Racing fans who read NASA Tech Briefs already know about a unique contest being run by circuit protection manufacturer Littelfuse called Speed2Design that gives five lucky engineers the chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to one of four IndyCar races this year. Well, it turns out one of their partners on Tony Kanaan’s KV Racing Technology IndyCar, primary sponsor Mouser Electronics, is running a pretty interesting competition of their own.

Called the Mouser 500 Engineering Challenge, this intriguing competition gives engineers the opportunity to solve real-world racing technology problems. The first challenge, which ended on June 15, involved redesigning the team’s damper vacuum machine so that it can more efficiently drain damper oil from the car’s shock absorbers and refill them to the correct pressure under vacuum so that no air can get inside. Ensuring accurate performance of the shock absorbers (a.k.a. dampers) is critical for the car’s performance.

The current challenge, which runs through July 31, is to come up with a more accurate way of determining the level of fuel in the team’s refueling tank. Why is that important? Because an IndyCar typically averages about 1.92 miles per gallon, but that can vary slightly depending on race conditions. By knowing precisely how much fuel has been used after every pit stop, a team can more accurately predict its usage and plan its pit stops accordingly. That’s important because knowing you can go just one extra lap on a load of fuel instead of having to pit could be the difference between winning and losing a race.

According to Mouser, the system currently in use to determine fuel levels is a Gill level sensor that is mounted in the tank. The sensor, which runs off a bulky 12V DC power supply with 0-5V DC output and an RS422 serial feed, is only used during practice and test sessions, not under racing conditions. What the team would like is some type of system that “…includes a local and rugged digital readout for fuel volume to be used during actual IndyCar races that can also wirelessly transmit real-time fuel levels to a laptop in the pit. All electronics will be external to the tank in an environmentally sealed enclosure. General racing parameters include the practice of using sealed connectors, externally braided wire, and environmentally sealed boxes that conform to IP67/68.”

What’s great about this competition is that you don’t actually have to design, build and test a prototype of your solution in order to qualify for consideration. You simply have to write up a detailed description of your idea and submit it online by July 31 at the Mouser 500 Engineering Challenge website. The 10 ideas judged to be the best potential solutions to the problem will then be evaluated by the Mouser/KV Racing Technology team and the one they determine to be the best will win its entrant an Apple iPad 3. But that’s not all. The three challenge winners will then be entered for a chance to win the grand prize of an autographed Tony Kanaan racing helmet.

To get complete contest rules and learn how you can participate, visit the official Mouser 500 Engineering Challenge website, but better do it soon. The checkered flag falls on Challenge #2 on July 31.

The third and final challenge will begin August 1 and close on September 15.

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