Thursday, April 9, 2009

EVER / e-Kart Wrap-Up

Well, I'm back in Cambridge now trying to catch up on a week's worth of work. (It helps that I'm still operating on a slightly shifted time sense; I've been getting up at 6AM and going to sleep at 11PM recently. I realize this is fairly normal...but not at MIT.)

Anyway, I had a great trip that will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable experiences of my higher education. I can't help but think that at some point in my life, when electric cars are at least a common sight, if not prevalent, I will think back to this and bore people with my stories of the early days. What's that? I bore people with my stories already? Well then mission accomplished, I guess.

I already went on about EVER in my last post, so the only real update I have for that is an amazing gallery of pictures:
Photo credits: Cam T. (mostly), Max H., Paul P., and myself.

After EVER, I moved on alone to e-Kart, a French electric go-kart competition for schools and universities. It reminded me a lot of FIRST, in the team structure, educational emphasis, and competition environmont. The karts there were decidedly faster than ours, on average, but also a bit lighter I think. (Stupid Americans and our over-sized vehicles.) There was also a lithium-ion kart with an AC motor that I think is the most drool-invoking go-kart I've ever seen (third clip, #77):

The others were also very impressive, in both power and degree of instrumentation. Most were heavily student-built, too. Here is my small gallery from Tours, France, where e-Kart was held this year:

I don't know yet what exactly the path I take from here is, but I've seen enough now to know that this is an awesome educational opportunity. Maybe there's a role for me in creating something of an open-source reference for this kind of project. We'll see. I'm looking forward to seeing America's first foray into educational alternative fuel (not just electric) kart challenges this in May: Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School is hosting the Go Green Go-Kart Competition, open to all NC schools. Until then, preparation for 2.007 will probably thoroughly occupy my time!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Things I Learned in Monaco

A portion of the Cap Kart team just finished up a trip to Monaco for the EVER '09 conference, and all I can say is "Wow." It really is an amazing place and I can't think of a better venue, especially for automotive enthusiasts. We were awarded "best student paper on ecological vehicles," a wonderful honor which just reaffirms the quality of work that this team can pull off in just a few months. I use this project now as a mental model for how effectively things can get done with the right set of people, skills, ideas, and resources. I know it's unrealistic to expect such good team dynamics in all instances, but it's helped me develop my project organizational skills, at least. Here's a picture of the six team reps, looking sharp for our presentation:

I learned a lot during this conference. It was my first conference of any type, since I have just started my graduate school career, and so I was a bit nervous. But what I found was very comforting: There was certainly some very detailed technical and analytical work presented, but our particular brand of hands-on experimental work was also well-received. And the relative anonymity helped - presenting with a clean slate audience seemed easier to me than talking to MIT faculty/students about it. Besides the scientific conference, there was also an expo and a rally, where I got to see two Tesla Roadsters up close. Here's the blue one:

Speaking of Tesla, I also just saw video of the first public test drive of the Tesla Model S, a "seven" (five) seat sedan with a base price of $50,000 for a 160-mile range. Here's a car being built by a California start-up in a matter of a couple years that is fully-electric and only $10,000 more than the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid with a 40-mile battery range. Oh, and it does 0-60 in 5.5 seconds. An electric sedan. Check out this video. This is the future, tearing up the streets at night with an impromptu police escort and a hand-held camcorder. It reminds me a bit of our kart videos in style...accessible, 21st century, unedited do-it-yourself technology for the YouTube era. No press agents, no corporate public relations highlight reel, just a sick ride shown off by a company without any "bad momentum."

Back to Monaco. The other thing I learned was about Monaco itself. I wasn't surprised that it was a beautiful and extravagant place. Nowhere else in the world could you see a Lamborghini with a Rolls-Royce awning and a palm tree reflected it its perfect clear coat, parked in front of a Porsche dealership...

...or stumble upon one of the most famous and scenic Grand Prix circuits in the world..., none of that really surprised me. What did surprise me was that you can actually go there. No, seriously. You can spend five nights in Monaco, traveling from the US, for less than $1,000. (Not including the money you decide to blow in the casino or renting a Ferrari. But let's pretend for a second that you don't gamble or know how to drive.) This is how to pull it off:
  1. Travel in the off-season. March/April is apparently not tourist season, even though in my opinion the weather is perfect. 60/70s and mostly sunny. A bit cold for beach people, but I am not one of those. Perfect walking/sitting outside weather. And the airfares were dirt cheap, a casualty of the economic recession. Just over $600 r/t on Air France with an easy connection in Paris. From Nice, you can take the bus or train to Monaco along the beautiful coast for less than $10.
  2. Travel with a group and stay in at the Adagio Palais Josephine in Beausoleil, France. This is a hidden treasure. It is a 10-minute walk from the casino and the port, but you immediately cut your hotel expenses by about 75%. An apartment for four, which could easily sleep six, was 128 euro/night ($170/night). That's $42/night per person! For a huge apartment with a balcony, separate bedrooms, a dining room, and a kitchen. The kitchen is the other key:
  3. Cook your own food. While you can find some reasonable deals, such as these delicious 4.50 euro crepes you can eat outside at the harbor... can really cut your spending by cooking your own. Example: Simpler, but almost as delicious homemade crepes:

    There is a market right outside the Palais Josephine. You can eat for about $5/person/day. Another reason to go with a group.
And then, with the money you have saved, you should feel free to spend on way overpriced souveniers, helicopter rides, high-stakes blackjack, Ferrari test drives, or whatever else floats your boat. Or you can relax and enjoy a wonderful deal at a place that is, in my opinion, a much nicer trip than Paris or Vegas. It is neither touristy nor exclusive, and for car lovers it is a dream come true. Go. Now.

I am now in Tours, France, to observe a university-level electric kart competition, a good opportunity for me to take some lessons from experts here about what we could be doing to further education in the alternative energy fields. Hopefully, the new enthusiasm for such ventures will open up similar opportunities in the States. Maybe I can help with that. I will continue to accumulate pictures and in a later post will link to the entire gallery from Monaco and Tours.

Au Revoir!

Photo credits: Cam T., Paul P., Max H.