West Philly Hybrid X Team member, Brandon Ford, will be sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box tomorrow night for the State of the Union Address. He was invited by President Obama’s Science Advisor. He also gets to visit the White House, meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and meet the man who invited him, John Holdren. I know all this because I gave the White House Brandon Ford’s phone number.
“Amazing,” is what Ms. R. said and that just about captures it.
"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 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!
Whenever you are asked to present your ideas in front of an audience, it is a pretty great thing.
Last Thursday, the students of the West Philly Hybrid X Team Summer Program 2010 presented their work and findings on two very distinct but valuable projects: enhancing the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus and designing an “ideal” school.
Their presentations were wonderful.
Over the course of six weeks, students and adult team members worked towards common goals set by the group. Starting the summer program, nine students signed up and arrived the Tuesday after July 4. For reasons that even my mother and Ann cannot understand, we finished the program with six students enrolled. On the first day, one student, Alex, stayed for about two hours and never returned from break. Peter was absent for two days in a row and never called any of the adult team members. Danny was late three days. He was asked to leave.
Boundaries and habits of mind were established by the students and group members right away and were translated into a student contract. It was impressive to listen to the student debate surrounding bonuses and lateness policies. Each student would receive a $100 bonus for an exceptional presentation and $100 bonus for never being late.
Shamere, Alexis, Brandon, and Azeem were never late. All students who presented received their bonus.
By week two, the students and adult members began the projects’ development. All the students took multi-intelligence and personality tests that analyzed their strengths and weaknesses in the prior week. They wrote many personal reflections on where they see themselves and the team progressing.
Four major ideas were pinpointed after much debate about inventing new green technology, including a solar powered ankle bracelet. Troy Scott, this one is for you.
The students wanted to increase the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus, build an electric scooter, design their ideal school, and a solar charging station. It was really sad to watch Ann’s hopes and dreams fall by the wayside as the students picked the fuel efficiency and school challenge. All Ann wanted was an electric scooter and a charging station. Teenagers never listen.
Justin Carter, Alexis Bland, Brandon Ford, and Shamere Palmer wanted to work on the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus. They worked extensively with Jerry D, Dr. Keith, Jerry “Disciplinarian” Perese, and Captain Ron. It was beautiful to see them organize an assembly line for repairing and replacing the Harley. Watching them learn programming with our Drexel engineers was a poetic sight.
The majority of their presentation revolved around their learning curve working with the two cars. Brandon had a difficult task of measuring a new pulley cullet, a piece that attaches the Harley to the electric motor. Brandon used a micrometer to measure the diameter of the piece and sketched it for the machine shop at Drexel University. He operated the lathe under the guidance of Drexel’s Master Machinist and Dr. Keith and the piece fit. It worked.
What was most interesting about all of this and something that I never thought before was that Brandon didn’t receive a B+ on this assignment or even an infamous check plus. “There is no grading scale for any of this,” Hauger said after the presentation. “It either works or doesn’t. It is either 100% or a zero. Brandon couldn’t wing it and expect the Harley to work. Now the hybrid drivetrain in the Focus is working and we can continue working on the fuel efficiency.” How wonderful is this form of assessment?! It is what project based learning strives for in authentic assessment.
Like Brandon, Justin and Alexis learned a lot about what needs to be accomplished in a group project dynamic. Justin could not get the turbo out of the GT. Over the course of two hours, he removed parts and yet his hands could not fit through the tiny spaces. Alexis was able to do it. “I have to admit that there was one point that I just wanted to rip it out,” said Alexis during her presentation. “My hands are smaller and yet I still had trouble.” Justin, 6’2”, gave up the glory to a female, 5’5”.
While Alexis and Justin were in the shop, Shamere and Brandon worked on the group’s power point and researched in depth the two drive cycles, X PRIZE and EPA. It was decided amongst the group to showcase the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus using the EPA drive cycle, because it is well known and trusted amongst car buyers. I still have a little bitterness towards the drive cycle of the X PRIZE, no lie.
The six weeks quickly expired and the group wasn’t able to accomplish getting the hybrid on the road and testing the fuel economy with the new drive cycle. Parts had to be ordered, the Harley replaced, and the students had to balance researching, learning how to program with LabView, site visits, and listening to guest speakers.
Yet all four survived. Their numbers and attendance are laudable. Even Justin Carter, who was hit by a car, only missed one day of work.
The other group really suffered so much in attendance and personnel. Peter Mong and Danny Smith both fled the group mid-way through the six week project. Danny kept showing up late, and Peter was absent for two days without calling. It was an Agatha Christi novel at best. And then there were two, Azeem and Samantha.
Azeem and Sam had a two part project: write the program plan model for their ideal school and model what an ideal project based learning challenge would look like for students attending their school. They wanted to build a green roof and test the insulation and growth rate of plants.
A key insight Azeem noted in their presentation was “being able to keep the ideals of the EVX team and find a way to transform that into a regular school day.” Both Azeem and Sam mentioned the success of the team and how they want their regular school day to follow, but they said it is extremely difficult to determine what kind of school they wanted (public, charter, magnet) so that the school is successful. They wanted to design a curriculum that enables all students to participate and flourish in a project based setting even if the students don’t like mechanics or environmental training. Sam and Azeem wanted to build a green roof because that is where their interest lies.
“We hope to develop a school and projects that would get every student involved and solve real world problems,” said Sam.
Both students talked about the team’s new entry in the Ecomagination competition sponsored by GE. This “ideal” school is an entry for this competition that looks at three different ways people create, use, and connect to energy. How can our school be as close to self-sustaining as possible? How can our building become LEED certified? How can our curriculum address humanistic concerns and possibly solve them? How can the community surrounding the school build and grow in a green economy?
Sam and Azeem have the most work left to accomplish once the school year starts. Sam graduated from the Auto Academy two years ago and is currently taking classes at CCP. Azeem is going into his senior year. One of the challenges they recognized is bringing more students on the team and working with the adult members to outline their wants and goals for their “ideal” school.
The style of the presentation was very different to the other group. Sam and Azeem read a speech while Ann controlled the power point slides. The fuel efficiency group took turns presenting the slides and used index cards full of notes. Both presentations were very well presented and proved to an audience of teacher and outside community members that there is a lot left to do with this program and this group of students.
“When we came back from the X PRIZE, the adults had the same questions as the students, ‘What’s next?,’” said Azeem. “The adults turned to us and asked us what we wanted to do and where we saw this program going. Simon mentioned the Ecomagination project, but we really talked about it together and decided on the next steps together.”
Whenever you are asked to present your ideas in front of an audience, it is a pretty great thing.
I was born a Phillies fan in 1952. I lived through the heartbreaking pennant race of 1964, but I knew we could wait until next year. Sixteen years later, in 1980, the Phillies finally won the World Series. It was their first World Series victory in the 97 years since the team’s founding. Folks in Chicago have been waiting for 102 next years for the Cubs to win the Series.
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.