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Student-built Power Drive Electric Car
This shark-nosed electric car must run for one hour over a half-mile course on the power provided by just 64 pounds of lead-acid batteries. Most student-built cars now taking part in the Nebraska Power Drive competition are capable of speeds over 30 mph. Teenage drivers are equipped with helmets, safety harnesses and are protected by sturdy roll cages. Heats normally include 10-15 cars and the competition can get intense. Each team is limited to a $2000 budget per car.

Students Power Drive to the Future

Nebraska's 7th annual Power Drive electric car competition wraps up another successful year of mentoring the future.

By EV World

Despite the rumble and fury of a brief thundershower that delayed the start of the second 15-car heat and sent teams and spectators scrambling to cover, the final event of the 7th Annual Power Drive state-wide electric car competition proved that the event is alive, well and growing. This year for the first time, teams from South Dakota traveled to Omaha for the finals, staged this year, also for the first time, at the new Qwest Convention Center.

EV World has been covering the event since its inception and I've seen not only continued growth in terms of the number of schools participating and cars entered, but more importantly in the quality of the vehicles being entered. Even the "Standard" class vehicles, which are typically built by first year teams, have become increasingly sophisticated. Lessons learned in the previous year's competition are passed on to succeeding teams of incoming Freshmen and Sophomores. Cars that could do no more than 15-20 mph and barely complete the hour-long endurance run when the program started, now easily do better than 30 mph steadily for 60 minutes and appear capable of going on for much longer and at higher speeds.

Power Drive started initially with 12 high schools in Omaha Public Power District, the first sponsor's service area in eastern Nebraska. It quickly gained the support of the Nebraska Board of Education and more utility sponsors, including the state's largest, Nebraska Public Power District.

Today somewhere around 100 high schools and several colleges now enter the program, which holds a series of competition across the state each Spring, culminating in the finals held in Omaha. Each team can enter as many cars as they wish into three classes: standard, advanced and exhibition. Each car is limited to a $2000 budget and must meet minimum safety standards that include safety harnesses, roll bars and emergency cut-off switches. Designs can be as creative as the students' imaginations and there are never no two cars alike.

The students, both young men and women, begin their projects each Fall as school begins. The cars are either built from scratch or modified from previous vehicles. Faculty advisers guide the team(s), who are expected to design and fabricate the cars entirely on their own. In the process, the students learn many skills from CAD design to electrical theory to welding. They learn to recruit local sponsors who provide either cash, components or advice and instruction. One team got the local body shop to teach them automotive spray painting, which they then utilized to paint their own vehicle. They did such a good job that judges questioned them about it. They proudly replied that they painted the car by themselves.

In addition to the new Qwest Convention Center venue, Power Drive has also moved to formally merge its rules with the original Electrathon program, which brings Nebraska teams a step closer to nationwide competition. Some teams already travel to adjoining states for compete in the off-season. It also dramatically cut the cost of liability insurance for the power companies that sponsor it. Accidents are rare, but they do happen. One car flipped on its side during some aggressive driving through a tight "S" turn on the back course during the second heat in Omaha. The driver wasn't hurt, in large measure because of the safety measures built into each car.

One of the more interesting stories to come out of this year's competition is that of tiny Palmer-Pomeroy Consolidated High School in Iowa where the entire student body population amounts to just 80 boys and girls. Yet, despite its diminutive size and the fact that most of the school was at a band competition the same weekend as the event in Omaha, its Power Drive teams fielded three cars, all of them serious contenders in their classes.

In the end, it was the North Platte High School team that walked off as winner of the standards class and as the overall winner in a nail-biting, last few seconds win over Bancroft-Rosalie. Elkhorn, Nebraska cars took both first and second place in the Advanced competition.

From the intensity of the competition and the ingenuity displayed this year, Power Drive has again proved itself an exciting educational outlet for student energy and creativity. It gives many students the opportunity to use their education in a very practical way that is both challenging and fun. How many high school students can say they spent a part of their formative teenage years designing, building and racing electric cars that are a small foretaste of the "Future in Motion"?

As is EV World's tradition, we have created a slide show of photos from the May 7th finals in Omaha, Nebraska.

Times Article Viewed: 10239
Published: 12-May-2005

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