Racing the Future, Today: An Interview with MotoManipal

MotoManipal is a team of passionate, selfless and dedicated students at MIT who have devoted themselves towards making an efficient and environment-friendly Electric Superbike. The objective of the team is to build a fully functional electric racing bike to participate in an event called “MotoStudent” at AragonSpain in 2022. In addition to participating in competitions, they also put emphasis on research in cutting-edge technology for motorbikes ranging from self-balancing to variable suspension. 

MTTN: How did the journey of this club start, were you a part of its inception?

MotoManipal: The team was actually made official in March 2018. But the idea of making the team as such came around December 2017 by our seven super-seniors. It was Bhavish Mahadev who actually came up with the idea and founded it. He came into Manipal and as a first-year and he looked around all the student projects and he wanted to do something new and innovative and something that would benefit the world. At that point in time, no one was specialising in electrical vehicles as such. And we all know that this concept is picking up at a rapid pace in the world right now. So he got this idea of doing something different, something that was not available or being worked on in Manipal. That’s how the two-wheeler electric vehicle came into the picture. Bhavish thought of this idea and him along with few other students proposed this idea to the college and in March 2018 MotoManipal became official.


MTTN: What sets MotoManipal apart from other student projects at Manipal?

MotoManipal: As I said before, we’re the only purely electric vehicle-based student project. Along with making electric vehicles, we also work on manufacturing our own battery management system and battery pack, which is actually the most important part of any electric vehicle right now. We’re also one of the only few student projects that have an actual subsystem solely for research and development.


MTTN: What are some of the greatest achievements of the student project?

MotoManipal: One of the most important things was manufacturing and running an entire vehicle in a really short period of time. It took roughly 18 months from research to the end of the manufacturing a fully running and a working prototype of our electric bike. That was definitely one of the biggest achievements for the entire team. So all the efforts that were taken by our seniors, we actually saw our final product as we’d like it to be by July 2019. Over and above that, in September 2019 we debuted in our first competition which was the Asian E-Bike challenge held in Vishakapatnam. We managed to bag four first places. We got the first place for the Best Commercial Bike, which is what our bike is and winning this was a pretty big thing for us. We also won first places for Best Design and Aesthetics, The Best Innovation Award, which was important for both MotoManipal as well as MAHE, The Best Innovative in Clean Aspects. Apart from that, we came second in our engineerong design and third in our business plan. Before COVID, we were actually planning to go to a competition. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it got postponed. In July 2020, FMAE which was the organiser or the competition we were going for, came up with an online E-Bike competition. So we had to design an electric bike online, without making an actual prototype. But there was a lot of research and analysis that had to be done in a month. We stood first in that competition from 16 colleges. That was extremely big for us because we did beat what we believed was arguably the best E-Bike student project in India.


MTTN: Has MotoManipal evolved over the years and if so, then how?

MotoManipal: I believe that we have evolved a lot in two directions since our inception. One would be how we get people into our team. Initially, we started with seven people who were our super seniors, 12 next year and 18 the year after. So over the years, our capabilities in adding people and in running a team have improved and it also helps without efficiency. If you would notice, the initial stages would’ve been the most time consuming as there was a lot of focus on research for a year and we didn’t get started on the manufacturing process for the first bike. When we started thinking about our second bike, it took us less than three to four months to get all the research work done and start sourcing out materials properly. We actually realised how efficient we really are during the time of the online competition when we had to make an entire prototype from scratch without sourcing the materials in less than a month. From that perspective, we have definitely improved and one more thing that I would say, from a capacity point of view we initially had four subsystems which are mechanical, aerodynamics, management and E-Powertrain; but now since we have the capacity we can further divide our subsystems to make our team more efficient. Some people would focus more on certain tasks. So I would say that the fact that we have more people now does increase our efficiency and that’s something that has improved and is hopefully something that will improve more as we move along.

A prototype of their commercial bike “MM-01”


MTTN: How does a regular workday look like in MotoManipal?

MotoManipal: Basically, it’s different on working days and weekends. On your typical weekday, people have classes till 5:30, so we report to the workshop at around 6:15 and at a stretch we work till 8:30 or 9. We return after having dinner by 10 approximately and then we work till 1 or 2. Obviously, we have our little breaks in between and we all bond together as a team. On weekends, that is Sunday, we report to the workshop at 10 in the morning and we work till lunch. We take an extended lunch break and report back to the workshop after one and a half hours. We go back again for snacks and well basically we just take breaks in between meals along with our small breaks. Also, it’s not just working with your own subsystem. Let’s say you’re working on a battery case, there’s a lot of input you need to receive from the Mechanical and the Aerodynamics department and the management for the cost. The workshops have everyone working in the same place and communication is very easy. That’s what we miss most about the workshop in this pandemic.


MTTN: What, according to you, is the vision of the collection of individuals at this club?

MotoManipal: I’d say that the ultimate goal is participating in the prestigious FMAE Moto Student Competition which is held in Spain. First, we had to participate in FMAE Moto student India but due to the pandemic, I’m not sure about that. What we want to do is build the whole thing in such a way that the juniors can continue with the work and we can finally take part in the competition in Spain so that they can be over there at some point in time.


MTTN: How is the work environment for any fresher joining MotoManipal?

MotoManipal: In the workshop, it’s a bonding experience because you’re working with everyone you’re getting inputs from every subsystem and you’re also learning something new every day. That kind of exposure for a fresher can be really helpful and there also some perks that come with it. For an internship or a placement, you get to mention that you worked in a team and it’s more of a practical experience. We also get help from our faculty advisors. We have two or three faculty advisors who help us. Usually, you are building a project by yourself but over there it’s just a lot of people working together so there are some disagreements but in the end, it teaches you to deal with that and helps you work on what you’re passionate about.


MTTN: Due to the pandemic, a lot of competitions and events did not happen as planned, what kept MotoManipal busy this year?

MotoManipal: It deflated the spirit of the team if I am being honest. From the moment lockdown started, we had absolutely no idea. Initially, we thought that it would end in a week but then it extended to a month and there was no news from the college as well. As a result, we didn’t really think of a long term plan that we could start working on because we didn’t have a particular timeline that we could follow. The only thing that we could do and that we have been doing ever since we got back from Manipal is that we took the opportunity to optimise and work on the design of the bike which we are going to make for next year’s Moto Student India. It took us three to four months before we could start sourcing out materials but before that, the sourcing couldn’t happen at all. We went back to the drawing board and started to think about new ideas that we can implement because we have that sort of time. If something couldn’t be done then we don’t do that on the bike. A lot of work has been done since we came back home and now slowly things have started to open up so we can actually start implementing the ideas that we are working on to make our bike more efficient and practical for the real world. We paused that for a month as we were participating in the online competition which worked out perfectly for us as we won it all.

Render of the bike for which MotoManipal won the FMAE Online E-Bike Design Challenge during COVID


MTTN: What are your plans for the coming year and near future?

MotoManipal: For the long term we would love to take our team to Spain, but before that, we have to dominate the Indian circuit and the only way we can do that is by taking part and doing really well in Moto student India which is going to be held next year. For the future of our team, the ultimatum for us as a team is to collaborate with each other and come up with efficient and optimal solutions for making and manufacturing battery packs and battery management systems. The ultimate goal is to shape a better, brighter and a greener future for the world.


MTTN: With recruitment season coming soon, hopefully, what are the qualities you look for in picking your team?

MotoManipal: No matter how good you are with the knowledge you have about any subsystem that you want to join our student project, it doesn’t matter how good you are. The thing that matters is how willing you are to learn something as there is a lot to learn and we as the board members are still learning a lot, from the day we entered MotoManipal till now. I’m pretty sure we won’t stop learning even after we leave. However, being willing to learn and having a good relationship with the team are the two most important things that you need if you want to join us. You also have to be honest with yourself about everything because if you’re honest with yourself about your mistakes it becomes easier to work out the errors you have made and to start working on the solutions. A team has many people and different types of people are present there. Disagreements tend to occur sometimes and as an individual, you have to learn that give and take. It is very important to understand this situation and to come up with something that is good for the team. That is one personality trait which we as management people specifically look for in an interview for everyone, not just the management people.


MTTN: Lastly, any message for our freshers?

MotoManipal: From a Fresher’s point of view, when I joined the team I realized that everyone in the team is just a little family that sees each other every day. It’s very comforting for someone who’s new as we do have the vibe of people who make it easier for everyone to communicate with us. You will always see everybody smiling. We’ll be working really hard but the way we can do that is by being efficient and by not leaving things for the last minute. It’s very rare that you might see us under a lot of pressure because we do have a balance that we follow and we know that when you get your work done you’ll be respected. It’s very important for a fresher to understand that even though it’s a high-pressure environment it is equally as comforting for someone new who’s joining. As Giri said, I got an internship after my first year. It’s not something that you see every day and that’s something that was possible because of MotoManipal. We try to get internship opportunities for every member of the team. It does help a lot with placements because this is the place where you get that practical experience and it cannot be replicated. It’s no secret that the future of mobility is electric and since we are the only student project which is working on something which is completely electric. We are practically in front of the market when it comes to recruiting people from our team.

Interviewed by Aakanksha Mantri and Aniket Awasthi for MTTN

Featured Images by MotoManipal

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