Monash University students are building world-beating autonomous race cars

To say a look inside the trophy cabinet of the Monash Motorsport team was impressive would be an understatement.

Behind the glass is a stack of awards, each showing an occasion said team has taken one of its race cars – designed and built on-site entirely by students at its Clayton campus in Melbourne’s east from the ground up – out into the world and smashed its rivals overseas.

Since mid-2018, Monash Motorsport had won nine Australasian competitions, achieved 40 awards on an international podium, and is now the highest-ranking Australian team on the World Rankings Leaderboard, as well as third in the world for the electric category.


Established in 2000, the same year as the inception of the Formula Student competition in Australia (started by the Society of Automotive Engineers Australasia), Monash Motorsport was one of the first teams to exist outside of the United States – where the contest was first founded. .

It boasts the support of a number of big sponsors, such as LiDAR tech firm Baraja and industrial equipment supplier Hi-Tech Metrology, as well as Dr Alan Finkel – former Monash Chancellor and now Special Adviser to the Australian Government on low emissions technology – as a donor.

Made up of around 80 students studying a range of disciplines from engineering and business, to law, science and design, the team began working on internal combustion engined race cars – but switched to autonomous and electric vehicles after ranking first in the world and needing a new challenge which was more future-focused.

In 2017, members designed and competed with their first electric vehicle before turning their hand to developing a competition-ready driverless car a year later. By 2019, Monash became, and remains, the only student team in Australia to have such a vehicle capable of dynamically navigating any given track.

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Following an extended concept development period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team’s most ambitious concept yet – its M22 all-wheel-drive, autonomous integrated vehicle – is capable of both driven and driverless racing. This vehicle concept, says Monash, pushes the frontiers of autonomous technology with a more powerful and efficient electrical powertrain, built from the ground up with driverless capabilities in mind.

M22 has improved aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics compared to the team’s previous efforts to optimize performance through increased downforce and handling capabilities. With an estimated mass of 237 kilograms, Monash’s second-generation monocoque and total power limit of 80kW drives Fischer hub motors at each wheel.

A cutting-edge LiDAR system has an approximate 45 meter range, and the in-house designed battery management system and single quad-channel inverter are optimized for efficiency and safety – weighing less than previous designs.

Next steps for the vehicle are to race it in Australia at the end of this year, before heading over to take part in the European competitions – which will be held next June, July and August.

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At Monash University’s recent open day, CEO of the team, Chhavi Khathuria gave Wheels Exclusive access behind the scenes at its facility – the Monash Makerspace – and gave us a glimpse of how both the EV and autonomous cars work.

“I think we’re brought together by a passion for cars, racing and engineering,” she says.

“Student teams are not compulsory, but a lot of people choose to go into them because they provide the perfect balance of applying your theoretical knowledge with practical application. We only start taking technical students from the second year onwards though, just because by that point they have the knowledge base that comes with having completed their first year.

“A lot of our team are doing double degrees – I’m studying industrial design and engineering – which we think makes them more multi-faceted and gives them a better range of skills. And most also go to TAFE – we have a relationship with Chisholm to make sure our members have the relevant machining skills, because they need to be not only good engineers and designers, but also able to manufacture.”

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“It has been amazing to see the progression both the team and the competition has made technically,” adds Monash’s Director of Student Teams, Scott Wordley.

“When I started 20 years ago the cars were relatively rudimentary. They were reasonably quick, but the level of design and build – the performance of the new generation of cars – is just phenomenal.

“Over the past 20 years we have gained 17 student teams here at Monash just like this one. We don’t just do race cars – we do rockets, we do aircraft, carbon capture and conversion, blacksmithing and forging. No matter what you “Re interested in, there’s a way to develop practical skills to pursue your passion.”

With around 1000 teams competing in student racing worldwide though, we asked Chhavi what sets Monash apart from the crowd.

“I think, within Australia, what makes us different is that we innovate on our cars. We are often the trendsetters for what’s happening in the community,” she says.

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“Take, for example, when we made the decision to go electric. The industry trend had begun moving that way – we could see that when competing in Germany, where an electric and driverless rule set was released quite early on – and that’s considered one of the best competitions. Motorsport Australia also released EV regulations a little bit later on.

“And I think, at the end of the day, because all our students want to go into industry, which is moving towards electric and driverless technology, we wanted to make sure that we’re also staying on top of that.

“On a bigger scale, focusing on autonomous vehicles sets us apart, but even on a smaller one, things like creating our own custom gearboxes, and M22 being our first all-wheel-drive is really setting the path towards the future of the competition. . We’ve always been innovating in terms of technology.”

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Monash Motorsport also touts an enviable alumni base as one of the reasons for its successes. Over the years, team alumni have gone on to work at places such as Red Bull, Aston Martin, BMW and in the F1.

“There’s a big emphasis on knowledge transfer – getting previous alumni in to do design reviews, asking them questions, getting their feedback and advice is really useful as well. A lot of international teams are quite envious of that,” Chhavi adds.

In an industry heavily dominated by men, the Monash team also stands out in one other very important way – 50 percent of its management are women.

In recent years, Chhavi tells us, the team has gone to great efforts to reach out to more women and girls, going to schools and expos to spread the word.

“We make sure they are aware of engineering, even if they don’t come directly to the team, more generally we want them to think of engineering as an option,” she says.

“Before COVID-19, we also hosted events in conjunction with Motorsport Australia – which we should be able to do again from next year. It’s a one day event which attracts around 200-300 students where girls can come and do a full day of activities, not just with our team, but also with other engineering student teams as well.

“That program is for years 7-12, but we’ve found the main issue with getting more women into engineering is that they’re not introduced to it early enough. Introducing them to it early, say year eight or year nine, is the best way to go so that they’ll go into it in the future.”

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