They say "seeing is believing", so I thought if I shared some photos of high school students building electric cars then more students would get involved, rightly believing that they can do it, too.
Darin White here doing a little guest blogging on the Waterloo Electric Vehicle Challenge site. I'm helping Waterloo Engineering's Peter Teertstra get some more eyes on this great program. There is a ton of info on the main site, but the one thing I want you to know is that May 28, 2016 is race day. Come out to this free-no-pay event on UW's east campus at Columbia and Phillip Streets in Waterloo. Everyone is welcome. Here are details for getting there.
While races happen a few days annually, the actual building of cars progresses intensely in high schools across Waterloo Region throughout the school year. I know this from the conversations around my own dinner table because my daughter Arden is in her second year of car club at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School. As a maker and a parent, I see the many positive outcomes from this program. WEVC provides opportunities for design, hands-on fabrication and teamwork. It offers motivation for diving into the math and physics behind the design as well as good reasons for learning to use tools and study material science. It is applied engineering and it all starts in Grade 9.
Pictured above are SJAM Grade 9 students Livia and Helen who are test-fitting the rollbar on car #703. You can click on any of these images to enlarge them.
I dropped in for SJAM car club after classes last week. Tech teacher and car club mentor Mr. Bluemke reminded everyone about team shirts, an upcoming race in Michigan and then introduced me and my camera.
I found Saad organizing some CAD drawings. He's laughing here because I'm getting him to rearrange the whole desk to make a better photo.
Maaz filled me in on the scope of their design work: "So basically our job is now to draw the whole car in SolidEdge." I asked how they got the hard job: "We worked in the shop and then we worked here. We did a good job making a wheel and impressed [Mr. Bluemke]. We are now more experienced with this [design] stuff than the rest of the people, so that's why we get this job." Maaz is in Grade 12 and has been with the car club for two semesters. He said it's a really good feeling when you make a part that you designed and then see it on the car. I asked him if he does any hands-on stuff outside of school: "I love to work on my parents' car, so I do that all the time. I do things like the brakes on my own."
Adrian was pulling up photos of the car cockpit on his phone.
Saad asked: "Do you want to see the wheel we designed?" Yes, please!
Grade 9 student Alessia was compiling a list of WEVC students from different schools, demonstrating that a lot goes into car club. At SJAM, where it's officially called the Avro Arrow Club, there are around 40 students involved, ranging from Grade 9 to Grade 12. "I just joined a few months ago. I attended an engineering course in the fall and was invited to join [the club] at the end of it." I asked Alessia what she hoped to learn in car club. "I always liked hands-on work. I've always wanted to go into a STEM program in my future. When I took the engineering course it was just so incredible, so working on a real car would be awesome. This is following my dream and making a race car."
In the shop, here's my neighbour Leon sanding a rollbar segment. Now in the bottom half of Grade 10, this is his second year in car club.
Further on in the machine shop I found lots of students hard at work.
Melissa was turning some round stock on the lathe. Some car club work is learning about tools and materials. The classic machine shop project that I myself did in high school years ago remains the same today: build a hammer. It requires a wide variety of machining operations: facing, turning, boring, measuring, knurling and threading. It uses round and square stock. You learn how to cut a taper and most importantly how to hold the machined part in place. All these skills come in handy when students need to fabricate car parts.
Ayesha and Arden were reviewing the drawings for the hammer design.
Thumbs up! I asked Ayesha what interested her about car club: "I really enjoy making parts. I enjoy tech in general and I wanted hands-on experience, so I thought this was the best way to do it." Ayesha is also a hands-on maker outside of school: "I'm a crafty person. I like making crafts and painting and art in general. This feels like an extension of art, just in a more mathematical and engineering-based way." I asked her about the progression in car club as students move up through the grades. She described Grade 9 work being an easy entry point because you didn't need to already have a lot of skills. Then in Grade 10 you start making parts for the car. Later in Grade 11 you can work on things like telemetry for the car. She said that what you work on is largely driven by what interests you.
More design review with Arden and Melissa.
Tech teacher and machinist Mr. Henderson checked in with Grade 11 student Ayesha. This is Ayesha's third year in car club. I asked how she got into it: "It's actually a prestigious club. Mr. Bluemke selects a few students and puts them into car club. I didn't want to take the chance so I went up to him and asked him if I could be in car club. He said 'ok' so that's how I got in."
Advait doing some precise measuring with the micrometer.
Then I ran into the most enthusiastic gang of Grade 9 students hand-sanding rollbar segments to aerodynamic perfection: Livia, Helen and Luke. Livia told me: "I joined car club because it seemed like a really fun opportunity to learn about engineering." Helen added: "We were both originally in tech class and [car club] seemed like a fun extension of tech class." They both agreed that it was fun to join with a friend, but assured me that you would make friends if you came on your own.
Misha in sanding stance. "I joined car club because I found tech [class] fun as a course." He told me you need to do well in that course and be invited into car club by a teacher or you could ask to join.
I asked everyone to hold up their work and Misha said: "Let's make a square!"
Helen called car club "a very prestigious club" and Livia and Luke agreed with all sincerity.
Luke: "I joined car club because I really like doing things hands-on and I love engineering and how things work and building things. This was the perfect opportunity for me to do all that." I wondered if Luke had done anything like this in elementary school that led to car club: "In science class in Grade 8 we took a class where we worked in the woodshop out back and that was a lot of fun and that's what really got me into it."
Almost time to test fit these pieces on the car.
On our way to the bay where the cars live, I saw Lyndon on the vertical mill.
On to the cars! I got a demo of the acceleration of the unloaded back wheel. Quick as you would expect from an electric motor.
Mr. Bluemke noted that the performance tuning of this blue and white motor controller can be done by linking up to a laptop. He also talked about the calculations and experimentation that went into the aluminum heat sink below the controller.
Livia and Helen about to test fit the rollbar. These are 3-wheeled cars with the drive wheel at the back and steering at the front.
Grade 12 student Gunes was fitting a cotter pin to the axle for safety. These car bodies are made of wood which is shaped and bent and filled for good aerodynamics. The design incorporates beefier sections of wood for strength where components bolt on. Other areas are thinner to save weight.
Inside the car shell, this rollbar bracket connects with a heavy piece of threaded rod to provide the rigid strength needed.
There's some useful math that goes into figuring out steering geometry. Did you know that each wheel turns a different amount when you turn the steering wheel? That's because the front wheels trace circles of different radii in a turn. It's the same principle on larger cars and this is the sort of thing you learn in car club.
This is the steering rig. The bicycle-brake-style lever on the right controls the front brake calipers.
There's the brake disk and caliper on the right. The front wheel assemblies are mounted to this beefy but flexible wing of aluminum which provides a simple suspension making the car ride more comfortably.
Over the years, the car undergoes constant improvement. New part designs are tested and the good ones are incorporated into the car.
Safety is top of mind with these cars that can travel a speeds upward of 55kph. The red straps are a 5-point harness, which is like an extra-safe version of the seat belts in your car at home. The heavy yellow batteries are mounted low and behind the driver's seat.
Gunes likes to work mostly on the electronics of the car. Here he's holding a battery charger.
Group shot. This is about one quarter of the overall club. (L-R) Luke, Misha, Helen, Arden, Livia, Ayesha, Melissa, Adnan, Lyndon, Gunes, Gong.
Arden, my daughter, showed me the various brackets and structural members that students make for the car as they advance in the club. "What's amazing about this opportunity is you don't have to be super experienced to be able to participate in car club. My teacher Mr. Bluemke finds ways so that people of all skills and prior knowledge can contribute to the project. These are the parts that I made when I was in Grade 9. I was experienced with the machines in the shop, but making simple parts like these helped me understand how to use the machines in a variety of ways."
Back in the machine shop, Advait and Mr. Henderson were working on the lathe.
Cleaning up the shop, Arden explained: "The point of car club is to show you that engineering isn't just end-facing an aluminum rod. It's not just using AutoCAD to design the ideal car. It's using all of these skills and teamwork to create something practical."
"You need to roll the chuck to switch gears."
Arden and Ayesha wash up.
Back upstairs in the classroom...
I peeked in the parts cupboard...
and Mr. Bluemke described how the cars are a mix of purchased and fabricated parts. This store-bought aluminum rim for instance would likely require a custom hub assembly.
Many of the Grade 12 students on the team were away at extracurriculars for this Thursday photo shoot so I agreed to return on Monday morning...
where I again found Gunes hard at work. The crew was changing motor sprockets to accommodate the track at their upcoming Michigan race.
I asked this crew if any of them had participated in FIRST Lego League in elementary school. Nods all around, with numbers of how many Mindstorms kits they had at home.
Sam pointing to the tool he needs to mount the new chain.
Gong and Ethan mount the rollbar on car 702.
Group shot (L-R): Gong, Sam, Ethan, Gunes, Andreas.
I asked what advice they would offer future students. Gong typed his answer: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
When I asked what it takes to be in car club, he typed: "We have to be very dedicated."
Ethan offered: "The infrastructure has to be there in the schools. If you don't have a tech program that is fuelling kids' desires to do work with their hands, then you're not going to have a program that can sustain itself."
On what he got from the program, Sam offered: "A lot of hands-on practical experience. Opportunities to make calculations, practical engineering choices, decisions. Seeing the project through from start to finish. When we came, most of our Grade 9 year was spent shining and sanding, puttying, filling, basically making it the smooth body it is now. Slowly we started making more complicated parts as we were trusted more. 'Making and re-making' is our motto." Ethan joked: "Why make it once when you can make it three times?"
I wondered if this experience influenced what the students wanted to do after high school. Sam: "Definitely. As kids, we all dream of owning go-karts, of building them. Actually doing it is really cool. The fact that you get to drive it and know exactly how each part was built and how to fix each and every one of them: it's something else."
On advice to future car-clubbers, Ethan said: "To students I would say it's not as hard as it looks. You learn as you go. Everything comes into place. If there's a program that offers car club, they should definitely try."
These Grade 12 students observed that race-ready cars can take a couple of years to build. This takes a large commitment from students and staff, but it also requires student involvement across the grades to keep it all going. Getting Grade 9 students involved is a critical investment in the future of the program.
So this is where you come in. If you're a student join your car club. If you're a teacher who wants to start a club, there's info on the main page to connect you with Peter Teertstra to kick that off. And if you're just curious what this is all about, come on out to UW's east campus on May 28, 2016 and see the students, cars, staff, parents and volunteers who put it all together.