Racing Towards An Electric Car Future
By Bill Moore
Tied to the rear wheel of an SUV is a two-by-four supporting a long whip aerial. A cable leads down from the antenna and into the vehicle where it is plugged into the back of a desktop computer. A similar aerial sticks out the top of an enclosed trailer parked nearby. A laptop computer is receiving data from one of the small electric cars racing around the improvised track outside the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
Both computers not only receive telemetry from the hand-made cars, but can send signals controlling the output of the motor, allowing the support team to optimize the performance of each car independent of the driver, sometimes over their protest.
This is just one example of the kinds of innovation that has progressively emerged since Omaha Public Power District began the Power Drive competition over the last eight years. When the program began with twelve high schools in the eastern part of the state, the average speed of the student-built cars was just over 17 mph. Today, according to OPPD’s Steve Anderson, that has increased to 34 mph.
What is amazing here is that this increase in performance came not from bigger motors and more batteries, but from improvements in the efficiency of the cars. The amount of energy in each car has remained the same, 64 pounds of lead-acid batteries.
This year, the program saw 104 cars in development, 47 of which ended up competing in the finals in Omaha. The following photos illustrate the incredible variety and ingenuity of these student cars, often built with scrap parts and recycled components from previous teams.
Young woman helps resolve electrical problem with her team’s car.
A little worse for the wear at the end of the racing season, this car’s nose shows the results of a previous collision.
This car has to be the sharpest of this year’s competition. It belongs to the high school team from Lincoln, Nebraska.
A new wrinkle this year is this motorcycle tire that gives more traction to the rear drive vehicle.
It’s a bit rough-looking, but this car illustrates a simple, effective approach to streamlining, which becomes increasingly important at speeds above 30 mph.
Telemetry from Cedar Rapid cars is used to monitor and control the performance of these Iowa-based EVs.
Now here’s a sight to please any electric car enthusiast.
Yet more cars. Many schools will field two or more teams.
This Beatrice, Nebraska car flipped during the final heat, breaking its suspension, but the driver walked away without a scratch due to stringent design rules that require roll bars, harnesses, and helmets.
Optima batteries are becoming the favorite for many teams.
A hot drink and a warm blanket provide these two young ladies with a bit of comfort while waiting for the competition to begin.
Besides having a top notch team each year, North Platte, Nebraska also boosts of being the home of that famous frontier showman, "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
Example of basic car drive system: batteries, electric motor and controller -- the white box above the motor.
One student hand-built this ultra-sleek car after visiting with Electrathon champion, Michael Lewis.
Checkered flag signals end of hour-long endurance competition to see which cars can go the furthest. The top cars will typically complete more than 50 laps or approximately 35 miles in an hour, including a mandatory driver change. Batteries cannot be exchanged or recharged during the race.
To learn more about the OPPD/NPPD Power Drive program visit: ww1.oppd.com/edu/powerdrive.
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