- the PACE Console Design Competition (for the center console of GM vehicles)
- 2007 Formula SAE Competition (designing and making a Formula One race car)
- DARPA Urban Challenge (computer-controlled cars driving in an urban environment)
- Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC; computer-controlled ground vehicles with military objectives)
- U.S Department of Energy Solar Decathlon (solar home competition)
I have to say that if you're doing a senior project, graduate thesis, or similar major academic effort with the potential for hands-on "real-work" application of theories learned in other classes, getting involved with a prize competition seems like a great way to give motivation and focus for your work.