A team is born at Jacob Hespeler

Jacob Hespler team

Getting started can be the hardest part of any DIY endeavour. In the previous blog post, I talked about getting students involved in the EV Challenge. Today, we’re talking about getting whole schools involved. I visited rookie team Electric Warrior at Jacob Hespeler Secondary School a short twelve days before the EV Challenge race day to see how there were progressing and high-five them for starting a team.

Darin White here doing a little guest blogging again on the Waterloo Electric Vehicle Challenge site. You will definitely want to join us for race day on May 28, 2016 starting at 10:30am. We’ll all be on UW’s east campus at Columbia and Phillip Streets in Waterloo. The map, schedule and info for visitors to this free event can be found right here.

If you want to get a team started at your school, this is a great opportunity to see the cars, meet the teams and get hooked on the enthusiasm of all these makers building electric vehicles. Above (L-R) are the Electric Warriors: Faraz, Nate, Stephanie, Chantel, Mr. Ottema, Michelle, Mr. Johnson and Saxon. Monty, William and Raj on the team were away this day, so with only nine students in total you make up in commitment what you don’t have in numbers. This team formed in November 2015 and believe me: building a car with little previous experience in only six months is a big accomplishment.

Click through for many more photos of Jacob Hespler students building cars and imagine yourself getting involved...

Team working on their vehicle

Mr. Johnson assured me that a lot of progress had been made in the preceding week. Stephanie broke out the laptop to work on some issues connecting to the motor controller.

Team working on their car

Working out the steering geometry can be tricky for a new team.

Steering apparatus of a team's electric car

Here the threaded rod on the bottom right ties the two wheels together and the control above it connects to the steering column. Mr. Ottema described how the rules specify a minimum turn radius to limit tipping of the 3-wheeled cars.

Student on a team

I asked who had worked on what and Nate, in Grade 10, was quick to tell me he had learned a lot about welding while working on the car. He said it was a lot different than practising welding on the bench.

Team working on their car

Chantel, in Grade 12, recapped some of the issues with the motor controller. Like all collaborative projects, each team will have strengths in different areas. When I asked this team what they would wish for besides more time, they said: help with the electronics! I was also told several times on my visit: “We don’t have a machine shop!” by the team, noting how helpful that would be in building car parts.

Member of Jacob Hespler team

Faraz, in Grade 11, and Stephanie had some of their work upstairs in the Comm Design classroom, so we headed up there.

Nose piece of Jacob Hespler's electric vehicle

Stephanie had done a lot of CAD design for the car. She worked with Chantel to make this cowling made of Coroplast, a corrugated plastic sheet.

Stephanie has been a regular in Mr. Blackshaw’s construction room next door for the past three years. Now in Grade 12, it was Mr. Blackshaw who told her about car club. “[Mr.] Johnson said he needed some designs done so I thought I could stay and do that. But then I ended up working on the car, doing the wiring.” I asked what she had learned through car club: “I learned how to weld. My dad does welding so it was cool to see what he would do.” Encouraging students to join next year, she said: “Try it. Even if you’re not in a hard-tech rotation you can still go and talk to those teachers because they’re all friendly. It doesn’t really matter what courses you’re taking, there’s something you can contribute.”

Showing off the nose piece of the vehicle

Knockout here for steering rods. The cowling is fastened to the frame with Velcro.

Working on CAD designs of the vehicle

Stephanie pulled up a drawing of the frame. She said sometimes the team designs first in CAD and then fabricates the parts and sometimes it goes the other way where she does drawings of built parts.

Working on recognizing team sponsors

Sponsorship is an important part of getting a team going. Parts cost money. Faraz pulled up an Illustrator file he had made to recognize one of their sponsors: Erb Transport.

Electric Warrior logo on a computer screen

Doing graphic design is actually how Faraz got involved with car club. Mr. Johnson was looking for someone to create a team logo and was told by a fellow staff member: “I think Faraz can help you with that.”

Student working at a computer

Also sponsoring the Electric Warriors is the Transportation Maintenance & Technology Association – Waterloo Region.

Vinyl cutter used to cut out sponsorship decals

Faraz pointed out that once he had a vector-based design of graphics, he could then cut out those designs on this vinyl cutter. The adhesive-backed vinyl can be applied to the cowling of the car.

There are opportunities to apply all sorts of skills in fielding an EV team. Of course it’s a great place to learn new skills, too.

Automotive technology sign

Back down in the auto shop…

Team working on their electric car

Things were on the move.

Michelle, a grade 9 student

Michelle, in Grade 9, told me they were going to get the car outside.

Team bringing the car outside

Having a large working space with a roll-up door is extremely helpful.

Fit-testing Mr. Ottema in the vehicle

The car needs to fit drivers of different heights. Mr. Ottema qualifies as the tallest on the team. Chantel said: “Building the frame, when we first did this, I honestly didn’t think we’d get this far. [Mr. Johnson] said ‘Come up with a design’ and we were like ‘what?’ So we started with wood. We had to measure each person and do an average.” She described working out the dimensions in wood before building the steel frame.

Out in the parking lot, the team successfully passed the brake test: with the brakes applied it should not be possible to push the car forward. The steering also checked out, as did the drive train. There were smiles all around as the car really came to life.

Switch on an electric car

Outside, I got a chance to look over various parts on the car. New teams need to improvise to get a car up and running. Here a home light switch is used temporarily

Motor provided to the team

To seed this team, UW’s Pete Teertstra who coordinates the event sent this beefy motor, a battery, wheels and a motor controller to Mr. Johnson. Some of the key components like this motor can be expensive and challenging to source locally.

Student shows the vehicle's steering system

Michelle showed off the steering wheel she had helped design. She described the trade-off between not hitting the driver’s knees, but still being wide enough to provide good leverage to steer well.Reinstalling the steering wheel once the driver is seated

Nate showed me how the removable steering wheel is reinstalled once the driver is seated.

Student sitting in their electric vehicle

That’s a good fit. All car controls are by hand. The foot rests were salvaged from an old ATV in the shop.

Student sitting in their electric vehicle

The rear frame of the car was kindly donated by teacher Jamie Cox from Bluevale Secondary School that fields a veteran team in the EV Challenge. Paul Johnson of Jacob Hespeler noted it was invaluable to get car parts and advice from Jamie’s team. He said connecting with a mentor school helps rookie teams get unstuck on show-stopper problems. It’s also a good source of encouragement.

Students looking at their car

Mr. Johnson, Michelle and Chantel puzzled over the error code flashing from the motor controller. Elements of the motor system include: the motor itself, 12V battery, safety switches, fuses, diodes, relay and a motor controller which regulates current to the motor to control speed (or torque) on the rear drive wheel.

Student sitting in the electric vehicle

The mechanical design of the car includes the steering which we touched on. It also includes the wheels, frame and chain drive between the motor and the rear wheel. In a rolling test in the parking lot the team noted some chattering of the chain. They speculated that the chain may need tightening, highlighting another common consideration in car design: adjustability. That’s an important concept for steering, brakes and drivetrain which all need tuning.

Chantel is pursuing a college education in robotics next year. Car club seemed like a great bridge: “I just wanted to learn how to build a car. The fact that it’s a competition makes it more interesting. [Car club] gets students to learn about this stuff. I had no clue about half this stuff, I still don’t know a lot of it, but I know more than I did at the beginning of making this car.” Excellent.

A student shows off the stering column

Back inside the shop, Nate showed me the fixture he welded to hold the steering column. The hardest part? “Getting this to stay straight so that it would be at the right angle.” I asked if he built a jig to hold the piece in place while he welded: “Basically I just told someone else ‘Go get a helmet and gloves and you’re going to hold this as straight as possible’.”

The electric vehicle

He also pointed out the side bars of the frame that he bent and welded on. Like a lot of making, it was a cut-and-fit job without a predetermined pattern.

Paul Johnson, Techn Design teacher

Mr. Paul Johnson, tech design teacher. He described the experience of starting up the project: “It’s been a team effort. Peter and Jamie have been helpful any time I needed something. They’ve been great.” Talking about race day, Paul said: “That’s the fun thing about it is it’s a good competition but you can learn a lot from the other teams.”

John Ottema, auto shop teacher

Mr. John Ottema, auto shop teacher. He credits the students for building the car: “You guys have done this all.” He’s already looking toward next year: “Every year we’ll do more and more. Next year you’ll show the students coming in how to do stuff. [Car club] fosters a whole new generation of what’s to come.” Hats off to the teachers who give their time to make this all possible. They bring all their skillsets and connections and experience to the project. New teams starting up really need these champions on staff at the school.

Student describes fabricating the steel roll bar

Michelle described fabricating this steel roll bar on the tube bender in the auto shop with Chantel. The frame is also made of tube and angle steel. A great thing about forming a new and small team is that you get to tackle a lot of different jobs because everything needs to be built. This is different than joining a team where there already is a functioning car and a lot of effort is spent improving that car.

Student working on the vehicle

Chantel noted that the team needed to practice getting in and out of the car in 20 seconds, which requires pulling this pin and removing and reinstalling the steering wheel.

Saxon, grade 9 student

I asked Saxon, in Grade 9, to name the most fun thing about car club: “So far… driving it.”

Student shows the vehicle's braking mechanism

He showed me the braking mechanism.

Hand lever that actuates the brakes

Squeezing this hand lever applies the disc brakes on the front wheels.

Cowling being placed on the car

Saxon, Michelle and Chantel put the cowling on the car.

Students with their car

Looking sharp. As race day approaches, it seems you want to maintain a balance between keeping the car in a working state and also improving various parts.

They talked about the challenge of spreading the word on car club within their school, despite the announcements of its kickoff late last year. The girls talked about the challenges of getting their friends involved some of whom weren’t keen on “hard-tech and getting their hands dirty”. Stephanie said “People can be too judgmental. It’s actually a lot of fun and I enjoy doing this and being with everyone and getting this car together. It’s been a life experience.”

I asked the team how they would engage other students in the club next year and they said they’d have the school mascot drive the car into the pep assembly. They’re not joking.

Congratulations to the Electric Warriors on getting your team and car up and running. I’m looking forward to seeing you and all the teams on May 28 at the Waterloo EV Challenge race.