Islander Engineering Students Build Basic Utility Vehicle for Developing World Transportation

Published: May 09, 2017

Islander Engineering Students Build Basic Utility Vehicle for Developing World Transportation

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Beyond comfort and efficiency, transportation has the power to transform lives. In parts of the world where resources and roads are scare, people walk miles to reach life sustaining essentials such water and medical clinics. Currently, close to 200 Basic Utility Vehicles (BUV) designed in the US serve 28 countries across Africa and Latin America, not only providing transportation, but also assisting with basic needs such as pumping water and generating electricity.

Aware of the change that can be made through the use of these vehicles, Dr. Petru-Aurelian Simionescu, Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and his team of hardworking student have dedicated their time and energy to create their very own BUV. They’ve been working on this project for the last nine months.

“A basic utility vehicle is a simplified version of a commercial vehicle, like a John Deere gator,” said Sterling Smith, senior mechanical engineering major at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “The purpose of most BUV’s is to be simple in design. It needs to be easily repairable for someone who may not be extremely mechanically inclined.”

Receiving support from local businesses such as Turbonetics Engineering and Services Inc., Eagle Machine LLC, Corpus Christi Gaskets, and Protective Powder Coatings LLC, Islander students worked tirelessly to prepare for the 2017 BUV Design Competition hosted by the Institute for Affordable Transportation (IAT). Held in Batavia, Ohio, the competition focused on harnessing the creative energy of college students from across the country to develop and perfect the best BUV design possible. This year’s competition theme centered around agriculture, irrigation and durability as teams competed on a muddy obstacle course. Students were challenged to use their vehicles to pump water from a nearby pond and then transport the water on a 2.2 mile course for seven consecutive hours.  

“The best thing that could happen is that we make it the full seven hours with the BUV and don’t have any breakdowns or issues,” said Cory Funk, senior mechanical engineering major at A&M-Corpus Christi. “The hands-on learning behind this project has taught me that, when you actually produce something, you realize the level of detail and hard work that must go into it.”

BUV’s constructed by the IAT are created with durability and safety as the top priority. With a life expectancy of more than 20 years, BUV’s are equipped with sturdy automotive parts and features such as a 10-horse power engine, two-wheel drive differential, automotive hydraulic brakes and a controlled speed of up to 20 miles per hour.

The BUV created by Islander students houses unique features such as the ability to reconfigure the vehicle as a short, medium or long wheel base vehicle. Another feature is the BUV can be driven with the steerable wheels in front or in the rear of the vehicle.

As this year’s competition focused heavily around agriculture, students specially designed the Islander model to include the optional removal of the auxiliary transmission wheels and steering to transform the BUV into a walk-behind tractor for tilling and mowing. Although Islander students did not take home any awards at the competition, they received high praise on the workmanship of their vehicle.

“For next year’s competition, we want to use a more powerful engine, increase ground clearance, add a cargo bed, and improve the walk-behind arrangement,” said Simionescu. “Such features may be attractive to farmers in developing nations as well as from the USA, where small organic farming and hobbyist gardening are on the rise.”

Dr. Simionescu is working with a colleague at Baylor University to organize a version of the BUV competition in Texas next year, and welcomes any sponsorship in this endeavor. 

For more information on BUV’s and the design competition visit,