I’ve been trying to tell you about our trip to the Shakedown Stage of the Progressive Automotive X Prize since last week. I tried to write before we left town on Sunday, but we were overwhelmed with getting ready and packing. I was sure I would have time to write while we were at the Michigan International Speedway, but every time I sat down at the computer, I’d get sent on a parts run. The guys at Speedway Auto in Brooklyn, MI started asking for my time card.
It’s now 8 PM on Wednesday April 28. The Team has already logged 41 hours at the track. I hopped a ride to the hotel while the rest of crew stayed at the track working. If you are asking why, that’s a very good question. I’ll start my answer by telling you what the PAXP has all the teams doing this week.
First, a little background. A year ago there were 111 teams chasing the $10 million purse in a competition to build cars that achieve over 100 MPGe. Today, there are only 28 left. Half those teams are at the Speedway this week and other half check in on Sunday. We each undergo 5 days of intensive inspection and testing.
On Monday and Tuesday each of our cars was evaluated by the PAXP technical teams. We’re talking fine toothed comb here. Not like flea combs, we mean lice combs. That’s right, they went through each car and we spent several days picking nits and lice. The mechanical inspectors checked the torque of every bolt, the manner in which fuel lines were run, how we secured our on-board fire extinguishers vehicle clearances, etc., etc., etc.
Then, because our cars are hybrids we underwent electrical inspection. Those inspectors were just as thorough as the mechanical guys, looking at issues including how we labeled our high voltage lines, were there padded grommets at each place a line passed through metal, how our emergency disconnects worked and more and more.
After each car was inspected, we had a list of issues to address. That’s how I came to learn all about the hardware stores, auto parts stores, coffee shops and fire extinguisher suppliers in this part of Michigan. I think I made over 20 runs. The good news is, at 11:15 this morning, both cars passed inspection. We were among the first group of teams to pass this hurdle. We got to eat lunch and breathe for about 20 minutes. Then we hit the track for the first day of dynamic testing. Each car had to pass an acceleration, braking and lane change test. The good news is that the GT passed all of today’s tests and will move on to durability and range testing tomorrow. The Focus encountered some software issues and will have to run through the dynamic testing tomorrow. That’s why the rest of the team is still at the track.
There are many amazing teams and vehicles here with us. Take a look at all the different ways competitors are getting to 100 MPGe. One of the most impressive teams is Edison 2, which brought 4 cars to the competition. Their Team Director is Oliver Kuttner. Here’s what he said: “The hurdles are set high and only the very careful and very well executed solution will stand the test of this X Prize. There is a reason why the big automobile manufacturers have not done it. It is really hard to do…”
We agree. But hard work has never stopped us before and it won’t stop us now, either.
Ride or Die.
We did it. It’s ridiculous, but we did it. It had to be done. We had to complete both cars and drive each of them 100 miles by March 30, or we would be eliminated from the X PRIZE. We also had to submit our third technical report, photos and video.
On April 2, we learned that our technical report was accepted and that we now move on to the Shakedown Stage of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. That means we’re on our way to the Michigan International Speedway on April 24 for a week of on-track technical and safety testing.
Getting to Michigan has been completely and totally ridiculous. It’s so ridiculous I don’t know where to start, but I guess the beginning of the year is as good as any. To start off the New Year, we switched the batteries in our cars. I don’t mean we took out a car battery from Sears and put in one from Pep Boys. I mean we replaced our we-love-this-lithium-iron-phosphate-battery-pack with a pack that has an entirely different chemistry from an entirely different manufacturer. This also meant we needed new battery boxes.
This too, was ridiculous. We had to replace the perfectly lovely milk crates we’d been using as battery boxes with aluminum boxes fabricated by the manufacturer. (BTW, between the milk crates and the new boxes, we built about 4 different iterations of battery boxes, although we always seemed to revert to the milk crates.) Then we had to take the boxes out to have brackets welded to them. Then we drove the boxes back to the International Battery in Allentown. We did all this running around so we would have our batteries and battery management system installed in the cars by March 1 so we would have plenty of time to complete all our technical testing. That was delusional.
You know what else was ridiculous? The weather. Philadelphia had 78.7 inches of snow this winter. We had more snow than Boston, Chicago and Anchorage. Every time we needed to be in school working on the cars, school was closed. Some snow days were really bad. On some of those days Simon, who is the most ridiculous of all, drove through the city, picked up kids and went to school. There were also the two ridiculous snow days when we waited – at home – for the storm that never came. We lost so much time from school that the Philadelphia School District cancelled the first two days of spring break. Are you kidding me? That’s what the kids were saying. The teachers were grumbling. Simon committed to a family vacation for the entirety of spring break or face divorce. I declared that I didn’t give a damn what Arlene Ackerman said, I was taking my spring break. I must now publically apologize to Dr. Ackerman and thank her for giving us the extra time to finish the cars.
School was supposed to be over for all of us on Friday March 26. Our cars would be built, we’d have already driven them and Simon would write the technical report on the weekend. We’d get our report in way before the deadline. What an insane notion. On Tuesday, our batteries were still in Allentown.
The batteries and a large flock of engineers installed the batteries and the battery management on Wednesday. That gave us a beautiful warm day to drive the cars on Thursday. We got the Focus to the lot first. It drove like a charm. Then the GT arrived and it looked great. It drove great – for about a lap. Then it started making horrific noises. We tried to diagnose the problem at the lot. We had come without a proper set of tools, so we used a lug wrench, a fence post and rebar as a hammer. They really didn’t work all that well, so we hauled the car back to school where we found that we had, apparently, ruined our fancy-ass Audi transmission.
After 2 ½ years of work, the idea of transmission problems knocking us out of the X PRIZE was staring us in the face. What an ignoble way to exit. Fortunately, we found another transmission in Texas and had it shipped overnight. It arrived on Saturday morning March 27, a day school would have been shut up tighter than a drum had it not been for the weather in February. We split our team of students and teachers with a small group of us going to the lot with the Focus to continue counting laps and recording video and the rest installing the new transmission in the GT. I even got to drive the Focus.
The new transmission was installed, the GT went on the lift and was started. NO! The same noise. The crew disassembled the transmission and put it together again. On this assembly, which was not by the book, Justin Clarke dropped a piece of equipment on the housing, denting it. Now we’re not sure if this bizarre accident was the reason, but the transmission stopped making the horror movie noises. We got it to the lot and spun off our laps.
This will be the last fact I relate about our adventure. It was about 30 degrees colder on Saturday than Thursday, and because we were so short of time, we compiled our laps on the GT without the body in place, which meant we did not have lights. Drivers, in long underwear, hats, hoodies and gloves rotated through driving assignments until we ran out of daylight. We got the final 35 miles on Sunday. We are even happier to report that Simon made it to his spring vacation and remains happily married.
We hope you will continue to follow our great and ridiculous adventure.
How can you possibly put together the new suspension system for the Ford Focus if you are not listening to Michael Jackson? It may just be impossible.
Last week in class, the juniors watched "This Is It." It is about the practice and rehearsal of Michael Jackson's concert tour. It is a great documentary that showed the artist in many tones and moods throughout his concert rehearsal. It highlighted the exact three moods and literary genres that are so influential in today's writing. We finished our unit on the difference between Romanticism, Dark Romanticism, and Gothic. The students watched three different musical performances, "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," and "Thriller." Each one represented the different literary genres. It applies. I promise.
Now while the students are working in the shop and building a new suspension system for the Focus, all you can hear over the ruckus is Diamond and Justin singing Billie Jean. Amazing.
They are doing a great job. These young gentlemen have such a great dynamic working with each other and Hauger. Hauger's son, Micah, is also here today. I think he thinks he is 16-years-old and has no problem singing along to Michael Jackson with his safety goggles falling off his ears.
The snowstorm really came at a bad time for the West Philly Hybrid X Team. It is hard to imagine how much work is left to do with the cars. Each car needs to record 500 miles before the team heads to Michigan Speedway in a month. It can be done. It just can't snow again. Ever.
It does feel good to be working at school. Towards the end of the week, I was feeling a little claustrophobic. An unexpected week off was very nice, but now there is something ticking inside all of us that makes us restless at home. We need to be back to our regular schedule. My arms are still very sore from shoveling my car out of the snow for two hours, but I am glad to be back in the shop on Saturday.
Later today a bunch of the students are going to the Temple vs. Rhode Island game. John Doughtery gave us a lot tickets to this game, in addition to the $20,000 check he brought on Tuesday. I think he could've just showed up with the check and called it a day. I hope they have a great time. Daniel is only going, because there will be girls there. My response is "no romance in high school."
Ride or Die.
Yesterday, I was at West Philly Auto by seven o'clock, in the morning! On Thursday, Ms. Ann called me and wanted me to call Simon about getting into the shop to work. Simon came and picked me up at my house. We worked on the GTM brakes and on the engine on the Ford. On the brakes, we had to calibrate new brakes to see if it would weigh less. It didn't work because the brakes weighed basically the same. We tightened the pulleys on the engine, because that is what runs the belt around. The belts were not rotating properly during our test runs. We were able to do all of this before noon. For lunch, we went to Fiesta Pizza Shop. It is on 43th and Baltimore. It was delicious. I had pepperoni and cheese pizza. Hauger paid. Then he dropped us back home.
Today, we have to open up the suspension components in the Ford. It makes the car handle better. We put more weight on the car. The batteries in the back will weigh 300 lbs. The suspension has 300 lbs to maneuver. In order for the Ford to have suspension and a proper frame, we are adding a sway bar in the back.
We still have so much to do.
Get Rich or Die trying.
When I first started my secondary education courses, nothing that was found in a textbook compared to the student-teaching observations. You would read about the pros and cons of whole language, the various scenarios of ideal classroom management, and how to find all my boyfriends, Piaget, Maslow, Bloom, and Erikson, in the students' learning patterns. But it wasn't until my first rounds of student-teaching observations and later in my first year teaching when I realized that I could know my textbooks cover and cover, and I still not know what to do with a pissed off teenager. Maybe Maslow and Bloom would do a better job than I would the first time around, but no one can say for real.
Looking into Preiss' shop from his classroom, reminds me so much of how important it is to be in the moment of learning. At 5:15 p.m. on a Monday, there are seven students working in the shop with Preiss, Dilossi, Simon, and Mark. Mark is a self-employed specialist of the GTM. He started working with the team a week ago. He fits right in. He works well with the students in explaining the steps for the kit car. Every now and then you hear, "shut up, shut up" from the students, which is a good thing.
These students are in the ideal situation. They are learning something in theory and actually seeing how it works in practice. Sometimes, I would find myself cringe reading the best practices of the classroom. It just wouldn't work in reality. Middle school and high school are the most difficult part of one's upbringing. There is absolutely no textbook that contains all the right material. You can't find the answers unless you are actually in the moment.
Within minutes, the students working in the shop confront problems and delays in putting together the GTM. Poor Justin Clarke, he hurt his finger. Justin Carter had to measure and remeasure the headlight and nose of the car. Daniel is remodeling the harness for the Ford.
"I have completely assembled both headlights and started working on mounting them on the nose. I had to think of different ways of tearing the fiberglass on the frame of the car to fit the molds of the headlights. I broke it. I broke one screw on the corner when I was drilling. Luckily, three screws would be enough to hold the frame in place. So I lucked up on that end." -from Justin Carter
Despite the setbacks, they are accomplishing a lot. It is amazing to see what they did to the GTM just within the last week. You know it is a good day when the shop smells like a campfire from the welding. More parts are needed to order. More wrenchs are needed for harnassing. More hours are needed to prove theories wrong.
Ride or Die
As of January 4, the team and I are working in the shop to finish the EVX GT kit car for the Philadelphia Car Show. We are pushing it to the deadline.
My job, as the leader of the mechanical team, is to begin building and putting together the doors for our car. When I am done, I will attach them to the frame, but as of now, I still have to install all of the components into the interior of the door and panel. Sometimes, the shop smells like it is on fire from all the welding. Sometimes, I actually think it is.
For the rest of my teammates, their job is to place and center the electric motor in the right position of the GT frame. I hope they do not drop it. As soon as that is done, the diesel engine has to put together with the transmission and mounted in the car. That is the most time consuming task, because if anything is out of line or inverted, it will not work.
The most consistent problem is the debate on the color of the car. We didn’t have that much difficult picking out the size of the radiator exhaust fan or engine coolant, but this is way more serious. Many of my peers want the school colors (I could care less about that) and others would like a sleek black car. I am still undecided.
It may sound like a whole lot, but February is so close. We have to have both cars running and ready for action by February 1st. All of this is a lot, but are essential to getting to “VICTORY!” We are on our way, and we can do so well. I did not leave the shop on Tuesday and Thursday until 7 p.m. We still have a lot to accomplish, but we have motivation from our teachers and instructors. We will have no problem finishing the car.
Ride or Die
Today is Saturday, January 2, 2010. Happy New Year! We hope you have a safe and wonderful New Year! Simon, Daniel, Sekou, Justin Carter, and myself are at West. Goals for today are to test the Ford Focus engine and catch up on paperwork. The men arrived around 9, and I slowly trickled in around 11.
Sekou and Daniel were building a post for the engine for the Focus. Justin and Haug were making a motor mount for the GT. "Ms. R, we are trying to get this engine cranked up," said Daniel about Ford Focus engine. Sekou hopes that it doesn't blow up. If it does blow up, we may not have school on Monday.
Right now, the men are enjoying cheeseburgers and cheese whiz on their fries. Amazing. Teenage boys and their metabolism. And Hauger is eating the same.
Seriously, what an amazing combination. Cheese Whiz, salt, pepper, and ketchup on fries. But nothing on the cheeseburger. This lunch is sponsored by Penn Pizza on 48th and Spruce. It is high quality and high in cholesterol.
These boys are just vacuum cleaners. It is so funny to see them watch and just devour their food. Their conversation must be the most disgusting conversation in the history of the world. Sekou talks about all the horrible things his dog ate over the years. Of course, everyone joins in with other stories. I am very passive in this conversation. I only had cats.
According to rule, you shouldn't feed teenagers until the very last possible minute or very little work will get done. With only two more hours left in the shop, lunch was critical.
I hope you one day experience cheese whiz, salt, pepper, and ketchup on fries sitting in a shop on a Saturday with friends.
Ride or Die
Tuesday November 10 was a regular West Philly Hybrid X Team meeting date. It was typical in many ways. I walked in the building at the end of the school day to hear the list of students who had detention being read over the loud speaker. Attendance at the meeting would be down or at best delayed.
A number of other Team members cruised through the shop on their way to credit recovery in the main building. Credit recovery does not refer to the financial crisis. It refers to going to class after school when you failed a class (or more) in the prior semester. More kids would be very late to the meeting.
Grades go in at the end of this week, so a few more kids remained upstairs working with their Spanish teacher to do the best that they can on their report cards. After all, we check report cards every quarter and poor performance effects who gets to travel with the Team. Check off a few more absentees.
We also had kids missing for illness, suspension and sibling duties. Somehow or the other we mustered a core group for the meeting. It was a good thing, because Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky was visiting to research a column she wrote about us that appears in today’s paper. Here’s the link: City high-school kids best MIT in $10M car contest.
Kids spoke to Ronnie about why they joined the Team and what they like about working on the cars. We got our picture taken. We finished writing a bunch of thank you notes and signing letters to supporters. Students who will be speaking at the National Superintendents Roundtable this weekend worked on their speeches.
We had nutritionally poor drinks and snacks.
Ron Preiss and Simon had a bunch of kids in the shop working of the hybrid drive for the Focus. This, too, is typical. The drive comes in and out of the car, gets taken apart and put back together, refined and refreshed all the time.
The missing team members returned from their various assignments and it was almost time to go. We have much to do in our not so typical after school quest to win $10 million dollars. We’ll keep you posted.