana was on a visit to the institution recently. And for the management, there could not have been a better time to showcase the school's inherent potentials. In this regard, Autonov II, UNILAG's latest exploit in science and technology came handy.
Fuel-efficient and electronically-powered, the design, fabrication and running of Autonov II had been funded solely by Shell Petroleum Plc. The racing car had participated alongside automobile inventions from other 203 tertiary institutions across the world at a car racing competition in the Netherlands, emerging the third best overall.
Twenty students and lecturers of the school were said to have done the bulk of the work on Autonov II. From the Department of Mechanical Engineering to those of Creative Arts, Physics, Mass Communication, Electrical/Electronic and Architecture, the students were assembled and after a two-month intensive exercise, Autonov II was developed.
"We started by building the skill-set we needed. We built the designs, the fraction, the china system and the body, among others and those who could integrate all of these together did. Of course, this has to be carried out by the students. When we finished, we selected the team we wanted. What we did was to advertise and ask that students who possess various skills we needed should indicate by applying. We interviewed them and selected a team of 20 students which we later pruned," Prof. Ikem Owete, leader of the team that manufactured Autonov II narrated.
The team leaders thereafter asked the selected students to work differently. The mechanical group worked on the frame. The material team worked on the body. The Creative Art student is a sculptor who constructed the body himself. Students from electrical engineering worked on the electrical and electronic control. The team, Prof Owete recalled, had some challenges with the control a day before the competition. The car simply stopped working. But by some "miraculous intervention," it later began to work.
"One thing I can tell you was that these students from Electrical Engineering made their own PCVs (positive crankcase ventilation, an automotive-emission control valve that recirculates gases through the combustion chambers to permit more complete combustion) manually without a machine. They got the chemical, the drawing on the computer, the components and made the transfer to the PCVs all on their own. Initially, we wanted to get an outsider for this but they came to me and said, 'Sir, we can do it' and I said to them, 'Go ahead and do it. If you don't try, you can't succeed.' And they did. I am very proud of them. You really need to see their performance," Owete said.
UNILAG was not the only Nigerian tertiary institution that made it to the racing competition. University of Benin (UNIBEN) also did. But while the UNIBEN invention could not make it to the track, UNILAG's Autonov II did. And out of the 203 schools that competed, UNILAG was the only one from Africa, aside the two others that came from Morocco.
"Our utmost aim and objective right from the first day was how we would pass the rigorous tests and get Autonov II on the track. We had our major scare when we got to the competition and were about to participate when one of our wheels buckled for the first time. This happened a day to the time we were to have our first test. We had not had any test prior to that time. But our team spirit and determination prevailed; we took the car to the welding shop and the wheel and every other thing were fixed. Thereafter, we went for the four-stage test and we passed," Victoria Olakanmi, a 400-level Physics student who played a role in fixing the car's electrical lightings and also acted as the reserve driver said.
Olakanmi said being the only black Africans among the competitors, they were really not given any chance by many of their rivals and spectators, especially since they were observers at the competition last year. "Many of our rivals brought big and high-powered equipment to the competition, but we dazed them when we emerged third best overall," she said.
For the university's Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdulrahman Bello, if anything, that remarkable feat has placed UNILAG on a global pedestal. "I feel vindicated and elated. I have always said the education we give at the UNILAG is second to none. We have what it takes to always excel and we also have all the professionals that can perform feats. That was exactly what our students and members of academic staff have shown. We can vouch for our graduates at every point in time. I am very happy this is happening when I am here," Prof. Bello said.
Asked to comment on the issue of sustainability, the Vice Chancellor reminded everyone that this would not be the first time the school would be manufacturing a car. A former lecturer of the school, the late Prof. Awojobi was reputed to have single-handedly manufactured a car named Autonov. The VC said it was in the quest to key into that line of innovation that made the school call the latest invention Autonov II. He added that the two cars will be placed in the university's prospective museum.
Based on its feat at the Netherlands, the UNILAG has been invited to participate in a similar competition coming up in Cape Town, South Africa in October. The school expects to have developed another car before then for the competition.
Prof. Gana expressed delight over the manufacturing of Autonov II and assured UNILAG's authorities of government's interest in developing the innate potential of every student there and, indeed, that of every Nigerian student.