Baja Steering Wheel

A steering wheel for a vehicle in the Baja SAE offroad racing competition.

Aluminum + Polyurethane Resin
This is a project I undertook while on the ergonomics subteam of Cornell’s Baja Racing team.

Competition Background

Baja SAE is a competition in which design and engineering students build an off-road vehicle to race and complete other challenges in rough terrain.

Being on the ergonomics subteam, I was to design a steering wheel to would stand up to the difficulties of the competition while still maintaining maximal comfort for the driver.

Design Constraints

While there are no rules specifically pertaining to the steering wheel in the Baja SAE rulebook, it needed to:

  1. Allow the driver to turn the car.
  2. Not impede egress from the car in an emergency
  3. Improve on the previous design by eliminating 3D printing and welding procedures.
  4. Feel comfortable to hold, especially during 4-hour endurance driving events.

Early Stages: Discomfort Survey

I started by surveying 8 team members to see where the wheel caused discomfort. Most often, people felt pain in their palms and thumbs after driving.

Early Stages: Drive Footage

Next, I watched footage to learn how the steering wheel is used in real driving situations. Our driver often made turns by grabbing the top of the wheel, and placed his thumb into an indentation.

Early Stages: Co-Creation

After watching the videos, I used co-creation to see where users wanted padding. Common desires among participants included grips for small hands and support along the bottom of the wheel, as can be seen below.

Co-creation Findings

After doing co-creation with 6 participants, certain patterns emerged with the placement of clay “padding” during the cocreation, which informed later stages of the design. These were the areas where the participants wanted additional support.

Final Versions

Ultimately, I chose a waterjet aluminum wheel and overmolded grips for weight savings and ease of manufacture.
Polyurethane grips (designed based on the previous research) are easy to cast and do not separate like 3d printed parts.
Voids in the metal save weight and faciliatate overmolding.
This was the final version of the wheel. Its major features are highlighted.