Purdue Takes the Lead with Inaugural eVGrand Prix

Author: Linda Thomas Terhune

With three little words, Purdue rolled into position as a world leader in April: “Drivers, power up!” commanded President France A. Crdova.

Mechanical Engineering student Josh Fried of Team Shock and Awe competes in the nation’s first Electric Vehicle Grand Prix in April. The battery-powered karts reached speeds — quietly — of up to 45 mph.

And the University’s inaugural Electric Vehicle Grand Prix race was under way, 17 go-karts humming around the track, vying for top place in the 80-lap event at the Purdue Grand Prix track.

In the race, the first collegiate electric go-kart race in the nation, vehicles approached speeds of 45 mph, finessed the zigs and zags of the chicane, tangled in pile-ups, and overtook one another with appreciative air horn blasts from the stands. More than just a spectator event, however, it signaled Purdue’s significant leadership in the emerging world of electric vehicles.

The Purdue eVGrand Prix, six days before the traditional Purdue Grand Prix, was conceived as part of a $6 million grant awarded to the University in 2009 for creation of the Indiana Advanced Electric Vehicle Training and Education Consortium (I-AEVtec). The consortium is led by Purdue and includes Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the University of Notre Dame, Purdue Calumet and IU Northwest. The group is charged with educating and training the workforce needed to design, manufacture and maintain the electric vehicles of tomorrow. Two of the teams competing in the race represented Ivy Tech; the others were from Purdue.

The consortium will develop certificate and associate degree programs for vehicle technicians, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for electric vehicle design and manufacturing engineers, and a certificate program in electric vehicle safety for emergency responders. It also will contain an outreach program to secondary schools and a website to provide information on electric vehicles to the general public. An estimated 2,000 people attended the eVGrand Prix.

“The development of course material in various aspects of electric vehicle technology is not enough,” says Jim Caruthers, professor of chemical engineering and I-AEVtec director. “We need also to excite young people about this technology so that they will begin to dream about how they can be part of this green revolution in transportation. The eVGrand Prix is an excellent way to engage students in the emerging electric vehicle technology and have a good time as well.”

The Grand Prix was organized by students from the Electric Vehicle EPICS teams and those enrolled in electric vehicle courses. Multidisciplinary teams designed and built the energy-efficient karts. The winners were judged not only on who crossed the line first, but also on power efficiency, kart design and community outreach.

David Rozovski, an industrial engineering doctoral student aspiring to become a test pilot and astronaut — and driver for IE Racing 1 — stood by his vehicle at halftime during the race. The break, 40 laps in, was required of all teams so that their karts could take on freshly charged batteries.

“It was a fantastic experience. We learned a tremendous amount through the build process and the race,” said Rozovski, who is profiled in the fall 2010 issue of Industrial Engineering Impact magazine. “I believe the event is going to have tremendous impact on electric vehicles in the future, not only from an innovation standpoint but also because the individuals exposed to the event will apply it to what they do when they leave Purdue.”