"Rules are for chumps." That’s what Ciera Williams said at Tuesday’s Spirit of Innovation Team meeting. Her observation came after Stefon Gonzalez asked Hauger if he ever follows the rules. Hauger told some stories but never actually answered the question. It all started in center city Philadelphia where we were engaged in a lively discussion about parking. Don’t laugh, we’re a car team. Cars and parking kind of go together.
In typical West Philly Hybrid X Team fashion we have much to accomplish this week. First, we have a huge technical report due for the Conrad Foundation Spirit of Innovation Awards. It’s due on Monday January 17. Apparently, the folks at the Foundation didn’t realize it was Martin Luther King Day when they set the deadline.
But, as we say in Philly, “It is what it is.” And it is Martin Luther King Day, which means the EVX Team will be completing a community service project instead of polishing its submission for the contest. It’s okay, though - we work best under pressure, facing deadlines. It gets our adrenalin pumping. That’s how it came to be that we had working meetings scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday to complete all our work.
Then we got a huge jolt of adrenalin that we didn’t need on Monday afternoon. The apartment complex next door to the Auto Academy – and we mean like 30 feet away – caught fire. The fire reached 5 alarms, the flames could be seen for miles, and 160 firefighters poured water on the apartment buildings all night and through Tuesday morning. The streets were clogged with fire equipment and covered in ice. Over a hundred people were left homeless. Most lost everything they owned and many lost pets. Thankfully, no human lives were lost and no serious injuries were suffered.
The Team, however, lost a place to meet when West Philadelphia High School was closed because of the disaster. Willig, Williams & Davidson, a center city law firm that represents the teachers’ union got us a conference room, lunch and snacks. I took the bus into town, Mr. Holt took regional rail, and the students took the trolley. Simon drove. Everyone but Simon arrived on time.
The problem with driving in town, aside from the traffic, is parking. If you want to park in a lot, it’ll set you back upwards of $20. If you can find a meter after driving around in circles, your time is limited by what is posted on the parking signs. Unless you are Simon, who over the course of many decades, has attempted to apply his outside-the-box thinking to parking regulations.
Simon’s incredible creativity and imagination has led the EVX Team to astounding success in the Science Fair, the Tour de Sol and the X PRIZE. He has beaten the odds in so many contests that most of us accept his assertions as to the viability of his next crazy project as gospel.
For example, let me be the first to tell you that over the next few months we will build the most efficient electric car on the market when we make the electric version of Edison2’s Very Light Car. Take that, Chevy Volt. Hang your head, Tesla. We don’t even need to talk about Nissan, Aptera, Li-Ion, Illuminati Motor Works or Zap. As Stefon pointed out you can accomplish almost anything if you are not encumbered by the rules of gravity. Life lived in the grey area is life lived to its fullest.
But sometimes, Simon’s mind comes into conflict with the misdirected, poorly intentioned, incompetent bureaucrats who write the rules. That was the case many years ago when Simon had a near-religious experience in Philadelphia Traffic Court. I’m not sure if it was a true epiphany, but Simon recounts it as a very important moment in his life. It was one of the stories he told us when he wouldn’t answer Stefon’s question about following the rules.
He concluded the story with great pride as he told the Team that he had not gotten a parking ticket in over 6 weeks. Are you kidding me? I haven’t gotten a parking ticket in about 6 years, but then again, I take the bus. I’m just not sure who the chump is.
As 2010 comes to an end, we take a look back at the remarkable journey the West Philly Hybrid X Team made in the Automotive X PRIZE. Through the leadership of Simon Hauger, the intense involvement of the staff of the Auto Academy, the technical expertise of our Drexel students and the amazing support of our friends, family and supporters, we had a year we’ll never forget. We hope you’ll share in our recollections and join us as we plunge into our 2011 adventures.
On Thursday September 16, 2010, I accompanied 4 members of the West Philly Hybrid X Team to the White House. We were in town from the Awards Ceremony of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE at the same time President Barack Obama was announcing the creation of a new initiative to increase resources for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. His initiative is called Change the Equation.Check out the video about our visit.
On September 15, members of the West Philly Hybrid X Team traveled to Washington, DC for a series of Progressive Automotive X PRIZE events, including the Awards Ceremony for the winners. The first event was held at McKinley Technical High School where team members Brandon Ford and Azeem Hill presented a PowerPoint about the Team's work.X PRIZE produced a great video about our trip.
For more about Azeem and Brandon's presentation, here's the text of their presentation.
This is the underdog story of the West Philly hybrid X Team. Or the EVX Team. The high school team has managed to beat out top colleges like MIT and multi-million dollar car companies in vehicle design competitions over the last decade. But there is a whole lot more to this team than our cars. The story of the EVX Team is probably one of the least conventional renditions of the American dream to date.
Our government is leaning toward green technology and clean energy. Energy reform has definitely been pushed to the forefront by activists and by crises like the one we are witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico. Climate change has become a key issue around the world.
Urban youth in Philly face a lot more problems than climate change. Our school system is outdated and unrealistic with reforms and testing that doesn’t work.
The team was started 13 years ago to engage students around math and science in a new ways. Since we are in an automotive school already, building a car was a good fit. We challenged ourselves to create fuel efficient clean cars that would prove how awesome Philly students from public schools are. No one knew what we were really getting ourselves into at the time.
The first thing we did was build an electric go cart that won the science fair. We won the science fair again a year later with our Hybrid Jeep. We started to dream harder and in 2002 we built an all electric Saturn that won the Tour De Sol, a national competition for fuel efficient vehicles. That was the first time we beat MIT. Our team got a lot of publicity and respect for winning, but that wasn’t enough for us so we did something crazy.
We built the K1-Attack Hybrid - the world’s first hybrid super car and it was built by high school students. The car got 60 mpg and we won the Tour De Sol in 2005 and 2006. We were breaking the stereotype for the technical aptitude of West Philly High students. We proved to the world that we were edgy and we not only think outside of the box. We live there.
Meanwhile something amazing was happening. Dr. Peter H. Diamandis founded the X Prize foundation whose mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. The X PRIZE announced to the world a $10 million dollar competition for cars that can get over 100 MPGe and be safe, fun, affordable, and most importantly marketable. 111 teams entered the $10 million competition.
Multi-million dollar car companies built cars like these for the X-Prize. There were cars from Japan, India, Australia. Our team and our school were on a world stage.
Popular Mechanics magazine did an assessment on all of the teams in 2009. They compared the cars and the business plans of all of the teams and ranked our team in the top 10 most likely to win. Even though we didn’t win our plan is still sound. Here’s why.
Our mainstream car is the EVX Focus plug-in Hybrid. It will get over 130 MPGe in the city and over 80 on the highway using gas and electricity. We decided to use a Ford Focus because of the safety features and because it is made in America.
Our team members wanted to build a bigger, badder and cleaner super car that the current generation of EVX Team members can have ownership of. The EVX GT can get over 100 MPGe in the city and over 70 MPGe on the highway.
From the original 111 teams in the Automotive X PRIZE, 22 including West Philly, made it through the April Shakedown to the Knockout Stage. Unfortunately, we did not make it through Knockouts. Only 12 Teams moved on to the Finals. At the end of the Finals, only 7 vehicles remained with only one team in the Mainstream Division.
Many people cried over the disappointment, but we then started to ask ourselves...."What's next?"
Luckily we happen to have the tools to keep the West Philly Hybrid X Team going thanks to the X PRIZE. Over the summer students worked on improving the fuel efficiency of our cars. Students even created a school ideology model that correlates with the team’s principles. We are still working on making our plans come true.
Our business plan can still create jobs for displaced and jobless people who worked in the American auto industry before it collapsed. It will also create internships for high school students. We want to create a school to industry pipeline. But it starts with our target markets.
The Focus is a car for city families. We know in city driving the car get will get over 100 MPGe and in combined driving cycles will get over 80 MPGe. The GT is going to be sold to the more affluent urban driver who is into driving fly cars. Both of the cars will be manufactured at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in an environmentally friendly facility.
As you all may have noticed the EVX Team is not the average after school program. There is a constant flow of information and creativity between the youth of the team and the adults. Because the kids on the team have great ideas, and the adults are great instructors and support us when we try to make our ideas a reality we have accomplished amazing things.
Students on our team spend their free time building cars because we really want to learn and create. West Philly Hybrid X team members take speech lessons, go through workshops, do research, and some of us are very active in the politics of education. We come from all different backgrounds and interests and that’s what makes us special!
Our team has won many competitions on a small budget but the X PRIZE was more serious and challenging than anything we had done before. Our team members participate in our fundraising and we realize that people have to invest in our team because of what we mean for the future of education, green jobs and the future of the American auto industry.
Even though we did not win the X Prize we want to put the power of Philly youth into overdrive. We want the Philly Navy Yard to serve as the home of our green manufacturing facility and a school. The school will be a place where students will learn how to run a green business in one room and actually see one in the next.
Our school will be an economic, environmental, and educational superpower in Philly. This will truly be a school/business of the future, and an institutional role model for America. For the world.
This has definitely been a long journey for our team. Hopefully our story will empower you students to implement your innovative ideas and create real world solutions that show youth power. Thank you for having us.
The Michigan International Speedway is filled with all good things this week. Good cars. Good technicians. Good people doing really amazing things in the Progressive Automotive X Prize. There are a whole bunch of good folks here at the Speedway chasing dreams and chasing $10 million in prize money.