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Fuel Cell-Powered Go-Kart

Project Mimics Real-World Product Development

IVE years ago, Leon
Strecker's technology
education class at Darien
High School came up
with the idea of building
a fuel cell-powered go-kart. In previ-
ous years, the class had worked on
other creations, such as electric cars
that competed in a state-sponsored
race and a full-size hovercraft. But
students had not taken on anything
anywhere near this caliber. The
design was fairly simplethe team
used a 1.2 kilowatt fuel cell on an old
go kart, which served as a mule, or
test-bed of components, for future
projects. Although the fuel cell had
no more power than a weed-whacker.
Amanda Fuller was a student in a
technology education class taught by
Leon Strecker (iStrecker@darienps.
org) when she wrote this article. She
served as the class's public relations
By Amanda Fuller
the team that year was able to
achieve speeds of 25 mph.
The Go-Kart's Evolution
As goals have been accomplished,
Mr. Strecker's students set new ones.
And as fuel cell technology has ad-
vanced, the go-kart project has con-
tinued to improve. Before there was
even a real market for them, Darien
High students took on the project of
building a fuel cell hybrid car. Using
a combination of custom made high-
end batteries and a new fuel cell,
our new and improved model has
achieved speeds up to 37 mph on a
flat track.
This new version has involved
thinking "outside of the box." We
have integrated new hub motors into
the design of the innovative "plug-in
hybrid," which has allowed for more
options in how we charge the bat-
teries. We're also working on regen-
erative braking and drive-by-wire
steering. Our goals for the current
model include that everyone in the
class will be able to drive the carin
previous years, only the smallest stu-
dent could squeeze (uncomfortably!)
into the tight shell. We also want the
vehicle to reach speeds of more than
40 mph. And we are working on "all
integration" to do statistical analy-
sis and gather data from a pit crew
(similar to that that done in NASCAR
racing). Best Buy recently awarded
us a $10,000 grant to fund work on
these improvements.
and Achievements
We've encountered many chal-
lenges in riding the wave of the learn-
ing curve. For example. General Mo-
tors engineers who we worked with
were reluctant to share with us some
necessary information because they
hadn't patented it yet. And, although
the school supports us, it has also
been a challenge to pay for the proj-
ect. Many parts and supplies for the
vehicle are expensive. As it turns out,
much of our funding has come from
donations and grants.
What we are most proud of is
that this project is entirely designed,
fabricated, and researched by stu-
dents. Though a valuable member
of the team, Mr. Strecker serves only
as a facilitator and he interferes with
production as little as possible. In
this program, the students are the
According to our mission state-
ment, our goal is "to both educate
the community on alternative energy
issues and allow students to experi-
ence and learn how to work together
on an engineering research and de-
velopment project to solve real world
problems." Students have attended
related technology conferences and
have published articles about the
project in magazines, newspapers,
and video reviews. And we've been
featured in a documentary made by
New York University.
The project has also allowed us to
get more involved in our community.
Calling All
Don't let your students
miss the 2010-2011
Inventors Competition!
Get them involved in creating
designs for
for people
by natural
For details, see page 25
in the print or digital August
issue (click on Past Issues at
Competition deadline:
January 31, 2011
The go-kart was researched,
designed, and built by students.
Students have presented the car lo-
cally to groups like the Senior Men's
Association, and at the Father's Day
Car Show, local teacher conventions,
and the International Technology
Education Association conference
in Baltimore. We've also taken the
project abroad. Three years ago, Mr.
Strecker took 13 students to Shang-
hai to present their findings at a
youth science conference.
Because of our involvement in
the local community, volunteers
have come to work with us at the
school and teach us important skills
involved in welding, woodworking,
and design. Members of our school
community take great pride in the
accomplishments of the technology
education students, as evidenced
by the fact that the principal brings
parents and other visitors to our lab
as part of a school tour.
We have also had guest speakers
visit to talk about alternative energy.
Students have had great communica-
tion with car companies, including
Toyota, which sent representatives
to make presentations about the
company's new hybrid cars.
Student Benefits and Roles
Last year, Mr. Strecker won the
American Star of Teaching Award in
recognition of his persistence in mak-
ing sure that every student gets in-
volved and has a role in his technol-
ogy class. If a student wants to work
with design and structure, he or she
might work with the frame group.
One who has studied electronics and
computers might be made responsi-
ble for microchip programming. The
student who serves as head engineer
takes charge of the overall manage-
ment of the project. The business
manager is accountable for financing
work on the vehicle. The educational
officer organizes field trips, presen-
tations, and signage. The IT officer
updates the website and supervises
use of computers. The mechanical
engineer researches, designs, and
constructs the frame, steering, brak-
ing, and mechanical transmission.
The electrical engineer manages all
the electrical aspects of the vehicle.
The fabricators read drawings, make
parts, and install components on the
car. The ergonomie and safety engi-
neers take charge of the safety and
handling of the car.
Although a student may be work-
ing in Just one area, he or she still
has the opportunity to learn about
and participate with the other areas.
For example, in my work as public
relations specialist, although I've had
no actual construction experience, I
still had to understand how the car
works, what aspects of the project
are currently being worked on, who
is writing a particular grant, and so
forth. Everybody works as a mem-
ber of the team and understands all
areas of the project. All students also
develop presentation, interpersonal
interaction, organization, research,
and leadership skills. Students have
a responsibility to their team to com-
plete their Jobs and they take real
ownership of the project.
Overall, the fuel cell-powered
go-kart project has proven very
rewarding. All team members have
learned a great deal about technol-
ogy and about working with others.
It has given students an opportunity
to take responsibility for their own
education and be motivated by their
obligation to their peers, not Just
by the desire for a good grade. I
really appreciate the many valuable
experiences I've had since I joined
the teamincluding writing my first
published article!
techdi recti ons OCTOBER 2010
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