Friday, 30 September 2016

Racing Alice: A Look at the U of A's EcoCar Team

Racing Alice the EcoCar
Image courtesy of the University of Alberta EcoCar Team
The University of Alberta EcoCar team is a student group that designs and builds a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that they race in an international fuel-efficiency competition called the Shell Eco-marathon Americas.

Leading up to 2016 Shell Eco-marathon Americas in Detroit, our team was hard at work finishing up our second ever hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, Alice. The mechanical team was busy finishing putting together our carbon fibre aeroshell (the outer “shell” of Alice), while the electrical team was busy debugging our electrical systems. The night before our unveiling, which I had been planning for months, the car still was not ready. That night, 9 or 10 members of our team worked until 5:00 a.m. to make Alice ready for our reveal, where over 1 900 members of our campus and community would come to see our new car on display. These team members’ hard work and dedication to the team, just weeks before finals, just goes to show how much this project has meant to us.

The support we received from our community absolutely blew me away.  We had more media attention than ever before. We were on TV, the radio, and even made the front page of the Metro. With the help of the Faculty of Engineering, we created a lot of excitement about our project. Our crowdfunding campaign got a lot of attention as well. At the end of our 30-day campaign, we were over the moon when we found out that we had surpassed our $10,000 goal!

When we arrived in Detroit for the Shell Eco-marathon Americas, we still had a lot of work left to do on the car. The entire team had to come together to make sure all of the mechanical and electrical components of the car were working correctly. It took us a little over two days to pass technical inspection, and still had to tow the car off the competition track a couple of times for various system failures. We faced a lot of adversity throughout the four days in Detroit.  But, through sheer willpower and determination, Alice completed the race. We all anxiously awaited our fuel-efficiency score... and were then told that we had received…. first place! We were overjoyed with the result, which was double the previous fuel-efficiency of our old car, Steve.

Winning the Hydrogen fuel-cell Urban Concept category at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas qualified our team for the very first ever Drivers’ World Challenge in London. Competing on the intercontinental stage in London was an incredible opportunity for our team!  Even though we did not do as well as we had hoped, it was such a great learning experience for us. Being able to learn from top teams from around the world has been hugely beneficial to the team. We are already applying what we learned in the design process for our new vehicle.

Being on a team such as EcoCar has been an incredible experience for me. As a first-year student in engineering, my exposure to real hands-on experience was really inspiring. Being mentored by upper-year students in the group helped me to discover my passion too. Joining this group has been a life-changing experience for me; the friendship, knowledge, and skills that I have learned from my time with EcoCar will continue to impact me long after I graduate from University. If I could give one piece of advice to new students, I would urge them to discover and pursue your passions.


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