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 Our school system is outdated and unrealistic with reforms and testing that doesn’t work.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 West Philly Hybrid X Team spent the day at Philadelphia’s Labor Day Parade. It was an absolutely perfect day. Sunny skies, no humidity, lots of people and both the cars looked and ran great.
On the last day of summer vacation, teachers and students made it to the Auto Academy to get the cars ready for the parade. Cars were buffed, windshields shined and we pulled onto Hanson Street when we realized we’d forgotten to add fuel to our electric hybrids. We have great range on both cars but just in case… We filled up the GT got with 100% PA bio-diesel and headed out smelling like French fries. Drove to the gas station on Gray Ferry Avenuem filled up the Focus and made it to the parade by 8:30 AM.
We were hosted by Electricians Union, IBEW Local 98. They got the morning off to an excellent start with coffee, donuts and Philadelphia soft pretzels. Our day got even brighter when we saw the EVX Team logo on the sleeve of every IBEW tee-shirt. SWEET!
Around the corner from our staging area, thousands of workers assembled with their unions. I saw my old friends from AFSCME D. C. 33. The Teachers Union invited us to march with them next year. The Teamsters and the big rigs led off the parade. As always, the parade was a colorful, upbeat happening.
The parade ended at Penns Landing, a great Philly public space on the banks of the Delaware River. We parked the cars next to the Moonbounce and set up our table and computers under the big tent. We ate, drank, gave out postcards and magnets and asked folks to go to our website and vote for us in the GE Ecomagination Challenge.
Tomorrow, vacation is over. Kids have to hit the books. We’ve got to get more votes for the Ecomagination Challenge. And, we’ve got to get ready for a trip to Washington, DC. We’ve been invited to the X PRIZE awards ceremony on September 16. It was good to get a little mileage on the cars before we head on down I-95. Happy Labor Day!
As you may have heard by now, the West Philly Hybrid X Team’s journey in the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE came to an end. Friday was a difficult day – the fuel economy numbers came in and we were 1.9 MPG shy of the requirement. We had encountered some serious charging problems and the evacuation of the charging tent due to a tornado didn’t help our situation so, like several teams, we filed an appeal. Friday was an emotional rollercoaster.
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.
Weekends in May and June are extremely eventful and always jammed packed.
Prom. Graduation and graduation parties. Working on hybrid cars in the shop.
(For the record: these are not listed in order of importance.)
Many of the seniors at the West Philadelphia Automotive Academy attended their senior prom on Friday night at the Hilton Hotel on City Line Ave. The young men were handsome, and the young ladies were lovely. The seniors of all the Academies (Business, Urban, and Automotive) celebrated a "Night in Hollywood." I would say the colors of the evening were red and purple. Jacques Wells, one of our mechanical members of the team, wore a bright red vest and white tux. The white tuxes are amazing. He looked so distinguished. Momo Shen was beautiful. She is on our public realtions team and wore a black sparkle A-line dress. She looked perfect. Her date, Maalik Wolfe, wore a black suit with a red shirt and black tie.
A couple of the seniors on the team didn't want to go to prom. Justin Carter said that since he was going to another prom with his girlfriend/shawty/beau that he felt like he didn't need to go to his. Sekou said that since it wasn't at a club that he didn't want to go. They both attended a fundraising event for the Schulykill Center that Friday night with Ann Cohen. (For the record: the event was not held at a club.)
Prom is very overwhelming. It could just be the worst and best thing about high school. It is an unrealistic night. I remember my junior and senior proms were just awful. I had to ask three boys to my junior prom before one said yes. That is so sad. I wouldn't even be able to tell you the last name of my senior prom date. But I always loved my dresses. The dresses were the best. Yet, they are so expensive. Now, there are all these amazing websites that allows you to donate your prom dresses or old bridesmaid dresses. The material is reused.
It was just so nice to see Momo and Jacques really happy. Ms. Hanlon, Ms. Ojeda, and I chaperoned for two hours and took tons of pictures. It was really nice to see them dressed up and happy. These next couple weeks for our seniors are going to be hard. We have seniors that are not on target to graduate. We have seniors that are giving the teachers are hard time with last minute assignments and exams. Some of them are terrified about what their summer and fall are going to look like. Others cannot wait to leave Philadelphia and start at Penn State campuses and other colleges and universities. Many of our seniors are going to summer sessions for CCP.
The next morning, Saturday, the shop was full of bodies. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done on both hybrid cars. Many of the guys were in the shop with Hauger and Co. Ann and Anita worked with students about fundraising ideas and sending out thank you notes to our sponsors and donors. I was in Baltimore, Maryland at a bridal shower for my cousin Katie. She is getting married in September. I know her china plate pattern.
Weekends in May and June are extremely busy. The weather turns warm and school is almost over. Ann, Simon, and I talk a lot about the students and how are we going to keep them focused through these next couple weeks. I think if we keep having more successful days like Saturday, we don't need to work much about student involvement. It will just happen. If our schedule during the week remains as busy, the students will have enough activities to go to keep them out of trouble. Outside School Time, Kaplan SAT, Tuesday meeting, and Saturday School happens every week.
And prom is over. The X Prize can regain its status in our lives.
Ride or Die
The ride began a week ago when we arrived at Michigan International Speedway for the first track event for the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition on Sunday April 25. The culmination of more than two years of work was finally going to be tested. We had no idea what we were in for.
Monday was something like a bad proctology exam. A retired head of engineering from Chrysler who developed the Dodge Viper began the interrogation. His third question was “what torque spec plan did you use for the vehicle?” I responded “the German one” to which he responded with a puzzled look, “what is that?” I replied “all the bolts are gutten-tight”. With no expression and a flat tone, he replied “funny”. At that point I knew it was going to be a long week. After finding several loose bolts, we had to produce a real torque-spec plan and then demonstrate that every bolt was tightened to that torque. And that was the easy part - it went downhill from there.
Tuesday began at 7AM in the garage and we left at 9:30 PM. We sat down for dinner around 10 PM – Ann looked like she might fall asleep while we waited for our food. Mark recalled the ridiculousness of the day while Keith and Jerry lamented that they had a few more hours of programming to do on the control system that night. I’m not sure if they slept at all. I noticed that my hands looked as if I had been playing with barbed-wire. What a day.
However, by early Wednesday morning I felt the joy of coming out the other side of an abusive relationship. Both cars completed the first stage and received their little green sticker which were required to move to the next stage – dynamic testing. You would have thought we won the lottery when the sticker hit the windshield. The cars we had dreamed of almost three years ago were given their first official approval. It’s hard to describe that feeling.
The dynamic testing was the second of three required events to “pass” this stage of the competition. It consisted of a 0 to 60 acceleration test, a 60 to 0 braking test, and a high speed lane change test that were all conducted by Consumer Reports. The GT, driven by Mark, sailed through all three events and by the end of the day qualified for the third and final requirement – the durability test. The GT was running so well, Mark signed up for the two optional events – emissions and efficiency. The Focus was another story. I ran the Focus in the 0 to 60 test on electric only. The Harley engine was not working properly. I topped out at 58 mph in my third run and then the electric drive system turned off. We searched for the cause for hours – could it be the motor, the controller, the battery pack? We spent all afternoon Wednesday working on the Harley engine and trying to resolve our electric propulsion problems. We charged the battery pack (which is another story in itself) and first thing Thursday took another shot with the Focus. The electric drive clicked off again. It looked like two years of work was about to come to an end. Ann wanted to vomit. I prayed and worked as hard as I could. It appeared that our ride was over. We took the Focus back to the garage and fought the Harley engine. Keith reprogrammed the control system just so we could use the Harley for the acceleration test. I prayed more. Ann said she was considering getting Bat-Mitzvahed. Just as we got the Harley started it began to rain. You can’t do a braking test in the rain – you can’t do a high speed lane change in the rain. All the teams who had run those tests (about half by this point) struggled to meet the requirements on dry pavement. I couldn’t believe it was raining – and the Harley was barely running.
And then something happened. The rollercoaster began to ascend from the depths. The rain stopped. The pavement dried up in minutes. And the Harley decided to behave – and Keith’s programming actually allowed me to drive on both electric and Harley. We hurried over to the track and took our first run. It was 4PM and Consumer Reports was scheduled to leave at 5PM. They dropped the green flag – I started off slowly (another long story) and then punched it. The Harley coupled to the transmission and launched me to 70 MPH in what felt like seconds. I flew past the braking skid pad at 67 mph and stopped in the required distance. We passed the braking test! I thought we had passed the acceleration test but found out that the slow start kept me from making the requirement. So we tried again – but then the Harley died. The clock was ticking. Once again, the coaster was on its way back down. I called my mother and told her to pray. We fought the Harley again and finally got it started. I knew this was the last run. As the green flag dropped, I eased off the line, and then floored it. As I pulled through third gear, the car continued to accelerate. I decided not to shift – the car was going to reach 60 or the engine was going to blow. One way or the other, this was it. I flew across the finish line with the engine blaring at over 6000 rpms. The Focus actually accelerated faster than the GT. We passed the acceleration test and hurried over to the lane change. It was tricky, but we did it. The rollercoaster was soaring high again.
The Focus was scheduled for the 40 mile durability run at the track’s old Formula 1 course for Friday at 2PM. It was the last event of the week. Five teams showed up to run it. Five other teams didn’t even make it to this point. We spent all morning getting the Harley working properly and charging the batteries. The Harley was finally working and the batteries were charged. The Focus was running at its best. We arrived at 2PM full of confidence.
After a short drivers’ meeting, we lined up. We went to start the Harley, but it just wouldn’t start. So I decided to watch the battery pack closely and run on electric only. After 10 miles I knew the car wouldn’t make it on electric only. I pulled into the pit and we fought the Harley. After a long battle, it relented and started. It wasn’t running well, but with its assistance, I was sure we could make the laps in the allotted time. Two laps in with the Harley, I smelled smoke. As I came through the hairpin turn, the car lost all power. I knew something bad had happened. Fortunately there was a flag station next to the corner. I pulled in and immediately one of the fire trucks pulled up next to me. I opened the hood and indeed, there was a fire. Two years of work and all the hype, literally going up in flames. I thought I was going to vomit. The fireman used his canister and put out the fire. I was sure the rollercoaster had hit its lowest point already – I was wrong. Twelve years of building cars and this was one of the best we’ve ever built. How could this happen?
The good news was that we discovered that our disaster wasn’t as bad as we thought and that it had been caused by a stupid mistake. Oil leaked and caught fire. The damage was minimal. We filed an appeal and the judges accepted it. Somehow, miraculously, we’ll be back in June – with both cars.
Simon has been praying. All the time. I was nearly sick. Only Keith uttered the words out loud although at some point today we all thought it. “At least we’ll still have one car in the X Prize.” When we came to Michigan for the Shakedown Stage of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, we thought that the Focus was in significantly better shape than the GT. We were wrong.
By Tuesday both the Focus and the GT passed the technical inspection and it was time to move to dynamic testing. Big Mark took the GT to the track and quickly passed the acceleration, braking and lane change tests. It looked easy.
Then we brought the Ford over. The object of the acceleration and braking test is to accelerate from 0 to 60 in under 15 seconds, then brake from 60 to 0 in less than 170 feet. Simon had the Focus in all electric mode. He got really close on his first two runs at 55 MPH and then 58 MPH. But he couldn’t hit 60 MPH. Something was seriously wrong. Simon’s mother started praying.
We didn’t panic. We took the Ford back to the shop, worked into the night and were prepared to try it again in the morning. It didn’t work. Was there a bad cell in the battery pack? Was there a software problem? Noon came and went with no answer. We charged the car and tried again without success. Our only alternative was to run the car on the Harley to get our acceleration. That’s right: run a 3500 lb car on a Harley-Davidson engine to pass our acceleration test.
Just one problem. The Harley wouldn’t start. After what seemed like hours of intensive programming Keith and Jerry got the Harley running, but every time Simon touched the throttle, the engine shut-off. Again and again. Then it started to rain. Big Mark came back from running the durability test on the GT and worked his magic on the throttle. We were ready to go back to the track and try again.
In the meantime, Consumer Reports, which was responsible for running the dynamic tests, had left the track. When we didn’t show up on the track in the afternoon, they packed their bags and were headed out. We were the only car left to go. Fortunately, they unpacked and came back for us. First go was not good. Second time we had 0 to 60 in 16.9 seconds. We hit the braking zone at 67 mph and stopped in less than 170 feet. Half our battle – braking was okay, but we had to try again for acceleration. Third time we did it in 16.2 seconds. Then the Harley stalled out. OMG.
I waited at the finish line for what seemed like a week as the rest of the Team worked on the Focus at the other end of the straightaway. The sun came out but there was no rainbow. Finally, Simon ran the Focus with the Harley rumbling, the electric motor humming, the magnetic clutch ringing and hit the acceleration mark. I was no longer sick.
Last hurdle for the day was the lane change. This accident avoidance maneuver has to be performed at 45 mph and simulates switching 2 lanes of traffic. There are cones set up to mark lanes. Hit a cone and you’ve failed. Come in at less than 45 mph and you’ve failed. Time and again Simon came through. Wasn’t fast enough. Hit a cone. Hit another cone. Wasn’t fast enough. Ten or eleven must have been the charm, because he nailed it. In true Hauger fashion we even had 40 minutes to spare.
What a day. We have one more day of testing tomorrow. When we nail those tests all we have to do is drive home and get two cars and about 15 kids ready to come back to the Michigan International Speedway in June for the next stage of this $10 million rollercoaster ride. OMG.
With the absence of Hauger, Mark, lil Mark, Keith, and Jerry P, the downstairs shops are a little lonely. There is this great space in the middle of Ron's shop. Sometimes you see Daniel Moore just walking around in circles where the GTM used to lay. It is a little sad.
Trust me though when I say that we have enough work to keep us from any nostalgia, that is an understatement. And when I say that we had enough drama in our lives over the past couple days to sell out Broadway, that is an understatement.
Yet, the cars are working. The West Philly Hybrid X Team is doing very well in Michigan. The GTM passed the speed test. Tomorrow, Simon and company will try the Ford Focus again. Ann is keeping everyone updated with emails and tweets in the middle of all her runs to the hardware store and auto shops. I would love to see Edison 2's four cars at the Speedway. They sound amazing. Four cars! What an incredible accomplishment.
The thing is, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize is accomplishing everything they set out to do. You have engineers, mechanics, thinkers, businessmen and women coming together to talk cars. This competition sparked this need for innovative hybrid technology and powerful business plans. Many people are taking notice. This competition has done so much for this team that it doesn't seem real at times. Three students will speak on Friday at MIT about the future of sustainability energy. Ten days ago, another four students were part of a panel at Saint Joseph's University discussing the educational benefits a CTE curriculum fosters at an urban school. Boeing Wind Tunnel opened its doors for us to test the areodynamics of our cars. We truly are fortunate to work with such wonderful and accomplished companies and universities as if it is the norm now.
I am very excited to take three students, Azeem, Daniel, and Sekou to Boston with Maurice Williams. I cannot imagine the electricity on that campus. As a former rower at Saint Joseph's, the women's team was always jealous of the men's team when they went to Boston to row on the Charles River. I have never seen the Charles River. I can imagine its a beautiful river.
Keep updated with the mechanics and engineers in Michigan through out twitter account. Make sure to follow the students in Boston as the present our essential question, "How do you educate urban youth for the green economy?"
Two answers: compete in nationally prestigious competitions and implement a strong CTE curriculum.
Ride or Die
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.