Why Do Electrathon?

Last updated 2001.12.31

Good question. Why should you spend the effort, time and money on building an impractical vehicle with limited range? Because it's FUN! Why do people build and run go-karts, race-cars, dragsters and other impractical vehicles with budgets ranging from the thousands to the millions of dollars? The difference with Electrathon is that the vehicles are zero-emissions, and the vehicles are low-budget.

It's a hoot! And you don't pollute!

It's fun to design something.
It's fun to figure out how to make it work.
It's fun to see that design take concrete form.
It's satisfying beyond words the first time the wheels turn under power, and the first time you drive it, well, that's ELECTRIFYING, if you'll pardon the pun.

Of course, if you are not very careful when you are designing and building an Electrathon vehicle, you may learn a lot from the experience.

The areas of knowledge and skills encompassed by the design, construction and operation of an Electrathon car are wide-ranging. Consider the items below.

Electronics and Electricity
The vehicle runs on electricity. It needs to be instrumented. Power needs to be controlled to power the motor at the desired speed. Current has to channeled where it is desired, with proper sizing of wiring, fuses and other components. Laws and equations regarding electricity need to be learned, understood and applied.

Let's start with Force=Mass x Acceleration. The laws of physics apply here. How fast do you want to go? How much power will you need? Physics will help you figure it out.

Isn't there some way to squeeze more electricity out of those batteries? Sure there is. But you need to understand how a battery stores chemical energy and releases it as electrical energy. How can the chemistry of the lead-acid battery be used to store more energy?

Simple Machines
How will you get the power from the battery to the motor to the wheel(s)? Ingenuity, perserverance, and undoubtedly the use of some simple machines. The building blocks of getting work done.

Basic Mechanics
Not Auto Class (or Transportation Science). The opportunity to physically put something together. Learn to use your hands for something other than driving a keyboard or pushing a pen. Lego and model kits are popular because it is fun to make things.

Construction Techniques
Why are things built the way they are? Usually to reduce cost and increase reliability. What works, and what doesn't?

Planning & Organization
Think a working, powered vehicle will just assemble itself out of thin air? Not a chance. You need a plan. You need to organize your team and your time so things happen, and happen when you need them to happen. You need the components, the parts, a design, a place to work, a place to test, and time - lots of time. To make all that come together, you need a plan.

You may need to raise funds to support this project. You certainly have to know how much you have to spend. No point in building the best Electrathon car in the world if you can't afford batteries or a motor for it. It's a pretty cheap form of motor sport, but it isn't free (but you may get some donations if you think about what you want, where to get it, and ask very nicely).

You need people to design the vehicle, build the vehicle, transport the vehicle, drive the vehicle, possibly raise funds, do school and community liaison, and a host of other tasks. It takes a team. If you can't make the team work, you can't make the vehicle work. Negotiation, compromise, learning to listen are all valuable skills.

Writing & Communication
There are often different awards and prizes associated with Electrathon events that are based on written submissions. The team may set up a website or do an article for a school newspaper. In some events, documentation is required as part of the scoring system. Proposals and letters may have to be written to obtain sponsorship and carry out fundraising. And, of course, there is always The Plan.

What materials are strong enough, light enough, workable enough and affordable? Welcome to the world of engineering. What is the effect of efficiency on the performance of the vehicle? Where should additional effort be made to get the most gain?

Art, Aesthetics, Styling
When you put this much effort into something, you want it to look good. Form may follow function, but it doesn't have to look that way. Streamlining is for more than just appearance. Strive for the elegant solution, not just an answer that works.

Research Skills
You need ideas, solutions, parts. What's available? How have others gone about solving similar problems? Which is more critical, rolling losses or aerodynamic drag?

Energy Infrastructure
The world economy depends on the secure and stable supply of energy. Are conventional fossil fuels a viable energy source for the future? What are the political implications of dependence on foreign oil, and how does the balance of payments associated with purchasing off-shore oil affect us?

Environmental Sciences
Last on this list, but by no means the least interesting aspect of a pollution-free means of transportation. Where does the electricity come from? What is the overall impact of electric propulsion on the environment? How does it compare to the conventional internal-combustion engine fueled by gasoline or diesel fuel? Does it make a difference if we switch to electric drive? Does it matter?

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