Monday, September 6, 2010

Kids Building Cars

The Result
Texas Proving Ground
Testing at Bridgestone's Texas Proving Ground was a revelation. The car circulated the 7.7-mile oval track with Mario Ramirez and Natalie Fenaroli behind the wheel and recorded a miles-per-gallon equivalency of nearly 300 MPGe.

The Background:
DeLaSalle Education Center is a high school in Kansas City that provides a safe but challenging learning environment for high school students that need an alternative to the traditional system. The Automotive Design Studio was a class designed to foster creative thinking in a real world setting, showing students possibilities often not imagined. The goal was to motivate students to learn and to succeed in reaching these new opportunities and visions.

The class project for 2010 was an evolution of two previous years of a class called Creative Studio and Entrepreneurial Studies. In those classes, the students learned to do research in design, draw two dimensionally, draw in perspective and finally to execute scaled models of their designs. The students then came together to do a common design of a model that was at full scale or half scale. Their work was exhibited each year in the Kansas City Art Institute “Art of the Car” Concours. It was also published in Road and Track Magazine and the Kansas City Star Newspaper.

The 2010 Automotive Design Studio project was a step up with the students designing and fabricating a working electric vehicle. The vehicle was based on a 2000 Lola Indy car chassis that had an ultra strong carbon fiber tub with a working suspension, brakes and steering. The challenge was to install an electric propulsion system and to design and fabricate of a lightweight full-coverage body. The finished car is a single seater designed to operate at commuter speeds.

Another goal was to demonstrate how simplicity and lightweight construction can impact performance and energy efficiency. The vehicle weighs less than 1,200 pounds, which is half the weight of 98% of most electric vehicles on the road today.

A unique education approach paired each student with a mentor that has unique experience related to the automotive industry. They included an electrical engineer, a composites engineer, a racing car fabricator, a restoration specialist, an inventor, two mentors with experience in electric cars and two automotive journalists. These mentors will create windows that the students can enter to learn and make decisions so that they are truly involved in the entire process and every decision. The culmination of the project was testing at Bridgestone's Texas Proving Ground.