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.
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.
We did it. It’s ridiculous, but we did it. It had to be done. We had to complete both cars and drive each of them 100 miles by March 30, or we would be eliminated from the X PRIZE. We also had to submit our third technical report, photos and video.
On April 2, we learned that our technical report was accepted and that we now move on to the Shakedown Stage of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. That means we’re on our way to the Michigan International Speedway on April 24 for a week of on-track technical and safety testing.
Getting to Michigan has been completely and totally ridiculous. It’s so ridiculous I don’t know where to start, but I guess the beginning of the year is as good as any. To start off the New Year, we switched the batteries in our cars. I don’t mean we took out a car battery from Sears and put in one from Pep Boys. I mean we replaced our we-love-this-lithium-iron-phosphate-battery-pack with a pack that has an entirely different chemistry from an entirely different manufacturer. This also meant we needed new battery boxes.
This too, was ridiculous. We had to replace the perfectly lovely milk crates we’d been using as battery boxes with aluminum boxes fabricated by the manufacturer. (BTW, between the milk crates and the new boxes, we built about 4 different iterations of battery boxes, although we always seemed to revert to the milk crates.) Then we had to take the boxes out to have brackets welded to them. Then we drove the boxes back to the International Battery in Allentown. We did all this running around so we would have our batteries and battery management system installed in the cars by March 1 so we would have plenty of time to complete all our technical testing. That was delusional.
You know what else was ridiculous? The weather. Philadelphia had 78.7 inches of snow this winter. We had more snow than Boston, Chicago and Anchorage. Every time we needed to be in school working on the cars, school was closed. Some snow days were really bad. On some of those days Simon, who is the most ridiculous of all, drove through the city, picked up kids and went to school. There were also the two ridiculous snow days when we waited – at home – for the storm that never came. We lost so much time from school that the Philadelphia School District cancelled the first two days of spring break. Are you kidding me? That’s what the kids were saying. The teachers were grumbling. Simon committed to a family vacation for the entirety of spring break or face divorce. I declared that I didn’t give a damn what Arlene Ackerman said, I was taking my spring break. I must now publically apologize to Dr. Ackerman and thank her for giving us the extra time to finish the cars.
School was supposed to be over for all of us on Friday March 26. Our cars would be built, we’d have already driven them and Simon would write the technical report on the weekend. We’d get our report in way before the deadline. What an insane notion. On Tuesday, our batteries were still in Allentown.
The batteries and a large flock of engineers installed the batteries and the battery management on Wednesday. That gave us a beautiful warm day to drive the cars on Thursday. We got the Focus to the lot first. It drove like a charm. Then the GT arrived and it looked great. It drove great – for about a lap. Then it started making horrific noises. We tried to diagnose the problem at the lot. We had come without a proper set of tools, so we used a lug wrench, a fence post and rebar as a hammer. They really didn’t work all that well, so we hauled the car back to school where we found that we had, apparently, ruined our fancy-ass Audi transmission.
After 2 ½ years of work, the idea of transmission problems knocking us out of the X PRIZE was staring us in the face. What an ignoble way to exit. Fortunately, we found another transmission in Texas and had it shipped overnight. It arrived on Saturday morning March 27, a day school would have been shut up tighter than a drum had it not been for the weather in February. We split our team of students and teachers with a small group of us going to the lot with the Focus to continue counting laps and recording video and the rest installing the new transmission in the GT. I even got to drive the Focus.
The new transmission was installed, the GT went on the lift and was started. NO! The same noise. The crew disassembled the transmission and put it together again. On this assembly, which was not by the book, Justin Clarke dropped a piece of equipment on the housing, denting it. Now we’re not sure if this bizarre accident was the reason, but the transmission stopped making the horror movie noises. We got it to the lot and spun off our laps.
This will be the last fact I relate about our adventure. It was about 30 degrees colder on Saturday than Thursday, and because we were so short of time, we compiled our laps on the GT without the body in place, which meant we did not have lights. Drivers, in long underwear, hats, hoodies and gloves rotated through driving assignments until we ran out of daylight. We got the final 35 miles on Sunday. We are even happier to report that Simon made it to his spring vacation and remains happily married.
We hope you will continue to follow our great and ridiculous adventure.
I wasn’t there at the very beginning. At the start of it all it was Simon Hauger, math and physics teacher at the West Philadelphia High Auto Academy, and a group of students who entered the science fair. It was 1998. The kids in Simon's after school program built an electric go-kart. They won the science fair. It was a remarkable achievement. There had never been a science fair winner from West Philadelphia High School, let alone form the Auto Academy.
The after school program grew from building science fair projects to competing in the Tour de Sol, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious alternative fuel vehicle race. The students built an electric car and became the Electric Vehicle, or EV Team. Besides building electric vehicles, they built hybrid and biodiesel vehicles, but the name stuck.
When we entered the X PRIZE, there were many suggestions about what our team name should be including X-Treme Team, X-Dream Team, and many other hokey suggestions. We kept our original team name and added the X: EVX Team. However, we thought the name wasn’t quite descriptive enough, so we gave ourselves an official name, too. We would be the West Philly Hybrid X Team. EVX would be the name of our cars. A little confusing having two names for one team, but it looks good on our logo.
Now, it looks like an extremely good idea since there is another EVX Team in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. You can check out their website and follow them in the competition, too. We hope that you take a look at all our competitors and see all the different ways teams are getting to 100 MPGe. Follow their progress and the new technologies. At the end of the summer we hope that they will all follow us across the finish line. We’ll keep you posted.
As of January 4, the team and I are working in the shop to finish the EVX GT kit car for the Philadelphia Car Show. We are pushing it to the deadline.
My job, as the leader of the mechanical team, is to begin building and putting together the doors for our car. When I am done, I will attach them to the frame, but as of now, I still have to install all of the components into the interior of the door and panel. Sometimes, the shop smells like it is on fire from all the welding. Sometimes, I actually think it is.
For the rest of my teammates, their job is to place and center the electric motor in the right position of the GT frame. I hope they do not drop it. As soon as that is done, the diesel engine has to put together with the transmission and mounted in the car. That is the most time consuming task, because if anything is out of line or inverted, it will not work.
The most consistent problem is the debate on the color of the car. We didn’t have that much difficult picking out the size of the radiator exhaust fan or engine coolant, but this is way more serious. Many of my peers want the school colors (I could care less about that) and others would like a sleek black car. I am still undecided.
It may sound like a whole lot, but February is so close. We have to have both cars running and ready for action by February 1st. All of this is a lot, but are essential to getting to “VICTORY!” We are on our way, and we can do so well. I did not leave the shop on Tuesday and Thursday until 7 p.m. We still have a lot to accomplish, but we have motivation from our teachers and instructors. We will have no problem finishing the car.
Ride or Die
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today. It is an honor.
My name is Azeem Hill, and I am a member of the West Philly Hybrid X Team, a part of the West Philadelphia High School Automotive Academy. This is a wonderful after school program that I have been a part of since freshman year. I am now a junior and have been involved with the West Philly Hybrid X team for three years now. I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Student Union which complements my involvement with the team because both organizations work towards building a solid educational portfolio.
Every Tuesday, I meet with Simon Hauger and Ann Cohen, directors of West Philly Hybrid. Awaiting us are exciting projects and announcements that most recently connect with our entry into the Progressive Automotive X Prize, an international competition to build cars that achieve 100 MPG.
We are the only high school competing in this world, in this world, for this multi-million dollar automotive competition for the green economy. We are competing against startup companies that have more money in their pockets than we do collectively. Our participation is no surprise to me because we are using an educational model that prompts and highlights every student‚Äôs unique strengths. This is called project-based-learning.
Years before I joined the team, this all started out as a science project that became cross circular within days.
I got my introduction to the team working with the K-1 Attack where we put a fierce hybrid engine in the body of a sports car. Being at West has its challenges and my classmates have complicated personal backgrounds, but being on this team ignores all of this and pulls together all of our strengths. That is the reason why the K-1 Attack even exists, because one of our former team members said, ‚ÄúHey Hauger, these hybrid cars are decent, but why are they so ugly lookin‚Äô?‚Äù Eventually the world‚Äôs first hybrid supercar was born out of our garage in West Philly.
We won the Tour De Sol, the nation‚Äôs oldest alternative fuel vehicle competition, with our K-1 Attack. The K-1 has a carbon fiber body that is superlight but tough as steel. It goes from 0-60 in less than 4 seconds and it even gets over 60 miles to the gallon on bio-diesel. We were able to beat schools like MIT and Toyota and Honda entries because of our knowledge of hybrid technology and our understanding of consumer needs and wants. For us, this was just a precursor for all that we have waiting for us, especially with our participation in the X Prize competition. For the current team members, the K-1 was our first love, it was our first hope. It was a stepping stone to the X Prize.
The Progressive Automotive X-Prize is a $10 million international competition to build clean, super efficient vehicles intended for mass production. The X Prize foundation‚Äôs mission is to spur innovation through competition. Our mission is to win. When we win we will secure a place in the green economy for young urban people. But we‚Äôll have more than jobs. Winning will show how young people have historically changed this country for the better. We have power. We‚Äôve changed policy and now we‚Äôll change industry.
Our two cars entries in the competition, the Ford Focus and Factory Five GT, will achieve over 100 MPG, emit less than 200 grams of carbon per mile into the air, and go from zero to 60 in under eight seconds. The mission of the X-Prize foundation is to benefit humanity and stem the effects of climate change through big competition. There were over 100 teams that entered in this $10 million contest. We know that after preliminary cuts, far less will remain. We are one of them. Five teams are invited to attend the launch party of the X Prize competition on October 19 in New York City. We are one of them.
We have an amazing and effective business plan to bring our cars to production in Philadelphia. Continuing education and use of green materials is the thesis for our marketing plan. People are talking about us. I guarantee you by the end of my speech, you will be talking about us, too.
Last year, the West Philly Hybrid X Team was rated number 10 in Popular Mechanics Magazine as being one of the teams that will most likely take home the big pot of cash in the competition. Since then we‚Äôve gotten heaps of press. The team was in Natural History magazine, Rolling Stone, and American Way magazine. The team was featured by local news outlets dozens of times. Even after EPA Lisa Jackson visited our school, she felt it necessary to mention our accomplishments to high school students in North Carolina when she was there visiting. We even have a documentary being made about us. The documentary will focus more on the students‚Äô lives than the hybrid cars.
The press and media coverage is amazing and sincerely appreciated, but none of that compares to the critical thinking and humanistic skills my peers and I are constantly learning.
This past summer the West Philly Hybrid X Team learned about the green economy and how to market an environmentally friendly car. We made podcasts to support our findings. We even made a mock party flyer to promote our cars. It was a blast. You can view this content on our website at evxteam.org
It‚Äôs been three years of studying , writing ,debating , and headaches and I am proud to say I‚Äôve been involved with the X Prize from the very beginning. Now that I look back on my experiences, this thought comes to mind: If you were to go back in time and ask me three years ago when I was a freshman what I was doing with the team I would say ‚ÄúWe are just building hybrid cars.‚Äù There wasn‚Äôt much depth to my understanding of hybrids or the green economy or even why we picked the batteries we picked. That was probably all I could tell you. Now after learning about the cars from my fellow teammates, doing work on the cars, and participating in a 15 page research document on electric vehicles, I internalized our mission from having amazing real life experiences with the team.
I was eager and excited to seek out new challenges. I liked the Philadelphia Student Union before I liked the team, but I learned both missions are intertwined and are solely about the progression of a student. They both help create students who can become part of the new global economy.
There is a missing link for whatever reason in the classroom about preparing myself for this so called global economy. Our districts are underfunded, and fifty percent of our freshmen drop out before they reach sophomore and junior year. Before I joined the student union I thought that it was okay for people to drop out if they don‚Äôt want to learn. But students are dropping out because their unique ways of thinking, working, and expressions are not being stimulated. They care about their education but even before they open a book, they are already failing.
With the team and with PSU, I never felt like a failure. I felt challenged and pushed, but both groups allow me to work my best and open my mind to the bigger picture.
This learning process was not a walk in the park. The EVX Team and the Philadelphia student union both believe that all young people can be leaders of tomorrow and sometimes that‚Äôs a lot of responsibility. Sometimes I am responsible for teaching another young person how something works. Sometimes I have to convince another young person that personal life and personal drama needs to be left behind for the welfare of the group‚Äôs progression. Sometimes I even have to let someone know that this is not like school when you can just not do something and get a bad grade. This is real life and you are making a real impact on the world and you are accountable for all of you actions and assignments you take upon yourself. Every step you decide to miss is an opportunity you‚Äôve wasted not only for the team, but for yourself. I don‚Äôt want to miss any opportunities.
I know that you don‚Äôt want to miss any opportunities either. The opportunity awaiting you is the purchase of a brand new super cool, super efficient, created by students, built in Philadelphia 100 MPG car. When we win seize your opportunity and buy our car.